Rack Mount Server

What You Need To Know Before You Buy A Rack Mount Server

Choosing A Great Rack Mount Server

For many businesses today, business on the web has become an integral part of life. Where it was once something reserved for the techies, many managers now understand at least what a rack mount server is, and possibly even a little about how they work. Whether you have an established e-commerce channel, an active social media presence, or simply an online brochure for a web site, the world has changed to the point where having no website and online activity is no longer an option.

rack mount server

There’s more to getting your business online that just buying a rack mount server. For starters, you need to choose where to host it, and whether renting would be a better option than buying.

Fortunately, the price of technology has fallen considerably over the last decade or two, so while you can still spend tens of thousands of dollars on high end servers, it’s unusual for a typical business to need to spend anything like that kind of money. In fact, owning a server in itself is no longer an obvious choice, as these pieces of kit are often best rented from specialist companies with their own data centers and highly trained technicians and engineers. This means you can forget about the hardware side of things, as it’s the hosting company’s responsibility if there is anything that physically fails.

Can You Get Exactly The Right Server Configuration From Hosting Providers?

Having said that, renting a rack mount server in a data center comes with a different problem when you approach some hosting providers, and that is the fact that they tend to prefer to offer a small range of server configurations to choose from. For a lot of their customers, this is absolutely fine, but some may have specific needs and need custom built servers, or extra cards or other hardware adding into the box.

The flexibility of the hosting companies varies enormously, as some are set up on the ‘stack them high and sell it cheap’ model, whereas others are more focused on individual client needs. Obviously, if you have very specific requirements, you’ll be looking at the latter, just be aware that those providers tend to come with a much more serious price tag. There is sometimes a hybrid option available, which involves you purchasing your own rack mount server and shipping it to their data center where you effectively rent rack space rather than the server itself. In this scenario, you’ll likely be responsible for any hardware failure in the future.

Renting Rack Space For A Rack Mount Server

Rack space tends to be sold in units in multiples known as ‘u’. For example a single unit will be known as a 1u slot, or a double as 2u – you get the idea! For this reason, when you buy a server, you’ll often see it listed as 1u, 2u and so on  - this simply refers to the amount of rack space it will take up in the data center (or your office if you choose to host it yourself and get your own server cabinet – more on this later).

Choosing Your Server Operating System

When it comes to the software you run on your rack mount servers, that’s almost entirely up to you. If you choose a standard server to rent, rather than buying one yourself, you will normally be asked to choose a pre-installed operating system. Common choices include Windows and Linux variations. For example, current Windows operating systems for a rack mount server tend to include Windows 2003 Server, Windows Server 2003 R2 (short for release 2), Windows 2008 Server, Windows Server 2008 R2, and Windows Server 2012. Linux operating systems also come in similar versions, but also have different families too, such as Red Hat, CentOS and Debian to name a few.

Sometimes Options Aren’t As Limited As They Seem…

Although the final Windows option (2012) has been out for some time, some hosting companies have been slow to push it through their quality assurance (QA) processes and it is only just becoming available. You can often get around this if your preferred hosting company is not publicly offering it by signing a form to accept responsibility for any issues resulting from it not being ‘signed off’. Naturally, this moves some of the risk for potentially serious problems in the future (such as data loss or incompatible drivers or other software) to you as the customer, whereas it may previously have been at least partly the job of the hosting company to rectify.

Pre-Built Servers Vs Build It Yourself

Common choices of rack mount server technology include HP, Dell and Cisco. These are particularly popular because they are assembled by companies who sell a lot of servers. The benefit here is that if there are problems with the servers, they tend to be found and fixed very fast, a sort of ‘safety in numbers insurance policy’ is a good way to look at it. As you can imagine, huge numbers of servers failing would be very bad public relations for companies of this size and stature, so they have very stringent processes to make sure products work as they should before leaving production. Of course, problems can still occur, but they’re far more likely to be solved quickly by experts than something one of your employees cobbles together on site!

Hosting Your Rack Mount Server Yourself

As we touched on earlier, some companies choose to host their servers on site, and while it’s still able to be exactly the same rack mount server technology that you’re using, you really do need to be aware of the risks when you go down this route. Firstly, if you are hosting your company website on site, you need to be aware of some obvious and some less obvious facts. Firstly, the servers never get switched off. It’s pretty much common sense when you think about it, but for many people it never crosses their mind until the techies in the company mention it.

For some managers, they can find themselves with a technical team who like to control everything, and the only real reason the techies want things on site is to maintain that level of control, or they lack the confidence to delegate that responsibility to an external team of specialists. Of course, the majority of hosting providers are likely to have access to far more specialist knowledge in their staff than you, but getting that across to a paranoid IT manager isn’t always easy.

Be Aware Of The Costs Of Self-Hosting In Terms Of Bills And Lost Business

Having this technology switched on all day every day brings a new set of challenges to your workplace. Firstly you need somewhere to physically put it. Server cabinets can be bulky things, and easily take up as much space as one of your employees (including their desk)! You’ll also need to factor in the power costs, in a data center this is usually included in your rental fee. Similarly, you might occasionally get power failure, taking your company website down with it.

Finally, how reliable is your office Internet connection? You’ll need to be confident that it’s fast enough to handle the website traffic (the customers visiting your website) at the same time as all the emails flying around the office, the web browsing and the video’s staff are secretly watching on YouTube while the boss has his back turned! If your Internet has a habit of cutting out, you seriously need to thing about that, as hosting on site in your office will mean your website is down whenever that happens. In a data center, there are normally several different connections to the Internet available at any one time, so if one drops out, another picks  the strain and your site stays online!

In Summary

Hopefully, we’ve addressed some of the more common concerns here with buying or renting a rack mount server for your business (or in fact for personal use). It doesn’t need to be a complex consideration for most companies, who are just looking to keep up with the times and give their company website and email a reliable place to live. In general, a data center under the watchful eye of very well trained and talented engineers is the best place for most companies to host, but your individual circumstances might mean that hosting yourself is a realistic option if you have the technical knowledge and infrastructure required if power or Internet failure strike.

Top Rack Mounted Servers: Brand Choices

When you’re on the lookout for a dedicated server which meets your needs, you’ll inevitably see some manufacturer’s names crop up time and time again from hosting provider to hosting provider. The most common ones tend to be HP, Dell and Cisco, depending on the level of hosting and support provided. Generally speaking, Cisco hardware tends to be used when things are mission critical, but there’s no rule that says that has to be the case! It’s more likely to be price that sways your decision, so you’re more likely to see HP and Dell rack mounted servers at the budget end of the market. That’s not to say that servers made by these two companies aren’t reliable, in fact we have been using Dell servers for years in our business, and have only had one failure in all that time.

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