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Servers: Build or Buy?

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Recently this week at Dell World 2014, Dell announced that they were launching their PowerEdge FX converged architecture server line. With this new server, Dell promises even more configurability while reducing complexity and simplifying management. As the server industry is maturing, systems seem to be getting more flexible while at the same time more affordable and accessible for SMBs.

However, what about built-in-house servers? It seems that the trend of SMBs building their own servers is shrinking as buying servers is becoming the preferred method. In a thread on Spiceworks, users discussed the merits of building a server in-house with white box components compared to purchasing a prebuilt server from a well-known manufacturer. The overall consensus was that buying a preconfigured server was far more ideal than building your own server. Multiple comparison points were brought up, including cost, compatibility, and support.

Computer enthusiasts often proselytize the benefits of building a computer. Meanwhile, proponents of buying a server assembled maintain that it is the better option for a variety of reasons. Let us analyze both approaches with a pros and cons list.

Configuring and Building a Server In-house Purchasing Prebuilt or Configuring Server to Order
Pros

  • More configurability
  • Lower cost (arguable)
  • Issues can be immediately addressed by your IT department
Pros

  • Tested system configurations
  • Warranty that covers the entire system
  • Manufacturer-backed support
  • Easier to find drivers and other software and firmware updates
Cons

  • Lack of manufacturer support
  • Can lead to over diversification
Cons

  • Higher-end systems may cost more

For SMBs with a limited IT budget, two of the biggest advantages to building a server in-house are configurability and cost. The amount of configurability is hard to argue, but is cost isn’t. In order to see if building a server truly is more cost effective, we will pick a preconfigured server and attempt to build a server with similar hardware specifications.

So for a preconfigured server, the HP ProLiant ML350p Gen8 tower server will serve as a good mid-range system that has decent hardware. Here are the full hardware specifications.

CPU: Intel Xeon E5-2609 v2
Memory: 4 GB DDR3 PC3-12800 (Registered)Storage: Not Included
Optical Drive: SATA DVD-ROM
Ethernet Controller: 1Gb Ethernet 4-Port
Expansion Slots: 8 × PCI-e 3.0 (3 × 16, 1 × 8, 4 × 4), 1 × PCI-e 2.0
Expansion Bays: 6 × LFF
Power Supply: 460 watt
Total Price: $1,379.99

To best match that system, we will use the following components in an in-house configuration. In this configuration, I will attempt to minimize cost as much as possible without deviating from the system specifications above.

Motherboard & Case: Super Micro SYS-5037A-i Mid-Tower Barebone Server
CPU: Intel Xeon E5-2609 v2 Retail Box
Memory: Kingston 4GB DDR3 PC3-12800 ECC Registered
Optical Drive: LITE-ON 18X DVD-ROM SATA Drive
Storage: Not Included
Power Supply: 900W 80PLUS Gold Power Supply (Included in Barebones)
$559.99
$299.99
$52.99
$19.99
Total Price: $932.96

As users on Spiceworks have stated, SMBs will find more value in the software, warranty, and support found in server offerings from big-name manufacturers.Though the price of the system we built is lower than the preconfigured system is lower, price alone does not tell the entire story. To start with, the barebone server kit used had fewer expansion bays, supported fewer expansion card slots, and did not have any of the software management tools included with the HP ProLiant system.

What about your datacenter? Does your IT department purchase prebuilt servers, configure them to order, or build their own?

Photo by CWCS Managed Hosting, taken from Flickr Creative Commons
Summary
Article Name
Servers: Build or Buy?
Description
In this age, is it better to build servers yourself or order a prebuilt system from a big-name manufacturer? We discuss the mertis of both approaches.
Author
Wallace Chu

Wallace Chu

A self-professed tech hipster that loves computers and music. Uses an iPhone ironically.

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