Server Buying Guide
Aspects to consider when buying a new server
SalesPanda Editorial Content
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About this document
Technology landscape changes extremely fast with many new inventions and
innovations reaching the Enterprise Technology Market. SalesPanda helps
technology buyers understand technology, research products, find solution
providers and connect with them. SalesPanda technology editorial team
releases meaningful content to assist buyers at various stages. Buying Guides
explain a technology, elucidates use cases, highlights salient characteristics,
identifies leading providers and helps understand what to look for in order to
protect IT investments. This document might be used by individuals looking for
buying a server for any of the use cases described in the document. To
evaluate a server, there are some basics that need to be considered. This
document covers the fundamental considerations in evaluating and procuring
servers. This document will be useful to various levels of IT leadership who
evaluate or influence IT decisions. This is also a good primer for non-IT
business leaders understand basic concepts of technology. This document is
part of a series of buyer guides developed by the editorial team of SalesPanda
to assist IT and non-IT decision makers buy Enterprise Technology Solutions.
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Table of Contents
1. Server Use Cases
2. Server Specification
a. Form Factor
c. Hard Disk
3. Important Players
4. Market Trends
5. Pricing Guide
6. Vendor Viability
7. Infrastructure as a service
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1. Server Use Cases:
Servers are devices used in organizations for various computational needs.
Servers can be used for a variety of purposes starting from HTTP/Web,
Application, Database, Security, Mail, Network Management and various others.
Organizations need servers off and on for:
a. New Workloads: Servers can be needed for new requirements like a new
application deployment, rollout to different location, disaster recovery and
various new workloads.
b. Scaling up or out: Servers can be added for enhancing capacity of and
existing node of servers by scaling out. For scaling up also, new bigger
servers can be bought and the smaller existing server be used for some
c. Server refresh: Depending on the nature of existing ones, servers need to
be refreshed every 5 years or so. Sometimes even earlier. That is also a
good time for a technology refresh in terms of the database, operating
system and also fundamental aspects of server technologies.
2. Server Specification Elements:
Servers are typically categorised by the following aspects:
a. Form factor: Form factor defines the shape, size of physical attributes of
the server. There are 3 form factors of a server:
i. Tower: This is where the server typically
stands on a floor/furniture independently.
There is an individual casing of the server
inside which all the elements of the server
resides. Tower servers are typically not
found inside data centres but are usually
found in smaller organizations and in server
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ii. Rack: In rack form factor, these servers can be mounted on racks in
data centres/server rooms. Racks are typically 19 inches wide and
42U or 23 U high. Servers are typically 1U, 2U, 4U, 8U high. 1 U is
1.75 inches. Typically, a piece of equipment being installed has a front
panel height 1⁄32 inch (0.031 inches or 0.787 millimeters) less than
the allotted number of Us. Thus, a 1U rack-mount server is not 1.75
inches (44.4 mm) tall, but is 1.719 inches (43.7 mm) tall. 2U would be
3.469 inches (88.1 mm) instead of 3.5 inches (88.9 mm). This gap
allows a bit of room above and below an installed piece of equipment
so it may be removed without binding on the adjacent equipment.
iii. Blade: Blade servers are stripped down modular designed servers
which can work only when put in a blade enclosure, which can hold
multiple blade servers. A typical enclosure has 6,8,16 blade servers
depending on the size. The enclosure provides common power,
cooling, networking, various interconnects and management. Blade
servers also vary between half blades and full blades by their size. A
blade enclosure is fit into a Rack and its height is defined by ‘U’. A
typical blade enclosure can be 10U in height.
b. CPU Types: Commonly used commercially available servers come with the
following types of CPU architectures:
i. X86: Commonly found architecture in
most entry level and also higher end
servers. Common manufacturers are
Intel and AMD.
ii. RISC: IBM, Oracle (erstwhile SUN)
have their own RISC architecture
CPU-s. IBM has Power Architecture
Servers and Oracle produces
iii. Itanium: Manufactured by Intel for
HP, these are processors designed for high performance computers.
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iv. CISC: While X86 is also part of CISC CPU types, there are lesser
known CPUs designed as per this architecture. IBM z-series
mainframes come with Z-architecture CPU-s.
CPU-s are defined by the number of cores available in the CPU.
CPU-s are typically quad core to six cores.
CPU of a server is also defined by the clock speed. The higher the
clock speed, the more instructions a processor can process. Typically
clock speeds are designated by frequency units like GHz. Sometimes
CPUs are defined by MIPS (Million Instructions Per Second).
Smaller servers have 1-2 CPU-s, mid range servers have 2-4 CPUs
and high end servers have more number of CPUs.
c. Hard disks: Servers are defined by the size and type of disks provided for
native storage inside the server. Hard disks are typically SAS or SATA. SAS
stands for Serial-attached SCSI. SATA Stands for Serial Advanced
Technology Attachment. SAS drives are more advanced than SATA by
speed and reliability. SAS Drives come in 10K and 15 K RPM speeds. Solid
State Drives are more recent technologies, but are not available extensively
with low and mid-range servers. Typical hard disk sizes are 300 or 500 GB.
There are typically 2, 4, 8 or more bays available.
d. RAM: Servers come with the Random Access
Memory (RAM) for execution of programs with
associated data. Servers are characterized by the
amount of RAM available. For smaller servers,
RAM available is in the range of 4-8GB. In larger
servers, RAM available is typically few GBs per
3. Important Players:
In the common enterprise server market, there are the following significant players:
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a. IBM: IBM has x86, Power and Z (mainframe) servers. Earlier models like i-
series (AS400) servers are included in the Power Systems range now. IBM
offers blade centres and blade servers for both x-series (x86) and power
(RISC) architectures. IBM offers
some combined packages called
Pure Systems like Pure Data and
b. HP: HP has the x86 series by the
name Proliant and the Itanium
powered server range called
Integrity range. Integrity servers are
typically more powerful machines
and also have HP Superdomes and
HP Nonstop in the Integrity range of
servers. HP also offers blade form
factors in both range of servers
especially for the small and mid-range ones.
c. Oracle (SUN): SUN also has x86 range of servers and RISC servers
(SPARC). SUN also offers Blade servers for both x86 and RISC servers.
Oracle also offers a super cluster range of products.
d. DELL: Dell provides mostly x86 servers across all form factors of tower,
rack and blades. These are all sold under PowerEdge brand.
e. CISCO: CISCO is now one of the leading brands of x86 servers today. They
entered the server market around 2009 with its Unified Computing System,
combining compute, network and virtualization resources in a single box.
4. Market Trends and recent developments:
The server market is impacted heavily by the advent of cloud offerings of IAAS
(Infrastructure as a service). Server buying moved from end customers to IAAS
providers. With an overall increase in workloads however, the server market grew
at a nominal rate of 2.1% globally in 2013 as per Gartner. However, revenues
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declined by 4.5 %. IT Infrastructure business is not growing at par with other areas
in IT as more and more IAAS options are available from the likes of Amazon Web
Services (AWS), Softlayer (IBM) and many other players.
In January 2014, Lenovo agreed to buy the x86 server business of IBM for $2.6 B.
Lenovo bought IBM’s PC business in 2004.
Organizations are also making better use of their servers through virtualization.
The following are some key trends in the server market:
a. Increasing onslaught of IAAS providers: More and more organizations
are opting for different forms of cloud offerings before buying infrastructure
b. Server: Virtualization software
from third-party providers like
VMware and also server OEMs like
IBM helps virtual servers to be
produced from a single physical
one, and it ensures the physical
resources that are available are
utilized more effectively and
efficiently. CPUs, Memory, Disk and all other resources can be allocated to
virtual server on demand. This is most suitable when there is various
workloads in the organization which peak at different points in time over a
day, week, month or any other period of time. Server virtualization helps in
utilizing unutilized resources kept in headroom to handle occasional peaks in
workloads. Along with Server Virtualization, organizations are also using VDI
(Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) and Storage Virtualization. In server
virtualization, these virtual servers are also referred to as virtual machines
and the environment to create and monitor VMs are called hypervisors.
c. Open Compute Project: Organizations with large distributed workloads are
also looking at cheap standardized servers based on the Open Compute
Project (OCP) specifications, made by lesser-known manufacturers such as
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QuantaQCT and Wiwynn, instead of established vendors like HP or Dell.
(QCT is owned by Quanta, a Taiwanese company that makes servers for
5. Pricing Guide:
The top 5 vendors are vying for the same space and hence are comparable in
price. Companies have different server offerings based on various configurations
and specifications. Here’s an approximate guide for price ranges in Indian Rupees.
Broad Specs Range
One Socket Tower 50,000 – 1,00,000
One Socket rack (1U) ~60,000
Two Socket Tower 90,000-175,000
Two Way rack (1U) 1,00,000 - 1,75,000
Two Way Rack better CPU 1,75,000 – 3,25,000
Blade Server 1,00,000 – 2,00,000
Typically 2-4 CPU-s (x86) 5,00,000 – 8,00,000
RISC 7,00,000 – 12,00,000
Varies based on configuration
Along with servers there are various other connectors, displays, drives etc. which
might be required. One primary component required is an Operating System.
Windows – commercially available with license fees + annual support
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Linux – Offered by Redhat, SUSE etc. for installation and support fees
UNIX – HPUX by HP, AIX by IBM, Solaris by Oracle come for a price typically
along with RISC servers of those makes.
6. Support and vendor viability:
When deciding on a server, support ecosystem for the server also needs to be
kept in mind. The following aspects of support and vendor viability are to be kept in
a. End of sale / End of Support: Typically, server companies announce end
of sale and then end of support. The
support capability tapers off towards the
end. So it is not advisable to buy servers
which are past their peak and would reach
end of life soon.
b. Support infrastructure: There should be
a reliable support infrastructure from the
company or its partners for any issues
c. R&D Spend and new technology focus:
R&D spend of the product gives an idea
of the commitment the company has on the future.
d. Skills on OS: There should be skills available in the market for the OS of
choice. Skill availability can be in-house or available in the market.
e. Server Management skills: Skills are typically available in the market for
commonly available servers. It is important to pick servers where server
management skills can be hired in-house or can be got on hire.
Servers are fundamental requirements in each IT environment. There are pros and
cons of servers on the cloud and servers in-premise. Prior experience and future
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outlook play a significant role in determining the brand of the new server to be
procured. The size of the server is determined by the workload it is expected to
handle and performance output expected. For an independent, technology
agnostic estimation of infrastructure required and an architectural assessment,
please get in touch with SalesPanda experts for help.
7. Infrastructure as a service:
Organizations are increasingly going
for Infrastructure as a service. There
are benefits and concerns. It is like
using a taxi cab and not owning a car.
One needs higher capital to own a car
– that is the classic CAPEX to OPEX
benefit of IAAS. The same
specifications discussed earlier hold
true in case of servers on the cloud –
only you can take them on demand
and pay as you go. Apart from these,
operating system also needs to be specified on the cloud and also for on-premise
ones. IAAS providers provide virtual server instances to consumers. They can also
provide dedicated servers. The typical benefits of cloud servers are:
a. Low start up cost
b. No network infrastructure required except an internet
c. Space, HVAC etc. also factored in – not required separately
d. Can stop service with no/minimal notice
e. Scaling up and down is easy
There had been the concerns about security and privacy. I personally believe that
a leading IAAS service provider will have better security and privacy that most
organizations can manage to put on their own. There are companies at cross