Our small company is planning on setting up a web server. The website will have a SQL Server Express back end, and will probably be used a few times daily by about 10 employees logging in from the field. It will run 24x7, but occasional interruptions of a couple of hours or a whole weekend will not be a problem.

We've been happy with the Dell desktops and laptops we've used, so were thinking of going with Dell again. When I checked out their website, I found a Small Office desktop Vostro with a dual core CPU and 2gb RAM for $399 (Canadian). An equivalently configured Poweredge 100 server was nearly double the price. I know that the Vostro will run Windows Server 2003, having already installed it on another Vostro.

I realize it's not a huge amount of money, but why the big price difference? What would you recommend we purchase?

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Another thing to consider is the amount and quality of guarantee each buy offers. Typically servers have by default a better type of guarantee than a desktop.

If you can get a full day of downtime then the Vostro is fine (DELL default's desktop guarantee). If not, check if you can boost up the Vostro's guarantee and compare the cost again (the server will still be more expensive, but probably not the double by now).

Or better, get a quote for the poweredge with the cheaper guarantee.

The differences in favor of a server quality machine that makes it more expensive are:

  • Better manageability
  • Better hardware (fails less and is usually faster)
  • More hardware (RAID, Redundant Power Supply, ...)
  • Better guarantee

But you may not need all that in your case, which you can measure by the amount of downtime you can withstand.

Don't forget to buy some external drives or something to do regular backups in each case.


Your users will be connecting over the Internet. You don't want to pay for quality hardware. It isn't likely that you want to pay for quality power and cooling either. And you probably aren't paying for good Internet connectivity. Pay for someone else to host the solution - they can handle the hardware for you, the Internet connection, the power, the cooling.

What you're looking for should be fine as a virtual server. You don't have CPU, RAM, or storage requirements. You barely have uptime requirements. Spending the money on your own hardware makes no sense. I doubt spending the money on administration of the server makes sense for you either.


The Poweredge is going to be put together with server-grade hardware, generally meaning a higher MTBF. Often, it'll have faster drives and RAM as well.

If you're going to have good backups and a day or two of downtime is acceptable, go with the desktop (or buy two and mirror the data across).

If being down more than an hour or two is not acceptable, go with the Poweredge.


Does the Poweredge model you're researching include a RAID controller? That plus the disks could be contributing to the price difference.

If you don't need the protection of RAID and have a way of protecting your data go with the desktop and save the $$$.


If you have a lab of servers and a staff to manage it, ask the staff what they like the best. Pay more for reliable hardware, to reduce the cost of management (salaries cost more than hardware).

If you're a very small shop and you don't already have a lab full of servers, consider a laptop. For example, my Windows Home Server is a Dell D600 laptop that I got on ebay for $300. Laptops are physically small, low power, and low heat. The built-in keyboard/mouse/monitor makes it easy to manage. The built-in battery makes it hard to unplug by accident.

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    Problem with laptops is that their disks are slow as hell, probably not a good choice for a web server... But that depends on the app given that the load is small. Unless you go for SSDs in which case you are getting probably into the PowerEdge price range :) – Vinko Vrsalovic May 19 '09 at 3:01

If I were in your position, I would probably just set up an account on a real cheap hosted server, like something Slicehost offers. They are only about $20/mo, which means it would be years until you've paid the same as your server.


Vendors server solutions typically offer better service responses than desktops and their components are supposedly higher quality with longer MTBF (mean time between failures). In your situation with a low usage web server, the desktop would suffice.

Also, think about virtualizing the solution. Put the Windows 2003 Server and IIS in a VM. That way you can back it up pretty easily and if that Vostro fails, you can restore the VM to another box pretty quickly and have it up and running with a minimum of downtime.

VMWare is offers their VMWare Server and ESXi free. Of course VMWare is not the only virtualization solution available, there are several others.

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