The Dos and Donts of Buying Servers

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The Do's and Don'ts of Buying Servers

Not long after the personal computer began populating the workplace in great numbers, servers came onto the scene as a way to provide these units with greater power and connectivity. Early servers often powered large database applications and, later, hardware and software programs. The server's operating system dictates the capabilities of individual PCs, and its features, from increased memory and processing speed, to greater networking capabilities, greatly outpower those offered by the PC alone.

Servers are available in varying sizes, with increasingly advanced capabilities come growing price tags. That said, unless one's budget is highly restrictive, a server should never be purchased with the only aim of solving today's needs; rather, units should be sought that offer upgrade capabilities, including slots for additional RAM and bays for more hard drives. After learning more about server functions and capacities, buyers can have a feel for the do's and don'ts of buying these units. Armed with this knowledge, they are ready to visit eBay and make a purchase.

A Brief History of Servers

In the early 1990s, computers began their takeover of the European workplace. No longer did computerised operations require the use of a mainframe or microcomputer; rather, the personal workstation could accomplish many of these tasks. Toward the end of that decade, servers entered the scene, with dedicated server hardware on its heels. Thus, the self-contained server appliance was born.

Client-server architecture made the most of operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows, Linux, and UNIX. Viewed as a type of server in their own right, operating systems are tasked with delivering hardware to the software programs, which run because of it. Services, or daemons, running in the background of the operating system are also known as servers, ready to perform when called upon.

Another technological component often referred to as a server is the Internet. Responsible for running a multitude of servers that manage information over a number of clients, the Internet connects each action with at least one server, and often more. The World Wide Web, chat and instant messaging, file transfer, streaming audio and video, online gaming, voice communication, and email are examples of servers that are in constant interaction with the internet.

A Primer on Servers

A dedicated computer drive with both hardware and software responsible for serving one or many users' networked computers is known as a server. Broken down, a server is identified as a computerised process sharing resources with clients. Servers do not necessarily run standard PC hardware and software. Rather, server-specific operating systems, hardware, and software are available, as are licences for one or multiple users.

Many components can be termed "server", and a client-server is no exception. In this realm, the server is a computer program designed to fulfil the requests of clients, essentially, other programs. Client-servers may be run from the client computer, or operated as standalone units. Some of the more common types of servers are database, print, file, mail, gaming, web, and proxy servers.

In terms of specialised servers, it is important to recognise the distinction between network and web servers. The former, found largely in business environments, generally reside with or near the client computers. The Internet has enabled the processing and receiving of data to take place at a distance. A network server should always be a dedicated standalone unit, as the storage capacity, processing speed, and increased memory needs demand more than a standard computer can provide. FTP, online game, proxy, and Web servers are all examples of network servers.

On the other end of the spectrum, a Web server is generally run as part of a standard computer. The Web server utilises HTTP clients to send and receive data. Although original Web servers were capable of handling only simple client requests, the models available now can perform more complicated functions. Web servers are sometimes known as information or application servers.

Dedicated Servers

While it is true that network server functions can be performed by a personal computer, separate units are generally preferable when multiple clients are being served. Devoted solely to the responsibility of overseeing other computers' functions and needs, the dedicated server is outfitted with additional features that enable it to perform these tasks.

Along with a faster central processing unit, or CPU, the dedicated server may also include more high-performance RAM, as well as either multiple or larger hard drives for greater storage capacity. Less visible characteristics may be such things as reliability, availability, and serviceability (RAS), and fault tolerance features, including network connections, redundancy in power supplies, and storage.

Server Hardware Requirements

There are no set hardware requirements for servers; instead, the necessary components vary based on the function of the unit. Some of the more common aspects include high I/O throughput and fast network connections. Audio, USB, and graphical user interfaces, or GUIs, are generally not needed, and a monitor is optional, as well.

The greater the responsibility of the server, the more essential its reliability is. As such, servers with a high degree of fault tolerance and low incidence of failure are vital for mission-critical enterprises. These servers may include such things as memory with redundant disks and power supplies, as well as error detection and correction. Larger servers are often placed in a dedicated server centre or room with other powerful servers, where it has added security, reliable internet access, and a stable power supply.

Home Servers

A home server is just as it sounds: a server located within a private residence that uses the Internet, a home network, or both to relay information to personal computers and other devices in the home. Home servers can be used to coordinate file sharing, printer operation, media centres, Web surfing, account authentication, and web caching, and also frequently serve as backup drives.

As a home server does not require anywhere near the processing speed or computing power of its office counterpart, separate PCs are often used in this role. Different uses for home servers include centralised storage, remote access, media consolidation, email serving, and home security monitoring.

The Do's of Buying a Server

Buying a server should be thought of as an extension to buying a personal computer, except that this unit has additional features that bear consideration. A review of the best practices to follow when in the market for a server is a good place to start.

Do Consider the Server's Upgrade Potential

Luckily, and especially due to their redundancy, many parts of a server computer can be upgraded as needs increase and funds become available. However, this is not the case in all situations; as such, it is important to know what to look for before making a purchase.

Do Know the Technical Requirements of Your Software

Not all software programs have the same technical specifications; thus, it is important to determine these requirements first. If the software vendor cannot provide this information, it is usually obtainable from a basic Web search. Determining these specifications necessitates knowing such variables as number of users, number of customers, and number of email boxes, and so on.

Do Know the Intended Operating System

It is important to know what operating system the server is running. This decision, too, may be dependent on specific variables as outlined above. In this category, some of the more popular choices are Microsoft Windows Server, Linux, and UNIX. Remember that operating system licenses are priced based on number of users, so this cost should be considered when establishing a server budget.

Do Consider Current and Future RAM and Hard Drive Needs

The server's memory must be sufficient for the number of users and range of tasks. It is a good idea to buy a server that allows for multiple CPUs. This way, if the initial purchase has too little memory, its functionality can easily be expanded. The same goes for RAM. As long as the server has additional slots where RAM may be added, it should be a good initial purchase with an eye toward future use.

Just as additional RAM slots are desirable, the same goes for hard drive bays. All servers can incorporate multiple hard drives. Ideally, however, the server should have enough open bays to hold additional hard drives, which can be added as future needs dictate.

The Don'ts of Buying Servers

When it comes time to buying a server, it pays to know not only what to do but also what not to do. Armed with an overview of questions to ask and features to seek, buyers should next review common mistakes made when shopping for servers.

Don't Buy Only for the Here and Now

While it is true that budget is a contributing factor towards making a server purchase, it pays to look a bit down the road. Buying a unit without open slots for adding RAM or hard drives is probably not the best choice one can make. A good server is one that allows for upgrades as your memory and processing requirements change. A unit that does not have room for these add-ons is not the best buy for your budget.

Moreover, memory is not the only thing that can be expanded upon; server buyers should also allow for additional storage capacity. If you purchase a unit that does not allow you to add hard drives down the line, you may find yourself rueing that decision before too long. If at all possible, buyers should allow themselves room to expand as need dictates; if they do not, they may find themselves in the market for another server before too long.

Don't Go Shopping Without the Right Numbers

Servers have to sync with the technical specifications of the software. Taking a moment to obtain these numbers, either noted when booting up or obtained from the vendor, is essential. Don’t go shopping without knowing a few other numbers, including how many clients, users, and email accounts you are running.

Don't Assume Server and Operating System Compatibility

Yet another bit of information to have before shopping for a server is the operating system. Not only do you need to factor this product into your purchase, but you should factor in the necessary number of licenses.

Do's and Don'ts Summary Chart

The chart below summarizes the various do's and don'ts of buying servers to ensure a smart purchase. Buyers can look to the chart below as a quick reference when considering servers.

Consideration

Do's

Don'ts

Upgrades

Look for a server with upgrade potential

Buy a server without extra RAM slots and hard drive bays

Specifications

Check software technical specifications before buying

Fail to consider factors such as number of users and mailboxes when calculating tech specs

Operating System

Identify the server's operating system

Forget to factor the cost of operating system licences into the budget

Processing and Memory

Buy a server that allows for multiple CPUs

Rule out memory upgrades via expansion

After thoroughly reviewing server features, functions, and capabilities, many of these do's and don'ts should seem to be common sense. Nevertheless, a brief reminder can help ensure a more satisfying server purchase.

How to Buy a Server on eBay

There are servers aplenty on eBay; as such, it pays to have done your homework before going online. Now that you have reviewed server characteristics and features, and learned what you should—and should not—do when shopping for a server, you are ready to view the site's vast server inventory. A quick look at the survey options provides an overview of your options; from there, you can narrow your search to find precisely the right RAM, processing speed, hard drive capacity, or other features you are seeking.

Beyond a straightforward search for servers, eBay lets you dive deeper and explore by brand, condition, location, shipping, and price range. You can always narrow your search by typing specific terms into the search bar, such as client-server, Web server, or application server. Large, easy-to-view pictures accompany brief descriptions and prices. Click on any photo or title to view additional details about the product, including any additional photos, if available. When buying computer equipment, you may want to look for a seller who accepts returns.

Conclusion

Whether working in a home environment or at work, computer users sooner or later look to acquire a server. Not only does the server provide a central place to consolidate files, software, and operating systems, but it sends and receives messages to networked PCs, fulfilling requests, providing access, and overseeing their operation. As servers can range from spare CPUs to dedicated units, it is important to buy the right server for one's specific needs.

Obtaining a better understanding of servers, including their history and what they are used for, is a good first step. However, knowing some suggested buying practices can only help to ensure a more satisfying purchase. Chief amongst these considerations is a thorough needs analysis, reviewing such things as technical requirements, CPU and RAM capacity, and upgrade potential. After learning the do's and don'ts of buying a server, the shopper is prepared to visit eBay and find the perfect product.

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