Servers

10 things to keep in mind when purchasing a new server

If you're in the market for a new server, you need to evaluate your choices carefully to make sure the one you buy will meet your needs. Brien Posey reviews 10 key aspects of a network server purchase.

A network server is a big investment and usually represents a long-term commitment, so it's critically important to select one that will meet all your needs. Here are some things you should consider when you go shopping for a new server.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Drivers

One of the first things you need to consider before making any purchasing decisions is whether the server you're interested in offers the necessary driver support. You shouldn't have any trouble getting Windows drivers as long as you're purchasing a server from one of the major manufacturers, such as Dell or HP. However, Linux drivers may not be as readily available. Taking a little time up front to make sure that you can get drivers for your intended operating system can save some heartache down the road.

2: Redundancy

If the server you're purchasing will be used for a mission-critical purpose, you need to make sure it uses redundant parts to avoid having a single point of failure. For example, the server should have at least two power supplies so that if one fails, the other can take over without the server going offline.

Some servers let you install a complete set of redundant memory, while others might include an extra slot you can use to install a spare memory module. The spare memory is used automatically if a memory failure occurs.

3: Hot-swappable components

In the 24/7 world of IT, taking a server down for maintenance practically requires an act of Congress. Try to make sure that the server you choose uses hot-swappable components. Granted, not every component is hot-swappable. For example, you can't swap out a system board or a CPU while the server is running. However, many servers support the use of hot-swappable hard drives, expansion modules, and power supplies.

4: Form factor

It should be fairly obvious that you need to consider the server's form factor when making a purchasing decision, but given the importance of choosing the right one, I wanted to go ahead and mention it anyway.

If you're purchasing a rack mount server, make sure that you have sufficient space left in your rack. Remember that 2U and 4U servers require more rack space than a 1U server does. Likewise, if you are planning to purchase a blade server, ensure that you have adequate space left in the blade server chassis.

5: Fault tolerant memory

Another thing you should look for when purchasing a new server is support for fault tolerant memory technologies, such as Error Correcting Code (ECC). ECC memory can dynamically correct single-bit memory errors. ECC memory can also detect (but not correct) double-bit errors.

6: Storage

Servers vary widely in terms of available internal storage. Although most of the servers on the market allow for the use of two internal hard drives, there are major exceptions. Some servers don't include any internal storage and may boot from a SAN instead. On the other hand, some of the larger form factor servers include support for large internal storage arrays.

Blade servers typically support only two internal drives, but storage can be expanded through a storage module, assuming that there is sufficient room in the chassis.

7: CPU support

You should also consider the server's CPU architecture. I'm not talking about Intel versus AMD (although that can be important, too). I'm talking about leaving room for future growth. Many of the servers on the market today offer multiple sockets that can support various types of processors. Organizations typically make a purchasing decision based on how many processor cores they need right now. However, it's a good idea to purchase a server that will allow you to add CPU cores down the road should the need arise. For example, you might start out with quad-core CPUs and then upgrade to six-core or eight-core CPUs later on. Likewise, you might initially fill one CPU socket but add another CPU when necessary.

8: Connectivity

It's easy to overlook network connectivity when purchasing a server because every server on the market includes built-in networking. However, network connectivity becomes far more important if the server is going to act as a cluster node or as a virtualization host server. Clustering and virtualization typically require more network adapters than a stand-alone server does. In such cases, a server probably won't have a sufficient number of network adapters by default, but you need to make sure it has the capacity to accommodate the additional required network adapters.

9: Memory capacity

If you plan to use your new server as a virtualization host, consider the amount of memory the server can support. Memory is the single most important resource in a virtual server environment, so you must ensure that the server includes enough memory to support all the guest operating systems without skimping on memory.

10: Manageability

If you have more than a handful of servers in your data center, make sure that your server supports manageability (both at the hardware and at the software level). Most of the servers on the market support hardware management through IPMI, which is a standardized management protocol. But software management tools tend to be proprietary, and one vendor's management software usually won't work with another vendor's servers.

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

11 comments
jack6666
jack6666

... the tips you have provided would be minded to by discerning individuals - and I certainly hope to count myself among them! Thanks a bunch, dear! Install Outdoor Motion Sensor Light Switch | Outdoor Security Lighting

jorglct
jorglct

Nice article. Every aspect is important to choose a Server. Anyone know a certification about server? I remember Comptia Server+. On this day that cerfication is outdate.

ndary007
ndary007

Regarding point #10: Manageability: there is a management tool on the market called AccessIT (http://www.minicom.com/kvm_accessit.htm) made by Minicom Advanced Systems that support both hardware & software management all together, it also support multi vendors so it solves the problem of getting stuck with one brand in your datacenter.

SciFi
SciFi

Have you ever worked in a big datacenter? These rules sound like they are for the small dental office with the server in their closet not a real server environment. How about LICENSING?? A lot of vendors have processor based licenses. You replace that single core with a quad core and now your app just got 4 times more expensive. Techrepublic - I'm going to unsubscribe again unless you start publishing content that has value. This is just spam.

joeaas
joeaas

Shouldn't the backup strategy be on this list?

brian
brian

I understand there is a driving need to make sure there are 10 items in the list, but these lists full of filler in my inbox are annoying. Make sure your rack isn't full? Really? Also you completely ignored power (amps) concerns and their operating costs, which continue to bite budding systems engineer types and growing businesses everywhere. Also ignored vendor service concerns. A vendor who gets a failure notification email from your NAS unit and has already shipped you a replacement drive by the time you've even noticed the fault light deserves some consideration. One that ships you a replacement upon receipt of the dead drive may not cause downtime, but they do cause elongated periods of risk and degraded RAID performance. You could insert those in place of any line item after #3 except for manageability, which should have been #1. In our current days of servers that quite often aren't in the same building (or same neighborhood) as us, if you don't have a way to watch the thing POST and boot from your desk, and a way to update BIOS settings remotely, you'll regret it. Even if you can walk to the server, you won't be able to perform you other duties while you're hunkered down on an uncomfortable miniature folding chair, in front of a little cart you had to wheel to the thing to have monitor and keyboard access. (And this probably happens during some kind of outage, so even worse.) #7 should consider rentals as potentially a much better option. If your needs are changing rapidly enough that CPU sockets could ever be a decent upgrade route, a rental is probably a better option. At very least you get the opportunity to learn from your mistakes on a box that you can just stop renting and switch out for a better fit. #5 should just be dropped. Find me a server that doesn't support ECC memory and I'll show you a workstation or a gaming box that someone slapped a "server" sticker on top. Most of them enforce it whether you want it or not, much to the chagrin of anyone trying to build a high-core-count workstation.

kbyington
kbyington

I would add that you need to also consider the new server's power and cooling requirements. You need to make sure you have enough capacity in your UPS equipment and cooling system before adding a new server.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

The first steps are to consider your real future requirements. Don't think about what you want now, think about what you will need this server to do over its expected life span. Space and power are next. If you have a datacenter the size of a Walmart with a budget to match, this will be a minor issue, but most organisations are concerned about the space the server will take, power consumption and heat dissipation. These factors uncover hidden costs associated with the server. Consider: If you have 4u of rack space between 2 servers and have a 4u server to install, are you going to install the server in the slot and risk a heat issue or install another rack? Either choice is gonna be expensive. Finally, don't choose specs because the VP read a magazine and memorized a bunch of buzzwords. Yes, you might not have a choice, but if he specs a $12,000.00 piece of big iron when you can do the job with a $500.00 small server or even virtualize the machine and use existing equipment, he just might see the logic. Yes, there's a story here.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The last server buy I did, everyone supported Windows, Red Hat and Suse but only HP made Debian support a company policy. Good on you HP (The proliants also have an internal USB for doing VMware off a flashdrive.) Also, if VM support is point 11, point 12 should be contractor support. If you contract out for IT support, you may be limited to what they like. If they favor IBM server slabs, don't bother pricing out non-IBM hardware.

Sunday Technician
Sunday Technician

I think it's important that virtual support options be considered also unless VM support is not an issue.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

oh man. I'd love to have a 1U slot in my desk to use a rack slab for a workstation. Noise control and cooling may be a bit of a trick but bwahahahahaa.. that thing would fly.

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