New vs Used: Unraveling the mystery

Debunking the most common myths about new vs. used servers

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There are a lot of preconceived notions that used servers are “tired”. That’s not the case at all, in fact, the choice to extend server life or buy used is “inspired”.

Unfortunately, myths like this develop when either manufacturers sell FUD or the IT buyer had a bad experience with an unreliable eBay seller, or a poser company (essentially “two guys and a truck”) that sold them faulty gear, or worse. It makes sense they might deem everything used as bad - but that is never the case when it comes to top flight, industry leading resellers that devote their time and energy towards providing top-notch equipment for their customers.

When you’re guided by a trusted reseller with high standards for quality, testing and service, you’ll avoid “the shudder” of used, and reap the benefits of next-level sustainability along with incredible savings for your organization.

What is the difference between used and original servers?

Essentially, used describes the condition and original describes the authenticity of a server.

While the term “used” describes the internal and physical state of a server, “original” is considered a non-conditional term. Buyers may decide between “new vs used”, but they ALWAYS want original equipment. Any quality reseller, new or used, should always provide authentic, original hardware.

Professional refurbishers and resellers will label servers as “original” to show that the server is guaranteed to be 100% of the original manufactured hardware. A server can be considered original and new, used, or refurbished.

Be sure to work with established resellers of used equipment to ensure you get only original, authentic hardware, whether you are buying it new, used, or refurbished.

What is the condition of the used servers?

The condition of used servers is typically Grade-A when purchased from a long-standing, reliable reseller. Most of the used servers on the market have been pampered in a climate-controlled data center or server room like yours, always under maintenance plans, and usually only need some further testing, erasure, and reconfiguration before being resold to the next IT user.

IT users in the know often take advantage of this quality equipment available to them because of its reliability and average of 50-80% in cost savings. Doing your due diligence and research before purchasing any used equipment will lead you to long-standing resellers with large stocks of used servers across every brand - Dell, HP, IBM, Cisco, Lenovo, and More!

If you buy from randoms on eBay or cold-call, you might end up with a pile of junk and no backing. Vet your resellers for years in business, expertise, references, industry participation, and guarantees and you shouldn’t have to worry. At Alta Technologies, we guide our customers through this world of grey and confusion, to deliver you the green of savings and sustainability.

Why used servers are bad?

Some may believe that used servers are bad compared to new ones, but more recent studies have shown that this is not the case. Used servers can be just as good or even considered better than new servers because they have already been field-tested and “burned in”. This means they have surpassed the typical “burn-in” period of 90 days - the standard time needed for something to go wrong with a new server. After a new server passes 90-days, it can run for even decades without issue.

Another thing to keep in mind is that servers are typically stored in pristine, climate-controlled environments that rarely ever get touched. A used server will likely be unnoticeably different than a new one when side by side due to the exceptional care it receives in the right environment.

When a server is decommissioned from a data center and brought to a reseller to be refurbished and sold, it will likely undergo multiple testing processes and data wipes before being resold to the next user. For example, not only was the equipment already in use and proven to be fully functioning, but it has also gone through several following tests to back up its reliability. This means that the used server or part is now field tested, retested, possibly reconfigured and then re-tested for you again just before it ships. Triple-tested gear = reliability.

Why used servers are better than new ones?

There are many factors as to why used servers are better than new ones. For starters, let’s look at sustainability, used servers help reduce electronic waste, as all materials are being repurposed and reused.

Hyperscale data centers are extending their old 3-4 year refresh cycles of servers up to 6-7 years in order to reduce their carbon footprint, especially in regard to Scope 3 emissions. Organizations like Microsoft are deploying their own circular computing facilities to refurbish redeploy their used IT equipment and parts to other facilities.

As power efficiency gains grow narrower and narrower each year, any benefit of upgrading is typically offset by the massive amount of power required to manufacturer a new server. Some estimates place 30% of the lifetime energy consumption of a server at the point of production.

Next of course is savings, organizations can save thousands to millions of dollars by looking at life extension and purchase of refurbished server models and component upgrades. When you work with a trusted ITAD / refurbisher to source secondhand IT equipment, you can leverage their standards to navigate your way to savings without concern.

Third, the performance of a used server has been tested and proven to work just like new. This equipment is field tested, then retested by the vendor, possibly built up just for you. That’s reliability you can count on to serve your production environment for years to come.

Lastly, if the pandemic has taught us one thing, that a diverse supply chain is absolutely tantamount. The used server market serves as a valuable alternative supply chain for parts and systems that can sustain a business in times of short supply. When customers were waiting more than a year for Cisco Meraki switches, savvy buyers turned to the secondary market to get their projects started within a day!

How do I know if a used server is right for me?

You will know if a used server is the right choice for you based on several factors. If you are experiencing any of the following situations, it might be time to look into used servers: 

  • Supply chain challenges or shipment delays with quickly approaching deadlines.
    • When purchasing servers from the manufacturer, buyers are looking at wait times of weeks to months: whereas reputable resellers can typically turn around parts and even server configurations and get them to you within a day or two.
  • Looking to meet sustainability goals and minimize your carbon footprint?
    • Can you believe that used servers require vastly less energy in annual usage compared to the amount of energy required to manufacture a brand-new system? Well, it’s true! The latest ESG calculators are capturing scope 3 emissions and place great value on reuse.
  • Need to maximize your current budget and hit yearly budget goals.
    • A used system can save around 30-80% off a brand-new server. This cost savings is undoubtedly one of the biggest reasons customers look to buy like-new servers versus brand-new ones.
  • Your pre-existing infrastructure has components that need to be replaced.
    • Likely, after 2-3 years your current server won’t be available new from the manufacturer, as they are already coming out with their next big thing. In this case, you want to find a reputable reseller, like Alta, with a backstock of equipment that may match your existing systems and take ten times as quickly to receive.

Doing diligent research before making any decisions on IT equipment is always a good starting point. If you're unsure of where to start, you can always put in an online RFQ or call a well-established reseller to understand what will best fit your needs.

Summary: Used servers can be a great option, even considered better than new. Your first step is always to find a reputable reseller you can trust to get top-notch gear without burning a hole in your IT budget. 

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Author: Corey Donovan

Corey is a reuse advocate with 20 years experience in ITAD and serves as President of Alta Technologies, the gold standard for quality in testing and refurbishing servers, networking and data storage hardware, since 1995.

An active member of the Right-To-Repair movement, Corey also serves on the ASCDI Board, is a member of the Forbes Business Council, Vistage, SIA and UNEDA. He enjoys local adventures with his family and dog, Freya, near Minneapolis, MN.

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