How to choose your small business in-house server: part two

Thinking about installing your own server? This is part two of our guide to doing just that.
30 March 2018 | 15 Shares

Part two of our in-house server guide looks at some specific models. Source: Pixabay

Despite the headlong rush into the cloud, a significant number of small businesses wish to retain absolute control over their own data. To achieve this, and the increased security that comes along with the decision, many are deploying in-house servers.

In this second of two articles, we look at a range of small business servers, ranging from those costing just a few hundred dollars up to those which are entry-level enterprise models – those which might not seem out of place in an average data center.

Because every organization’s requirements differ, we’ve taken a base model as: Intel Xeon 3 processor, 8GB RAM, 2TB HDD with software RAID 1 configuration, and no operating system. The following is, therefore, an attempt to give a general price guide to be used when in an initial project planning phase.

1. Dell T130 ≈ $800 (offers often available)

No list of office computing products would be complete without an offering from Dell. The T130, while not being the absolute entry-level tower server from the company, is the cheapest model covered here.

Like all Dell’s models, it is highly configurable according to particular requirements. For our purposes here we have chosen an absolute base level set-up. For those on a budget, just the model described here will be sufficient, but many will wish to expand memory and or hard drives capacity, for instance.

The range offers several processors ranging from an Intel I3 right up to an Intel Xeon SUMMAT, which will add a princely $700 to the bill.

8 GB of memory should be considered an absolute minimum even for a headless Linux server installation, although there are lightweight Linux distros out there that will happily run on even a few megabytes of RAM. However, for most small business installations, the specialist skill & time needed to use a tiny OS easily outweigh the savings made in the cost of a few RAM sticks.

With 8 GB of RAM, the T130 will happily run full-blown Ubuntu Server with a friendly windowing system such as the Unity GUI, which can ship with Ubuntu Server as standard.

The T130 as we have specified it (and the other manufacturers’ machines here) comes with two hard drives, preconfigured into a RAID 1. This means that the two 1TB drives are mirrored. Therefore in the event of a disk’s failure, the computer can be back up and running within moments.

Like an investment in plenty of RAM, doubling up the hard drives in this way will pay dividends in the event of a possible disaster.

2. Asus TS100–E9–P14 ≈ $900

The Taiwanese Asus is not usually the first name that springs to mind when considering server hardware, but the tech giant’s buying power means that it can offer a significant quality of server hardware platform.

The TS100 is classed as an entry-level business server and comes in a tower form factor (all the models featured here are the same), with USB 3 and gigabit LAN (ethernet) as standard.

Asus put serious emphasis on this machine’s low volume and power consumption figures. The former may seem fatuous at first glance, but powerful computers such as those used in servers generate significant amounts of noise. If your tower-sized server sits in the corner of your office, the constant roar of cooling fans will soon become an unwanted irritation.

Additionally, the TS100’s low requirements and power consumption control systems will help keep running costs down.

Like its Dell competitor, the Asus machine ships with Intel’s Xeon 3 processor and unlike some modern desktop towers, comes with plenty of room for expansion. There’s space for two 5.25 inch and three 3.5 inch devices. Interestingly, there is also a 2.5-inch internal disk bay (2.5 inches is the standard size for laptop drives).

3. HPE ProLiant ML10 Gen9 server ≈ $2,000

Hewlett-Packard’s market position in the enterprise server market is unassailable, with a significant percentage of the world’s data centers running on HP hardware.

The entry-level ProLiant ML10 has a base price of $759, although, in the configuration we have chosen, this rises to around $2000.

Choices of operating systems are many and varied from Hewlett-Packard at the configuration stage, with options ranging basic Windows Server 2016, right up to full Red Hat licensing and maintenance deals.

For the purposes of pricing a suitable model, we have not specified an operating system to ship with the tower server – installation of an OS is very easy these days, and an open-source Linux system is as easy to put in place as installing a series of simple applications onto a traditional desktop PC.

Dropbox licenses can be added as one of the configuration steps for this model, HPE & Dropbox having entered into a bilateral supply agreement in 2016.

As we configured the model, similarly to the Dell above (two 1TB disks, 8GB RAM, gigabyte ethernet, no OS) the HPE ML10 comes in at around the $2000 mark. While this seems significantly more than the equivalent Dell, users will be buying into an ecosystem which brings enterprise-level support and upgrade possibilities as the organization scales.

4. Lenovo ThinkServer T150 ≈ $1,200

Lenovo acquired IBM’s Intel-based server product lines in 2014 and has generally continued Big Blue’s legacy of providing reliable hardware, albeit at the lower end of the market.

We have configured the TS150 tower small business server similarly to the models above, and the specifications described can be sourced online for around the $1200 mark.

The machine ships with a 3.7 GHz Intel Xeon 3 processor and 8GB RAM running at 2400 MHz. Similar to all models above, we have not specified an operating system. With RAID 1 and two 1TB drives, the ThinkServer ships with a large array of interfaces including eight USB 3.0 ports, VGA, and display outputs as well as gigabit ethernet.

Coming as standard, the machine ships with a DVD RW drive which is only an option for the Hewlett-Packard, although the low cost of this type of hardware shouldn’t mean that its presence is a deal changer.

The machine ships with two internal 1TB drives and a software RAID, although if desired much cheaper hard drives could be sourced (they’re around $200 each from Lenovo). Like many aspects of server choice, you get what you pay for, and if data is precious to your organization, the investment in high-quality hardware should be regarded as money in the bank. The disastrous loss of data will cost significantly more than savings made by choosing grey-imports for mission-critical systems.

Finally…

Anyone investing in an in-house server should be aware that the server hardware (and operating system, if Windows is your chosen route) are but some of the costs involved. Those considering a purchase should read the first part of this guide, which covered many of the additional requirements of installation of servers in-house – items such as backup provision, security, and power management soon add up.

The key to successful deployment of servers rests not only on pricing and specs – the testing phase is fundamental. Before you roll out new or replacement data services into your work environment, start your testing immediately.

If it turns out that what you’ve sourced isn’t suitable, the quicker you can ascertain this the better – proper suppliers will always offer you a refund, additional help or alternatives that will behave better.

Good luck!