Types of Servers, Finding the Perfect Match

How to choose the right used server for you and your business.

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With thousands of different models of servers on the market, and dozens of brands, it can be hard to know which one is right for your environment. Working with a team of highly trained product managers and technicians can keep your mind at ease and make finding your perfect match easier than any dating site ever could!

What type of used servers are for sale?

There are many types of used servers from different brands for sale. All major brands of OEM servers are typically available for sale used within a few months of being sold new, with a large selection from the N-1 generation (one generation back) and even very old legacy equipment available on the market as complete systems or parts.

The common overall types of servers available used include the following form-factors:

  • Rackmount
  • Tower servers
  • Blade servers
  • Edge servers

The overall ways that servers are delivered include the following: 

  • OEM Servers: standard systems built by a manufacturer, where they are delivered with specific and standard configuration options and form factors.
  • ODM Servers: custom systems, tailored specifically to the client’s needs, usually for hyperscale buyers with large order volumes and specific design build needs. Many run on open computing (OCP) standards.
  • Home-brew servers: hobby systems made from pieces of various systems, whether OEM or ODM. 

Within each segment of form factor or assembly type, there are numerous brands of servers from Dell, HP and Lenovo to Oracle, IBM, Cisco UCS, Super Micro, Quanta, Wistron, Wywinn, and many others. 

All major OEM brands will be available on the used market right away, but some ODM custom builds may not see the market until the company liquidates all of these systems. Home brew systems are usually broken down for their OEM parts. 

Used server resellers can often provide OEM equipment, custom built to meet your own company’s needs, just like an ODM custom server builder can. All with discounted OEM parts covered under warranty. 

If there is a server or IT hardware you’re looking for, you can usually find it on the secondary market sooner than you think, at great savings off of new! 

Which used server parts are the most popular?

There are several components to a server, yet a few are purchased more than others. Some of the most popular parts to stock for parts or replacement are the motherboard, processor, memory/RAM, power supplies, batteries, and disk drives (HDDs or SDDs). Equipment with moving parts tend to fail the most, while others are popular because they allow for upgrade paths for the server.

Trusted server resellers can also configure a chassis and parts into complete, working server configurations that you can deploy into production, test or development environments for your users. These configurations can be built up from part stock to meet your exact needs. 

Which used server should I buy?

You should buy a used server that best meets your required business specs and needs of your application, and/or matches your existing infrastructure already in place. In some cases, you may find great savings on equipment similar to your needs and decide that model will be equivalent to your base configuration.

Availability and pricing on the secondary market for servers is generally attractive, but variance in either may play a role in your decision. Work with used server market experts in order to consider multiple options in a fluid marketplace.

Also, consider the size of your company as well. There are many used servers available out there from different brands (HP, Dell, Lenovo, Cisco, IBM) that you can choose from. You may want to consider a used server with broad availability on the secondary market, where you can easily buy excess system parts such as hard drives, CPUs, and memory. After the pandemic, supply chain availability is a consideration for many companies and the used market is an excellent alternative supply chain option. 

Best used servers?

While the best servers on the used market is subjective to your preferences and application requirements, a few platforms are more readily in demand and available than others.

If you’re looking to rack and stack systems, then clearly “rackmount” systems would be the best option for you, but if you only need one server in an office, a deskmount system may be your best option. If you need to maximize density and flexibility in a tight server room or data center, than a blade server may be your best option.

The following platforms have the best availability on the used market, which corresponds with their popularity of new system unit sales:

  1. Dell PowerEdge Servers
  2. HPE ProLiant Servers
  3. Lenovo Servers
  4. Cisco UCS
  5. Super Micro Servers

With that said, if you are looking for something specific like a UNIX platform, than one of IBM Power Systems, Oracle or HP Integrity systems would be the “best” options available, with all being readily available and supported used.

To truly determine the “best” server for your needs, it is advised that you speak with a long-standing server reseller with the expertise to align your needs with available market supply of used server models and brands.

What is a used blade server?

Blade servers available for reuse on the secondary market are “used blade servers”.

Blade servers are computer server systems that are stored in a vertical stack in a data center or server room. A core chassis will house multiple thin, modular server units inside them known as server blades. These blades share some of the connectivity and resources of the overall chassis, while operating as individual server units inside of the whole.

Blade servers are available used from manufacturers such as Dell, Cisco (UCS), HPE, Lenovo, Super Micro, and IBM.

What is the difference between a used tower server and a desktop server?

There is no significant difference between a used tower server and a used desktop server, other than descriptive preference. Depending on the individual, or manufacturer, one might call these types of systems either a tower or a desktop system. Some individuals or brands use the “tower” descriptor, while others might call it a “desktop”, or both.

If you’ve seen a tower server, you’ll notice that it looks like a standard desktop computer, but it has additional server resources installed in the machine and is built with the durability and power required for enterprise and business functions.

Desktop towers are sometimes turned on their side so that a monitor can sit on top.

What is the difference between a used rackmount server and a desktop server?

Rackmount servers are meant to be slid into a server rack, while tower or desktop servers are meant to stand alone, either on or below a desk, on a shelf, or on the floor.

Rackmount systems are often deployed in dense data center or server room environments, where three dimensional space is tight and server space needs to be optimized for maximum capacity. Storage and networking is easily integrated within the rack units as well.

Meanwhile, used tower or desktop servers are typically deployed in a standalone environment, often for a single purpose application or a small business in need of a sole server tucked away under a desk or in a corner.

Are you looking for used servers that are already configured?

Yes, you’re looking for pre-configured servers, whether those are built for you to your specification or offered as pre-built configs for various use cases.

Unless you need parts only, asking a vendor to build a used server to your exact configuration requirements is often the best way to get the server you’re looking for at a great price. In other cases, finding a pre-built config similar to your needs, may pay off in its flexibility. Buying a chassis from one vendor and parts from another takes more time than pre-configured systems, and may require more expertise than you’re planning on while also costing you more in the end.

What type of used servers should I look for?

You should look for a used server that best meets your required business specs and needs. There are many brands you can choose from.

For best value of recent equipment, look for N-1 servers, or servers that are only one generation back from the latest release. These N-1 servers are typically available in strong supply on the used market and can be had at attractive savings despite having close to the same power and capacity as the latest releases.

If you require older legacy models to match your existing infrastructure, you may save even more money than N-1 models would cost. In rare cases, very old systems like SGI or DEC servers, have become antique and actually can cost more than they originally did, but most sane customers are not looking at equipment 20+ years old.

If you require equipment that has only been released in the last six months, it may be hit or miss, but if market quantities exist, the availability could be worth it.

Most used servers buyers are willing to take equipment that is between half a generation and a couple of generations behind.

Is it better to build or buy a used server?

It might save you more money if you buy a used server versus building one. When buying a used server, you’re already getting a system that has been assembled with all the components that have been tested and work together. This server might have even been built to your custom spec by the used server builder.

If you build your own server, you might run into issues where some parts don’t work with each other and the net result will cost you even more. Trusting the experts to take care of all of that work and hassle for you results in the best net value for many users.

Many resellers will also sell bundled parts installed in systems at significant discounts, whereas they might price their parts at higher individual prices.

Your best bet is to add up all the options and decide for yourself.

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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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