Ok, I want to have one high spec server (two quad core processors, lots of ram, raid 5, Server 2008 R2 etc), my colleague wants to spend the same money on four average pre-owned servers (Dual core Xeon, raid 2,4GB Ram, Server 2003 etc).

We are hosting quite a busy MySql database, a domain, the company website and are planning to also host a Microsoft SQL server to develop new software in the future.

Who's right?


6 Answers 6


I'd almost always pick multiple servers to provide flexibility and redundancy in case of a hardware problem.


Up until the "pre owned" tag I was with your colleague. I would not rely on a refurbished or second hand server to host any thing critical.

But generally I would prefer "more lower specced" servers over one mega powerful server, eggs and basket and all that.

As you also suggest that you'll be doing development work, that development work needs to be elsewhere rather than on a production system - how many times do you hear "Oh, I didn't expect that to happen".

  • 2
    Just adding my personal experience: I ran a full hosting environment (VPS, Exchange, SharePoint, SQL, etc) on exclusively pre-owned & refurbished hardware. Pre-owned often has fewer issues long term because components that were going to malfunction already did for the previous owner. Refurbished often comes with the same warranty as new. And finally, don't EVER rely on hardware. Ever. Of any kind. It will fail, and that's a risk that needs to be mitigated, not "avoided" by buying new.
    – Chris N
    Oct 27, 2011 at 12:00
  • Hi Chris, thanks for the advice, I'll keep it in mind.
    – JMK
    Oct 27, 2011 at 12:51
  • My experience of pre-owned/refurb/second hand servers is that they are less reliable, have more hard to diagnose glitches and are not supported by the manufacturer, you have no idea where they have been stored or how they have been treated. Certain hardware may have a lifetime warranty (HP Networking for example) that stays with the equipment which makes purchasing them less of a risk in the case of failure.
    – Tubs
    Oct 27, 2011 at 13:48

From a developers perspective having more servers is a good thing as you can split the database server, web server and domain server onto separate boxes. It also means that if you need to flatten or upgrade your development server you can do so without affecting the production servers.

I know you can achieve the same with virtual servers, but with physical boxes you have redundancy (in case of hardware failure) and flexibility (each physical box can run a couple of virtual servers) as well.


If space is not a problem i would go with the pre owned ones.


Specific configurations aside, you need at least three servers. You need two for redundancy and load distribution for production. You should not be running your company's website on a single server. You need the third server for development. You should never be doing active development on the production server(s). There are way too many risks and little possible benefit.


Both hardware specs have issues with your stated workload:

  • you are not going to run MS SQL server with any kind of performance on only 4GB of memory
  • Running two distinct database server systems as well as miscellaneous services on one physical server will quickly run up against resource limits, especially disk I/O
  • RAID-5 is not suited for running database servers, period.
  • I don't know what you mean by RAID-2, but I doubt you actually meant that

That said, my advice would be to invest in - for now - one huge, capable system and run VMware ESXi on it (this is free)

My personal suggestion on hardware would be something like:

  • HP or IBM dual-socket six-core Xeon i7 (12 physical cores)
  • 48 GB or more memory, preferably more
  • 4x 300GB 15krpm SAS600 disks in RAID-10 for your virtual machines
  • 4 or more disks in RAID-10 for your database data Make sure to put these disks on a good hardware RAID controller (both HP and IBM's built-in offerings are good in this respect)

Combined with VMware ESXi, this setup would allow you to run 10 Windows server VMs easily, with less than 50% CPU load; the system as I specced it is still heavy on CPU, so you could increase performance by merely adding more disks and/or memory to the setup.

The IBM X3650 (which is a 2U box) has 16 (!) 2.5" SAS600 slots available and supports 144GB of registered DDR3 - it is an ideal ESXi system.

  • 1
    Since when is there a Xeon i7 ? Oct 27, 2011 at 10:57
  • Since there has been a socket 1366 i7.
    – adaptr
    Oct 27, 2011 at 10:59
  • 1
    It's a xeon, not an i7, they are different series no ? Oct 27, 2011 at 11:06
  • 8
    There are a whole lot of people happily running MS SQL Servers on systems with 4GB of RAM that are going to wonder where your first statement comes from. Oct 27, 2011 at 11:28
  • 4
    A bunch of reasons why multiple servers would be better and then completely contradictory advice is the accepted answer!?
    – JamesRyan
    Oct 27, 2011 at 13:27

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