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Server & Workstation Equipment Guide

Introduction

Servers and workstations can fill a variety of roles, from being network file storage solutions to hosting online storefronts. They have to be able to handle many users simultaneously accessing information and operate reliably for long periods of time. It is no surprise then, that the equipment that goes into servers and workstations have higher fault tolerances and performance levels than the average desktop computer. For more information about servers and workstations, see below.

Server and Workstation Systems

These pre-assembled systems can come in a variety of form factors and configurations, from desktop towers to thin chassis modules. A complete server or workstation will include the motherboard, processor, and memory, though some may require you to purchase hard drives separately. When selecting a server or workstation, you have three possible choices.

Tower Server

A tower server looks very much like a desktop computer tower. It costs less than either a rack-mount or blade server solution, but is also bulkier than those two. Cabling for multiple tower servers can be problematic if the towers are closely grouped together.

Rack-mounted Server

Meant to be used with large rack-mount chassis that can hold multiple servers, their main advantage is that they simplify cabling and can tightly pack more servers into one area than tower servers. One disadvantage is that they generate large amounts of heat and require specialized cooling systems.

Blade Server

A blade server is similar to a rack-mounted server, except that it is more compact. A blade enclosure is used to house multiple blade servers as well as the power and networking needs of the servers. Similar to rack-mounted servers, they reduce the amount of cabling required.

Server and Workstation Barebones

These do-it-yourself solutions include the chassis and motherboard, but require you to purchase the processor, memory, and other components separately. With barebones systems, you must have some knowledge about hardware compatibility and the ability to assemble computer systems. They can cost less than pre-built systems, but will not have one comprehensive warranty that covers all the components.

Server Software

Servers and workstations require specialized programs and operating systems to complete tasks such as Web site hosting, virtualization, networking, cloud computing, automation, and more. While your average home user will not need such features, they can be essential to organizations. Some pre-built computers may already include server software, but barebones systems will require you to purchase your own.

Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) Enclosures

RAID is a method of setting up multiple hard disk drives so that they can function as one unit for either performance or redundancy. When set up for redundancy, data is duplicated across multiple drives so that the failure of one drive does not mean the data is lost. This RAID configuration is known as disk mirroring.

A RAID setup can also be used to improve performance. Instead of duplicating the data, each drive reads and writes a different portion of it. By employing multiple drives to read and write data simultaneously, overall performance increases. This method of setting up a RAID array is referred to as striping.

So what is a RAID enclosure? It is a device that can hold multiple hard disk drives and has a controller unit that can configure the drives in either a mirrored or striped setup. An enclosure can be connected to workstations and servers either by SATA® or eSATA.

Enterprise Hard Drives

Designed for the needs of servers and workstations, enterprise-grade hard drives have higher levels of reliability and faster speeds than their consumer counterparts. A server can often run 24/7 for extremely long periods of time without shutting down or restarting, which means a lot of material stress for its components. To meet those demands, enterprise hard drives have stronger internals and the ability to recover bad sectors. An enterprise hard drive will also typically have a longer warranty and is more suited for RAID setups.

Components

The hardware that goes into a server is typically more robust than what is found inside a consumer desktop computer. They usually will have higher heat tolerances, the ability to find and correct errors, and more consistent performance. For those reasons, components for servers and workstations such as the processor, memory, and power supply may cost more but are better suited for continuous operation than their consumer counterparts.