Best Practices – Selecting New Servers

I’d like to lead with this strip from Scott Adams’ Dilbert…

Yes, upgrading servers can be a pain.  Not just in the sense of actually upgrading them, but in communicating to others why you should do so.  Whether it be age, needed technology upgrades for virtualization, more storage needed, new software requirements, etc…the list goes on and on.  Choices can be more annoying than useful nowadays since there are so many companies to choose from.  I’m going to let you in on a little industry secret…there is very little difference between servers from the mid-level manufacturers (Dell & Lenovo…but Dell is showing great improvement as of late) and some of their lower end competitors (Acer, NEC, & Supermicro).  Now when you look at HP, Cisco and Oracle SPARC servers, each have standout performance abilities.

Now there’s a distinct difference between Oracle SPARC and the other two.  Oracle’s servers are not for everyone, because they are designed to be (and priced to be) Mission Critical servers.  Ones that don’t go down unless it involves a shotgun at point blank range.Don’t get me wrong, HP is known for its high quality servers, and has been for many years.  They’re a brand I’ve come to trust for reliability and customer service.  The folks at Cisco as well have jumped into the market place with some great product…and those three really are the places you should be looking when it comes to updating your server pool.

Here’s a list of things you need to consider when examining your server environment and planning an update.

1) Virtualization? – Always a key for your business.  Now most of you have already virtualized, and shrunk your server farms down…but there are still many who haven’t taken the plunge.  That’s the time to use your consultants.  Whether you work with PCM & myself, or other VARs & LARs, we can help you do what you want to do.  The great fear over virtualization is that it’s difficult to learn and even more hard to master.  Well, I won’ t lie…it is.  BUT, I have staff here, and contacts across the industry who can help you do what you want…and we don’t charge for that kind of configuration help.

2) What kind of Server? – Tower (small business), Rack (Mid to large) or Blade (mid to large).  They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but you need to know where you’re going.  There’s limited space for and in Tower servers, so they’re relegated to small companies.  Rack servers are great because they take up less space, and provide a more beefy setup than a Tower ever could.  Blade servers are ultra-compact, taking up even less space & power while providing more capabilities than a Rack server could.

3) How many Processors? – The average server has 4-8 cores, with SPARC servers having 16 available.  The amount you need balances against what you’re going to pay for when it comes to virtualizing.  You need to balance the generation of the processor and its abilities against your cost savings.

4) How much RAM? –  Always a good question.  I’m of the mind that if you aren’t maxed out, you aren’t using your server to its full potential.  Remember, if you’re buying from manufacturers, they are going to HURT you on RAM prices.  Talk to your resellers to get the best deal/quality.  (Kingston is your best bet in my estimation.)

5) Storage?  – How much disk space do you need on your servers for all of your applications, their data, and even additional storage/archiving?  Do you need to RAID drives? I always recommend bringing the total amount of data and what you want to do to a partner to talk with an expert (and yes there are people out there who this is what they live to talk about) and develop a solution that is going to carry you forward 5 years.  Do you need further storage on a SAN or NAS?  (We’ll cover that in another Best Practices entry)

6) Software? – A tough question, and really it comes down to what you’re looking to do with this server.  Is it database management?  Is it email?  Is it for a Hybrid Cloud?  Are you going to virtualize it?  From Microsoft, to Oracle, there are hundreds of programs you can use with your server for management.  It’s a matter of personal taste, mixed with what you need done.


So there you go…6 steps.  Think about them and contact me.  We want to help you. 🙂

(For those of you linking from other folks I work with, contact your rep and talk to them…they are as just as concerned for you as I am. 🙂 )

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