Hardware Help: The MSP’s Guide to Buying the Right Server

Hardware Help: The MSP’s Guide to Buying the Right Server

July 16

The server hardware is an essential component in an MSP’s IT infrastructure. Whether the provider specializes in hosting or network monitoring, this equipment is integral to delivering the services that make up their offering. Whereas a personal computer runs a desktop operating system that supports word processing applications, media players, and photo editing software, a server runs a specialized operating system that supports websites, customer relationship software or other complex applications.

While there is certainly no shortage of options, you don’t want to make the mistake of just choosing
any old (or new) machine. Your customers deserve the very best, right? If that was a yes, consider this post a guide to choosing a server that provides the functionality your clients demand, while keeping the requirements of your IT environment in mind.

Address the Client’s Needs

If you’re merely accommodating simple needs such as file sharing, basic remote access, and small scale backups, something on the low-end server spectrum might suffice. But if you need to support email, database or web server applications that require either tons of resources, multiple users to have access, or both, you should probably go with something on the higher end, heavier duty side. I’ll get into the general functionality of price groups later, but for now I want to stress the importance of letting client needs dictate your decision.

Look at Server Types

Servers are manufactured by a great number of companies. IBM, HP and Dell are just a few of the participants operating in a game chock full of major players. While there are plenty of server brands to choose from, these robust computers can generally be broken down into three categories:

1. Towers. Many towers look a like lot desktop PCs and are equally affordable. You can grab a decent single-core processor with approximately 250 GB of disk space and 2 GB RAM with the ability to expand up to four individual terabyte hard drives for around three hundred bucks. On the high-end of the fence you’ve got your dual-core machines with double the resource capacity going around the $3,000 mark.

Towers make an excellent choice from a reliability standpoint, but can cause problems as the needs of your customers change. They’re usually a bit taller than PCs and clunky enough already, so storage becomes an issue the more you accumulate in the data center. Because scalability is crucial in the IT environment, it’s best to keep your number of tower servers to a minimum and if possible, expand through other means. .

2. Rack servers. Designed to support multiple units, rack servers are a fine alternative to towers. These types of servers are ideal for the MSP that understands the importance of expansion as they allow you to store a huge network of computers in a small space and boast scale-friendly specifications. Even low-end models typically come loaded with generous amounts of RAM, disk space, and processing power, which justifies the higher price tag that accompanies them.

A full rack may easily consist of dozens of servers. This arrangement is convenient from a storage standpoint, but since you’re basically stacking one unit on top of another, excessive heat becomes a factor. From keeping the equipment cool to having to literally pull the unit out of the rack for even general maintenance, keeping up with rack servers can be a chore.

3. Blade servers. Though both are similar, blade servers are even more efficient than racks in design. Sporting a thinner build, blades fit into a chassis, where they can be easily inserted and removed. The chassis houses the outlets for all your power, cooling, and device connectivity needs, and even provides for the easy installation of routers, firewalls and other network components. When it comes to consolidation efficiency, blades are the cream of the server crop, which is why they demand premium billing in the cost department.

Like rack servers, blades are stacked in close proximity, so they come with the same issue of generating fierce amounts of heat and needing to be properly cooled. Additionally, they generally have fewer PCI slots than towers and racks, which means fewer opportunities for expansion.

Regardless of what you choose in the way of server hardware, rest assured that technology is on your side, there to help you make the most of your investment. Virtualization will allow you to maximize the utilization of your physical machines, while the cloud can support needs such as storage and app deployment when client demands evolve beyond the realm of your IT environment. Buy good quality stuff, and handy IT innovations such as these will make sure you get your money’s worth.