Pricing out a
bright shiny new server
I went to Dell and priced out a minimally configured
base server I'd install at a client that has a typical business
workload. You can read all the specs in the document
here. Prices were taken
in November 2013. Bottom line, here
was the price:
In one line, this was a Dell R520 dual CPU quad-core
setup (E5-2403 v2, 1.8 GHz, 1333 MHz memory speed) with 32 GB RAM
and Qty. 4 500 GB SATA hard drives totalling 2 TB of raw storage in a chassis that only holds 4
hard drives. 2U and rack-mountable.slowest quad-core Their "basic
support" 10/5 which is available 10 hours a day, 5 days a week,
they'll remotely work with you to diagnose and send someone out to
fix it on site the next business day.
No software or shipping is included in the above
I priced the slowest and cheapest of the new
processors for this Dell. There is another article on "Getting the
best Bang for your Buck" that I'll write sometime - I've drawn and
explained the curves hundreds of times and now it is on my list of
articles to write.
So there is the new system - lets just call it $2600
by the time you've gotten it shipped to your door.
In this corner, the challenger, a Dell PowerEdge 2950 III:
I buy servers in the used marketplace for clients all
the time. In fact, the one I'm going to use as an example I picked up a year
before the quote above. It is a Dell PowerEdge 2950 Generation III that shipped to
its first owner on 1/31/2008. So when I put it into service, it was 5
It arrived packed VERY well - this pair of servers
was for a client:
Lots of bubble wrap on top:
Inside is a form fitting foam carrier to protect
from shocks as well as rack rails as this was installed in a
client's rack in his server room:
When setting everything up, I want this to be as
trouble-free as possible. Since hard drives typically have a design
lifetime of 5 years, I won't install a server at a client with used 5
year old hard drives. That is like putting a transmission with
250,000 miles on it into your car - it might work for another 100K
miles, but it is more likely going to break down anytime now. So all new 1 TB
and 2 TB hard drives for this server! Here are a couple of servers
on the workbench - I'm in the
middle of setting them up. The boxes on top are all new hard drives:
Inside, the system was squeaky clean. Often times
you find older equipment that wasn't maintained properly gunked up
with dust and dirt, the fans are all clogged and not turning very
well - but not from this supplier, which is why I use them. They get off-lease systems from
well kept data centers that
are being replaced with new stuff, check them out, and re-sell them.
I get them, do all the updates required, install new
drives, setup for the client as necessary, and deliver your server
ready to go!
What did 5 years
in computer evolution buy you?
The detailed specs on this system as shipped from Dell
are listed here, but
to summarize, it too has dual CPUs, each is a quad-core, 2.5 GHz CPU
speed, this particular unit had 32 GB of RAM, dual power supples, and
space for up to 6 hard drives.
How much better / faster is the new system than the
old one? That is a complicated question.
In the old days, you could compare two processors by
'clock speed' in KHz (KiloHertz), MHz (MegaHertz) or GHz
(GigaHertz). Due to advances in processor design, internal structure
that allowed it to do more than one thing at once, and putting
multiple processors in a single package (dual, quad, or hex cores),
the days of comparing clock speeds to know which is faster and by
how much are long gone.
To combat this, the computer industry measures
various components on set workloads and uses those to compare
speeds. For example, a favorite older benchmark was seeing how many
prime numbers the computer can find in a given unit of time, say 5
minutes. But then processors received built-in hardware floating
point calculations - the ability to multiply and divide on the chip
in hardware (very fast) instead of having to do the division in
software (very slow). If your system had a 'numeric coprocessor'
installed, it would look faster for this type of benchmark VS. a
system that didn't have that chip. In reality if you weren't doing
heavy math the computer wouldn't be any faster.
Nowadays, every PC and Mac have this hardware built
in, but hopefully you get the idea. You need some kind of "more like
the real world" method to measure processors against each other. As
of this writing, the processors are measured against each other in
SpecMarks - according to
the brand new server as I configured it has a spec CPU2006int_rate of 167.
Dell, a single
Quad Core E5420 CPU from the used server has a SpecMark of 23.9,
this is as tested in September 2008.
If you do the math, 167 / 23.9 = 6.98 - lets say
these are exactly relative numbers and give the new Dell server a
big rubber marketing stamp that says "Procesor 7X faster than that
older server! You should buy new!"
lie, but liars figure
So now I'm going to let you in on a dirty little
secret that few computer sales folks will share with you.
But I'm not a salesman - I'm an engineer ... So I'm not
bound by that code.
That 7x faster figure is only true for work that is
confined to the CPU and not waiting for something else to happen.
"What does that mean - in english, please?"
A computer has various subsystems - input/ouput,
storage, memory access, graphics performance, ... and any workload
needs to take into account all the links in the chain that workload
is using. Your system
won't be better than the slowest link in the chain for any given
workload. Speed up a fast link in the chain, the work won't get done that much
quicker. Just like making the strongest link in a chain stronger,
that won't help it pull more weight.
So for calculating prime numbers - a task that is
100% processor bound, that new server will be 7x faster than the old
one. Any operation that is processor intensive will be faster as
well. One example of this is transcoding a video from one format to
another - like taking a DVD Movie and making it so it will display
on your iPad. That is a very math and CPU intenstive operation, so
that would be faster.
For reading files off your hard drive and sending
them to client machines, a typical file or print server function,
the CPU will now sit around waiting for the data to come off the
hard drive. Your new 7x faster server will be able to sit around and
do nothing 7x as fast as the old one while waiting for data from the
In other words, you won't get 7x the speed of the
data off the hard drive because in that case the hard drive is the
If you were doing 3D Renderings - lets say you are
making the next big animated movie for Pixar - now your graphics
processor performance and CPU speed both are heavily taxed.
But for most businesses today, you are accessing
your databases, reading spreadsheet files, doing word processing,
maybe a mail merge, and you are doing all these things from your
workstation - your server is handing your workstation various files,
maybe acting as a web server, holds your quickbooks database, spools
printed data to your printer, stores and retrieves email, etc.
These are mostly disk and file based operations, NOT CPU
Getting to the
That was a lot of words and a lot of more
detailed tech talk than you probably wanted to read - but the bottom line is
most businesses getting a general use server won't see very much
benefit from that new server VS. and older server repurposed because
disk access hasn't seen the same speed increases that processors
have. There are ways around this (huge RAM cache or a bank of SSDs), but that is another article for
Your mileage may vary, which is why I would talk to
you about your company's specific needs before going this route. But
if we can go this route, the money you save VS. new can be a nice
vacation, year end bonus, or whatever other reinvestment in your
business you choose.
So how much is
that old server anyway?
The example here was for a client in Wisconsin. If they have a hardware problem,
for me to be on site won't be cost effective. To combat this, they
have a 2nd full server as a back up unit. The main used server configured with 4
new hard drives and an entire second server to act as an organ
donor / spare parts machine, the hardware set them back about $1,300. This was
back in August 2013 and things have been problem free so far. If
there is a hardware problem ... the drives are covered by a 5 year
warranty from the manufacturer and the rest of the system has a full
set of spare parts (processors, memory, fans, boards, cables,
network, ...) just waiting if they are needed.
$1300 vs. $2600.
They wouldn't see any performance benefit for their
workload if they had the brand new server in the back room. You do the math
- is it worth it?
If they happen to need a 2nd server, for a couple
hundered they can get drives for the other server and be up and
running for $1500 for two servers VS. $5200 new. Then I could get
another spare parts unit and it could serve as an organ donor for
Before you buy
that shiny new server
Think about this: That new server you are about to
drop $2600 at a minimum on will be worth maybe $500 in 4 years. It
won't be some slow dog of a server then - it will likely run just as
well in 4 years as it does today when new assuming you keep it
If it meets your needs, why are you replacing it?
My client, being a good due-dilligence type, got a
competitive quote from another computer firm more local to his
business - I
erased all the names to protect the innocent:
This was their bottom line, including software,
labor, transferring all the data off their old server, setting up
all the items required, etc. What you don't yet see is $48 per user
per year for email services hosted by another company (which will
likely change over time). Being a small firm, they have about 4
users, so add $200/year for years 2, 3, 4, ....
My bottom line bill - a snip shown here - included
both servers (main and organ donor), 19 hours of labor for setup of
the hardware, installing software, configuration, on site visit to
install, transfer all data, and the ferry ticket across lake
Equalizing out, the local quote is $6342-tax is
$6000, mine was $3550.
And I don't have another $200/year for email as they
host their own email on their server, locally host their website (no
fees there), get free analytics, ...) for a hands-off operation.
$6000-3550 is a $2400 savings.
I have another client whose storage needs are much
greater. I just ran a new set of numbers (4/2015) and a shiny new
Dell configured 2 ways:
With 12 TB of 10,000 RPM storage quoted up to
With 12 TB of 7,200 RPM storage quoted up to
An HP server a few years old with more memory and
also 12 TB of 10,000 RPM drives inside came to $5457.
server a few years old with more memory and also 12 TB of
7,200 RPM drives inside came to $3255.
In this case, I did the analysis and decided HP was the better choice than Dell -
the reasons could be another article. Each vendor has its advantages
and disadvantages, and picking the right one for your needs is my
They bought the server with 10,000 RPM speedy
drives and I saved them $6200!
Is it worth it? You do the math and decide for
yorself. Or let me do the math for you. I've done this for many
companies and would love to evaluate your situation and perhaps it
is the right solution for you as well.
Thanks for stopping by!
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