The Server Primer, Part 1

Professional Equals Expensive

If you shop for professional components or server/workstation systems, you’ll realize that these can be many times more expensive than consumer hardware. The reason isn’t necessarily more sophisticated technology, but rather how professional hardware is specified, tested and validated. A Core 2 Duo Conroe, for example, very much equals a Xeon Woodcrest in terms of performance; the differences can be found in the sockets used, the specifications and the systems they go into. Nevertheless, there often are differences: server hard drives are specifically designed for long-term 24/7 operation, while your desktop hard drive probably isn’t.

We normally assume that any consumer product is compatible with any other, which usually is the case, but not always. The consequence is that you exchange one of the components by a compatible one, mostly without even knowing if it will be an issue. But this is highly unacceptable if you need to upgrade a server, or schedule downtime and resources for maintenance, only to realize that things don’t work out.

New professional products are typically designed with a predictable product path in mind, as manufacturers want these products to work with hardware that was already deployed, and they want it to work with both existing and future hardware generations. AMD and Intel customers regularly receive product roadmaps that explain where the company intends to go. Customers then can purchase a product with the confidence that supply and upgrade options are guaranteed for a period of time.

Warranty and replacement time are crucial as well. While a broken desktop hard drive is often simply replaced by a new model during the warranty period, professional solutions often require staying with particular products. Hence, an administrator will want to get an identical replacement product, while the end user would rather be annoyed that he didn’t get the latest product generation (which indeed is cheaper for most manufacturers).

The magic word for professional components is validation - whenever a significant new product is close to launch, it will be tried and tested on popular hardware. This validation process ensures that companies can actually offer extremely complex system solutions for enterprise customers. You can only build up a business if you’re entirely sure that your IT backbone works.