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My company (non-profit) is looking to buy used servers rather than leasing them from a vendor or buying new ones.

What are a list of checks / test (memcheck,fsck,etc.) we should run on the equipment before purchasing?

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5 Answers 5

If you have access to the equipment before you buy, then great!. Most likely though (Specially if you buy online), you won't be able to test disks, listen to the fans, cpu or memory on them until you actually buy, receive, and launch. RAM is pretty cheap now a days, so I wouldn't worry about it having lots of it. What you need to ask yourself is "how upgradable is this equipment? (It's worthless if you need to upgrade after a few months and you find out you can't due to hardware limitations. That means, how much RAM you can put on it, if you want to add hard drives> does it have RAID capability?. So, a quick list would be:

  • Balance out your decision for buying new or 'somewhat old(ish)' equipment based on a) the response to the question of how upgradable you need this server to be, b) the type of services this server(s) will be providing, and c) It really comes down to warranty and/or return time (How long can you be without this server, if the hardware fails).

  • While RAM is cheap now a days, lookout for older equipment that use expensive RAM. Search for RAM type of the equipment your buying and find out how much it will cost to upgrade, again also look at hardware limitations.

  • Think RAID when you're purchasing (Make sure you consider controller interface)
  • Think Multi-processor (and multi-core) when purchasing
  • Minimal specs for Audio and Video adapters unless you're building some kind of a Multimedia server system.

Here's a pretty good list of stuff to think about before buying old equipment (vs new): http://www.computerhope.com/btips/server.htm#01

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Kudos for the hardware RAID recommendation, but ah.. server RAM is usually never cheap. And if it is, be careful. –  osij2is Aug 4 '09 at 20:25
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I think you need to justify "Don't purchase old equipment." Honestly, I've found new equipment to be more problematic than old equipment. New equipment hasn't had the lengthy burn-in time that has already proved that the hardware doesn't fall into that 5% of manufactured goods that bring down the MTBF average, and as such, about 5% of it fails right off the bat. And most electronics will last a long, long time once it passes that test. Computer hardware usually outlasts its useful lifetime for that reason. –  Ernie Aug 4 '09 at 20:37
    
Agreed Ernie. Old equipment isn't all that bad. –  osij2is Aug 4 '09 at 20:45
    
Hardware is most likely to fail in the first few weeks after purchase, true, but by going new at least you have a safety net in being able to return it to the supplier. I'm just paranoid about dusty old boxes that have been sat in a corner switched off for months or years... –  Darth Satan Aug 4 '09 at 20:45

Dell has a good selection of refurbished servers on their outlet website and we've had very good luck with them. The nice thing about going this route is that you save money but you also get the same warranty and support from Dell as you do with a new server.

Our main file server which is going to be replaced this year has been running for 5 years without any problems. Not even a drive failure, knock on wood. We also have 2 other Dell refurbished servers in production now without any problems so I don't think it's a fluke.

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One other note on purchasing old equipment. You will want to consider how much support older equipment might require. There might be minimal support if any from the manufacturer. If you lose a component, can your company wait for parts that may have to come in? You may condider purchasing an extra older machine or two for "parts". They have gotten better over the last few years, but many servers have specific parts for only that series or type of server and they can be expensive. Consider your support needs, desires, and budget depending on what you require to operate.

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How much time are we talking about here? Because a thorough CPU/RAM/disk check should be done over the course of a day or two. Especially with server hardware.

See The Ultimate Boot CD for software for testing that kind of thing.

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Ummm - I know it doesn't answer your question but I seriously wouldn't.

Have they seen how little a new server costs these days, or are they just knee-jerking towards what seems like the cheapest-in-the-short-term option?

OK, any server can fail at any time, and it's perfectly possible for a used server to outlive a new one, but are they willing to take that risk?

Anyway, as well as checking disks and memory, I would also do a full physical check on the server. Inside the cabinet, all the little nooks and crannies, everything. Also I'd like to see a full reboot cycle of the server, just to ensure that it comes up clean without anything kicking and screaming.

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Do you mean new server equipment, or new server equipment? I've noticed that a lot of new, cheap "server" equipment relies on consumer-grade SATA drives and CPUs. My guess is that this is done mostly for virtualization, with the expectation that a server cluster will be cheaper. The other expectation might be that the real hard drives will be in the SAN. On the other hand, you can get some damn good servers (like IBM xSeries 345's and 346's) for around $100 without drives. The drives are expensive, but if you have a SAN anyway... –  Ernie Aug 4 '09 at 20:58

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