What are Used Servers?

Unlocking the truth: Answering your most frequently asked questions about used servers

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We often hear the words new, used, refurbished, or original to describe a server's stage of life - but what is the difference between these terms, and what does used mean for a server?

Alta has been around since the '90s, so I would like to believe our team has the industry locked down and simplified for anyone to understand even the most complex of terms. While deciding what server is best it's beneficial to gather information from THE source, so we're glad to help.


What does used mean for servers?

A used server is a previously owned and operated server that has not undergone any refurbishment to look or perform like a new server. The word "used" typically implies that the server is still functional to be used for an extended time but may show some cosmetic impurities. When purchasing a used server, a buyer relies solely on the word of the previous seller that the system is still in working condition, which is why it is crucial to source used equipment from a reliable and tested source.

Most used servers have spent their lifetime in pristine climate-controlled environments allowing them to show like-new characteristics. Alta Tech strives to purchase used servers from such data centers to minimize internal and external deficiencies.

What is a used server example?

If you think about it, any previously owned server is considered a used server. So, a used server example could be any brand of server - Dell, HP, IBM from gen2 to gen3 models. Most used servers on the market are likely a generation or two older than the current release, but some resellers have systems and parts to models dating back many generations.

Experienced engineers test all used equipment to ensure it is at top performance levels before placing it back on the resale market. For example, a data center is looking to do a complete revamp of its entire stock… So, they contact a reliable reseller (like us!) to have the equipment decommissioned and sold for cash or trade-in. The reseller will then wipe all data and guarantee all equipment is tested and ready for its next user. It really is that simple!

Why are used servers so cheap?

Used servers are so cheap because too many buyers only consider new equipment without understanding the benefits and reliability of used hardware.

Since IT manufacturers constantly develop new products, when the OEM deems a server is at its EOL, the server's value will naturally decline. Think of it like a used car or last year's iPhone model. Once a newer version is on the market, you can always find “last seasons” product models to be significantly less. Even though used servers are considerably more affordable, historically, they are just as efficient when cared for properly.

How many used servers are for sale?

Over 5 million used servers are for sale on the secondary market alone. The used server market has an estimated annual revenue of around $3 billion, and in total, there are over 12-15 million servers manufactured every year.

With most resellers holding a several years supply, this is why we estimate over 5 million used servers are up for sale at any given moment. Solely at Alta Tech, we have over 1.3 million new, used, and refurbished servers and components in stock and ready to be sold!

Can you buy used servers?

IT buyers can also decide to buy used servers, with millions constantly cycling through the market. Used servers are the top choice for many reasons and often provide the same performance, if not better, than brand-new servers.

Below are a few reasons you want to consider buying a used server.

  • Affordable Price/ Higher ROI
    • The #1 reason to buy used and refurbished servers is that you get high-quality equipment for a much lower cost than manufacturers. You can almost always gain the same return at a minimal cost.

  • Performance/Reliability
    • Tested and refurbished servers generally perform at an equivalent or better rate than new servers. When buying a used server from a certified and experienced vendor, they have likely tested and evaluated every part of the server before reselling.

  • Easily Replaceable/Low Maintenance
    • Since used servers are not the newest on the market, their hardware components are often readily available throughout the market. Many buyers will buy excessive spare parts whenever this problem arises, which can save money in the long run.

  • Reduces E-waste
    • For every used server bought, one less new server is being manufactured and sold. As more IT users ease into the idea of refurbished servers, we can continue to cut the impact of electronic waste.

  • Reduced Lead Times
    • Reduced lead times are a huge factor that guides many people toward buying used and refurbished servers. With supply chain issues rising, used servers are ready to be sold and delivered within a day or two.

These considerations play a sizable role in why individuals want to buy used servers over new ones. Always look at what makes the most sense for you and your organization.

Are refurbished servers worth it?

Buying refurbished servers is well worth it! Refurbished servers can help save a company money because they are a cheaper alternative to buying directly from a manufacturer. Refurbished servers are especially important for small to medium size businesses that may not have a larger IT budget but still need high-quality and reliable servers. Refurbished servers are wiped back to factory settings, tested, cleaned, and improved to be fully functional. Most servers even come with an affordable extended warranty option if any issues arise.

Are old used servers worth anything?

The old used servers sitting in your data center could be worth quite a bit if it's one of the current or end-of-life servers in high demand due to supply chain constraints. Data centers are typically climate-controlled, sanitized rooms that no one ever enters, meaning that most of the “used” equipment coming from these centers is more like new than you would think.

Often, a used or refurbished server can outperform the latest released server. For example, a pre-owned server still requires the same CPU, memory, and specifications as new servers. Plus! Previously owned servers, likely, have already surpassed the initial 90 days, which is said to be the period where new equipment typically can fail.

Used hardware within a server can also be transferred and repurposed for new systems. So, yes, most used servers still hold value; when the servers are correctly sourced and refurbished to like-new condition, similar to what we provide at Alta Tech.

To sell a used server, consider one of the following methods:

  1. Used server reseller
    Find an ITAD (IT Asset Disposition) Provider

    ITADs are certified in data destruction and responsible recycling, making them one of the most reliable options for selling used servers. Look for companies focused on re-use, with thousands of clients, to maximize your return. Rather than paying to recycle your equipment, you can get paid for it to be reused, or at least break even in most cases.

    Pros: get a great return, maximize reuse, very little work
    Cons: some equipment may not have value or cost money to erase

  2. Sell it yourself:
       a) eBay
       b) Craigslist / Facebook Marketplace

    Both online options can work to sell individual servers or parts.

    Pros: get a return on equipment
    Cons: hassle, risk of bad buyers, handling returns

  3. Trade it in:
    Like trading in your used car or iPhone for an upgrade, you can typically trade in your used servers to the manufacturer or even a used reseller for credit. Most resellers will offer you cash or trade-in credit toward upgrade products or parts.

    Pros: Trade-in funds available to your department, rather than a general corporate pool. Fund projects that were previously out of reach.
    Cons: The manufacturers and VARs may not offer as much for used equipment as a used server dealer would.

  4. Offer it to a recycler:
    After researching all other options, you may find that your particular used server doesn't hold a lot of value anymore. If selling or trading in your equipment is more work than the return, we always recommend connecting with an established recycler who can dispose of your used server properly.

When looking to sell your used server, it's important to maximize your time, energy, and return value on the item. Companies selling used servers piece-by-piece may go to an online format for quick access, while companies interested in liquidating their entire inventory have a smoother experience working with an ITAD or reputable recycler that can provide on-site pick-up from any location. Finding an option with the highest return while being reliable and convenient is always a top priority.

How much do used servers cost?

By choosing used servers, many buyers can save over 80% compared to buying new ones, allowing them to do more with their budget in the long run. Used servers can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands based on your needs. Factors like quantity, condition, demand, and location can affect the cost. When purchasing a used server, it's best to research and get quotes from multiple resellers to know you're getting the best deal possible.

Is the used server market legit?

Yes, the used server market is legit and is constantly evolving as the market trends change. The resale market has seen an upshift with the rise of supply chain issues along with the rising concern about ESG standards and sustainability. Businesses of all sizes, school organizations, and even popular brands such as Target, Google, and NASA are turning to the used server market to buy and sell their IT equipment.

Even though the used server market has been around for over 30 years, it is still at the beginning of peak interest for most IT users. Which, in all, makes it an exciting time for buyers and resellers of used servers!

With that, you must choose strong, established partners in this space to ensure you receive authentic and reliable hardware. As with every commodity and business, there will always be the one-off reseller online looking to scam its next customer with faulty gear. We can't stress enough the importance of researching and vetting your seller before purchasing any used gear.

Are used servers reliable?

Used servers are reliable, in fact, many IT users are surprised that the failure rate is sometimes even lower than new equipment straight from the manufacturer! For example, Alta's failure rate is less than one-half percent!

There is a misconception that used servers do not perform well, however; they perform exceptionally well and are commonly used in production environments. Used servers are thoroughly inspected and tested to see if they’re fully functional, rooting out any potential issues. This ensures that every system and part is in excellent working order and restored to like-new conditions if needed.

The most common point of failure for a new server is typically within the first 90 days of use. While used servers, acquired from reliable sources, have surpassed that initial 90-day burn-in, proven to work in a data center, and then undergone additional testing by the reseller. Talk about triple coverage for reliability.

Are used servers safe?

Rest assured that used servers are safe when acquired from a long-standing, trusted reseller. A team of technicians will handle the auditing and extensive data erasure procedures upon receiving. Many established resellers will have extensive erasure processes like DoD three-pass level erasure, showing that data is overwritten and none of the hardware is left vulnerable to data leaks or security breaches. Most resellers can even provide proof of erasure to ease your mind.

Can used servers have viruses?

Sometimes, used servers have viruses - but that is actually no different than new servers! All data and storage hardware are susceptible to being exposed to viruses, and being used does not mean the equipment is at a higher risk than new.

The chance of a used server becoming infected with malware viruses is less likely than any end-user systems or PCs since they are not used interactively. For example, most viruses attack through some kind of interaction with their user (like those pesky fishing emails that get you to open that random link that looks almost too good to be true!), which in turn tricks its user to infect their own PC.

This does not mean that a used server does not have any chance of becoming infected, but it's vital to make sure the gear is coming cleaned and tested and that you take the necessary precautions to avoid vulnerability in the server. It is always recommended to have an antivirus system for all equipment put into production for everyday use.

Do used servers wear out?

Occasionally, used servers wear out, but often only after years of use in an improper environment. If you maintain your used server it can be expected to last far past the standard 3-5 years that the manufacturer lists. Individual components may fail quicker than the chassis itself, which is where resellers can come in and provide one-off parts that the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) may no longer stock.

How often should I upgrade a used server?

There is not one exact time that's best for how often you should upgrade a used server, as many factors go into deciding when to upgrade. Industry standards will tell you to upgrade a used server every 3-7 years due to the average manufacturer warranty of three years. The standard three-year warranty can often be renewed year by year after the initial expiration, but most manufacturers will not allow users to extend warranties past year seven.

Another factor when considering a server upgrade is if the cost of upkeep of your current system is more or less expensive than a complete server overhaul. Sometimes, it is the most cost-effective to replace failed parts as you go with a trusted reseller and extend the life of your current systems versus buying all new: while in other cases, the older systems can nickel and dime you every chance it gets and the cost ends up being exponentially more than a completely new system.

Replacing server parts or whole systems can be inconvenient for any user, as the longer your used server is inoperable, the longer you or your business is down; this is why we recommend finding a well-established reseller to partner with to help maintain your current systems. Most resellers can get you back online within a day or two, while OEMs might take weeks to months for your new server to be delivered and installed.

What is the expected lifespan for used servers?

The expected lifespan for used servers can be 3-10 years - much longer than most people think. The industry standard of replacing a server is around every 3-5 years. There is truly no way of knowing or proving how long a used server will ultimately last due to factors like the brand, model, environment, maintenance, etc…

An OEM will be quicker to recommend replacing your servers in the lower range of three years because they want you to pay for their latest and greatest model; this is where established resellers come in to help you save time and money! By offering maintenance and upgrades for individual parts and systems, resellers can actually save you money and extend the life of your current server by months to years.

Used servers may not be perfect for every situation, and there seem to be a lot of misconceptions around used, but when you look at the time, cost-savings, reliability, maintenance, and sustainability of choosing a used server over a new - it's hard to really compare the two.

All used servers are not bad servers, and more often than not, can outperform some of the newest models on the market. Partnering with a long-standing reseller to guide you towards Grade-A quality equipment is the best place to start.

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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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