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What is the best hardware for a server?

Last response: in Systems
July 10, 2006 2:19:59 PM

Hello experts,

I am tossing around the idea of building a machine to act as a network server at work (small business only 3 or 4 workstations). I've built a couple of desktops but never a server. In your opinion, what type of hardware should I be looking at (cpu, mobo etc) for this machine? What is different from a machine built as a desktop and one built as a Server?

Thanks for your input!

best, Luke

More about : hardware server

July 10, 2006 3:35:32 PM

well for only that small amout of workstations you should be fine just doing a home network with no server.

If you would like to have a server just build a decent workstation and set it up as a server, use a free os like ubuntu and set it up to act as a server.

this also depends on what you need this server to do, is it just a place to store data is it going to controle your network login, printing, or be a gateway to the internet with dhcp to all the other workstations

the only time you should consider server hardware is when you have a rather large network something like a few hundred workstations and most of the time a good high end workstaton could handle that just fine. you just might need one for your web pages, one for email, one for dhcp or network login stuff.

the easyest way to look at a server is not its hardware but its software. a computer has installed on it and what that software is capable of doing
July 10, 2006 6:15:00 PM

Thanks for the reply. We have been getting by without a server for some time now. There has been some issues with file sharing and user logins though.

We have 5 to 7 people sharing the few workstations that we have and I thought it might be a good idea to have a server control the logins along with storing all files in a central location to assist in backups.

Eventually, I would like the server to take on more tasks (printing, internet, remote login etc.) but I have little experience with networking and would like to take things one step at a time.

The workstations are all running xp now and the network is a peer to peer setup. Considering the above, do you think I could still get away without the server and use xp's networking or should I figure out the server thing?

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July 10, 2006 6:53:49 PM

I've built domain based networks for as little as 5 people, depends on needs. For hardware a nice desktop system with a full tower case is good, allows for HD expansion, if all it will do is file and print sharing you could use anything from a PIII 500 up.

I'd say a cheap athlon 64 system with 2 or 4 hd's in raid1's and a gig of ram on a good board, asus, abit, msi, etc. is all you'd need, don't need video other than integrated and don't need sound.

If you do terminal services you're in a different league but I don't think you'd want that.

The OS cost is the killer, if you want a "real" server with MS on it, server 2003 ain't cheap.

You can use linux to do windows authentication though, so you can setup a domain based network essentially for free, though ldap is a bit of a bitch if you've never messed with it before.

edit: Make sure you have xp pro, home can't join domains, at least not easily :) 
July 10, 2006 7:03:32 PM

I think it all comes down to what you want in terms of reliability. In the corporate environment, I wouldn't recommend a DIY build--mainly because the turn-around time on repairs is going to be lengthy. i.e. faulty motherboard will have to be RMA'd to manufacturer and during this time the server is going to be down.

For this reason alone I'd recommend just going with a server from Dell, HP or IBM. Turnaround time on repairs is generally 24 hours or less.

If you can afford downtime, build it yourself. As someone stated, it really depends on your needs. I'd look at either mirroring or raid 5 for the disks and an easy way of backing the system up should you need to restore a file. You may just consider getting a NAS box like a snap server if you just need storage space...then, no licensing of OS's, ease of management etc.
July 10, 2006 7:23:41 PM

Even a buffalo nas would work, they provide all kinds of services, except ldap server.

I would disagree with turn around, if a part fails it's still cheaper to keep a spare mb and/or ps on hand than pay dell or hp higher costs, and then you can be back up in minutes. Or do rma cross ships, check with vendors first to make sure they allow this, then you're at the 24 hour time anyway. Since you will raid1 or 5 your drives, waiting for a replacement hd isn't quite as big of a deal, and it never hurts to have one laying around anyway.

I have spare everythings considering all the business' I deal with so I may have a different perspective on this so just take my comments as opinion :) 
July 10, 2006 8:06:51 PM

I will agree that you could easily spend more money buying a pre-built system than building your own. Although I would like to mention that we recently purchased a low-end Dell Server for around $3000 that came with:
-SATA raid 5 (3 disks)
-Dual power supplies
-Dual processors
-At least 2 gigs of memory
-Next day support

In contrast, I've RMA'd boards through Abit and it takes at least 2 weeks. I've had faulty Corsair memory that took a month to RMA. These are the types of failures and delays that are not acceptable in any office environment.
July 10, 2006 8:07:48 PM

I agree with you both to some extent. I have had disk rack backplanes go bad, and having spare disks, motherboards, controllers, backplanes, and who knows what else laying around as spare is not feasible. If however you have a smaller/cheaper server then it may be feasible. It also comes down to in-house talent to do the troubleshooting and repair. If you don't have that, then the cost of an OEM server is probably money well spent.

With that said, I also agree that a NAS is an attractive solution for storage space if that's really all you need. You can build buy a raid5 nas for less than a grand.
July 10, 2006 8:08:53 PM

hey man, here is the deal sit down with whomever does the budget and find out what you can drop fro the hardware and then you need to see how much you can set aside for maintained.

If you do a dell or some other major, you can get the plan where they fix it onsite for so many years same day etc. This is great if you have the budget for it and it will also let you have almost zero down time.

If you do build your self I would look at the servers that are already cased up and ready to go with a board etc, all you add is your RAM, Drives, CPUs, etc.

You need to look at the difference between using a desktop for a server and a real server. The RAM and how the hot swap of the drives etc, and for files I’d say at least 1 mirror raid.

You’ll also want a list of what you're going to be putting on the server, if its windows is it 2003 with AD, and using it for the domain doing roaming profiles? IIS running or ftp etc. If you use FC5 or any Linux same thing.

I guess what I’m trying to tell you is know what you're doing, and what you want to do and make a plan and have everyone onboard before you just start buying this and that. I’ve put a lot of servers together over the years for test bed before a roll out (10,000+ machines) and while it isn't rocket science if you've got a hardcore plan and know your budget to start with and what the higher ups want to be able to do day to day you'll save yourself a lot of trouble on the hardware and software setup.

You really don't have a large environment for a server, but it all depends on the situation. If I were you though, I’d be looking more toward a NAS if all you need it to do is store files.
July 10, 2006 8:27:40 PM

I guess considering the situation a NAS may be more practical for the business. I could use that as a central storage location.

What about logins? I'd like it so that users can log on using the same password and access the same files no matter which machine they are using. Can that be done w/o the server?
July 10, 2006 8:29:52 PM

Prebuilt superservers from supermicro are very solid servers, and they have overnight turnaround on rma's. They cost lots less than dell too. I just recently built a dual cpu xeon with 4 gig ram and 6 320gig hd's and W2K3 Standard for 2.5k.

I used to do Dell's sameday and next day service repair work in my quarter of my state (all of their techs are outsourced btw), what a joke, dell gives their techs no leeway, you have to troubleshoot all server problems with a dell tech even though the customer already did, and I've had numerous times where they sent the wrong parts, 24 hour service it is not.

I would personally never rely on Dell for a server even if you don't have knowledgable on-site staff. Supermicro is a much better company for response time and knowledgable techs.
July 10, 2006 8:31:19 PM

I've never seen a NAS only device that does that, course I've never looked.
July 10, 2006 8:33:00 PM

Is it files only you want to give access to, and do you want to have different rights for different users. If it's just access to files, yes. If it's access to certain files, then no, you'll need a domain controller for least I think, but I've never set up a nas so there may be some basic rights you can assign.

As for OEM machines, I've had good luck from Micron for workstations and servers.
July 10, 2006 8:39:15 PM

Self build servers do not belong in the business world, go for HP, Dell or IBM.. For about $500 you can upgrade most entry level servers to 3 years 24/7 4 hour response onsite support, saving days of downtime and grief from the boss.

Also entry level server hardware can come with some great OEM software bundles of Microsoft Windows SBS Server (includes exchange and SQL server) that can cover the cost you would have to pay for the hardware anyway....
July 10, 2006 8:44:40 PM

If you use SBS you shouldn't be building enterprise class servers. I've built many terminal servers, most from intel or supermicro barebones and 3 of them are over 5 years old still going stong 24/7/365, NEVER one hardware problem, other than ram and hd upgrades I've never had to touch them hardware wise.
July 11, 2006 6:43:34 PM


What about logins? I'd like it so that users can log on using the same password and access the same files no matter which machine they are using. Can that be done w/o the server?


What's the easiest way to explain this?

The default behavior for a (MS) computer when accessing a network share is to pass-on the currently logged on user. IF a matching username / password can be found on the server being accessed, WITH appropriate permissions--the share is accessible. If a matching account cannot be found, the user is prompted for a username/password.

jdoe is at workstation_1 and has a password of "password". He attempts to access "Share_1" on "Server_1". Automatically the username jdoe and "password" is sent to "Server_1". If the administrator created an account on "Server_1" called "jdoe/password" and set the permissions correctly...the user has access.

In a workgroup, where people are using different computers daily, generally the administrator will setup the same username and password on EACH workstation. This makes it so that the users can access data on the other workstations without providing different credentials...and also alleviates the need to remember several different username / password combinations depending on the workstation they are using.

Main drawback to this is...if you have 10 users and 10 workstations, this means you will have to create 10 accounts on each workstation. Resulting in a total of 100 accounts that need to be managed. Quite the administrative overhead.

In your situation where you want to use a NAS or a Standalone file server, the same applies. Simply create a username/password for each user on the NAS or server and they can access the server from any workstation using THE CREDENTIALS YOU CREATED FOR THEM ON THE SERVER. If their individual workstation username/password differs from the server...they will be prompted for credentials and must supply the correct uname/pwd that you setup on the server.

This is where a domain controller comes in. With a domain it's like a heirarchy. The domain controller is the master for authentication. Rather than creating 10 accounts on each of the individual workstations (for a grand total of 100 accounts) you create 10 accounts on the domain controller. From there you "join" each of the workstations to the domain...these workstations become children of the domain. A user with a domain logon can logon to any of the workstations with the same password and username.
July 11, 2006 6:54:08 PM

Prebuilt superservers from supermicro are very solid servers, and they have overnight turnaround on rma's. They cost lots less than dell too. I just recently built a dual cpu xeon with 4 gig ram and 6 320gig hd's and W2K3 Standard for 2.5k.

I got the specs on this box...
Dual 3.0G 2M Cache Xeons
(3) SATA 80G 7.2 Maxtors on
6 channel raid controller
(4) gigs ram
(2) dual power supplies
Win2K3 R2

4 hour on-site service for 2 years. Hardware support next day for 3 years. All for around $3K

And honestly, I'll say that Dell techs aren't anything special. When I call Dell I already know the problem and's a matter of getting the parts to fix the problem in a timely manner. 24 hour turn around on any component is good to go in my opinion.

I've dealt with Dell for around 9 years now...we used them in the Marine Corps. I have yet to experience a catastrophic server failure. Haven't replaced a single PSU on a server, although we keep a few on hand. Never replaced a motherboard a raid controller or anything really other than a fan in an old 6400 and hard disks from time to time.
July 11, 2006 7:15:13 PM

I'm running dual 1.1GHz P3s with 1.25GB of SDRAM for my home file/ftp/web server. But you don't really need that much necessarily depending on how much it needs to do. What I've got is definitely overkill but it was $150 so I couldn't pass it up.
July 12, 2006 4:30:57 AM

I've had to replace ps's and hd's primarly in dell servers, a couple of mb's and some backplanes. Course this is over 25% of a state, so it's a small number overall.