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Guide to buying used servers

Your business has already grown so much that you need your own server for CRM, MySQL or virtualization, but the prices for server hardware upset you? In this article we will tell you how to save up to 100 times on the purchase of used server equipment and do not regret the purchase.

The server equipment has a huge margin of reliability, can work in 24x7 mode for years and decades. And if you are not concerned about the lack of warranty and support, and there is a desire to buy a top server for the price of a good mobile phone (from 100 to 500 US Dollars), this article is for you.

1. Why buying a used server is reasoned

The market for used servers is huge, and the more developed the country, the bigger it is. The biggest demand for used servers in China and the United States. Buy B. U. is not shameful - it’s common practice.

Question: Who buys?

Answer: Small companies of medium and small businesses, private enthusiasts. In developed countries, a huge fleet of server equipment, which works for 10-12 years and is not going to retire, some state-owned companies purchase for old servers used components that are simply not sold new: processors, disks, memory. This phenomenon is rare, but it is, including at auctions.

2. Who’s selling?

Two types of sellers. Companies that make money on this - they buy written-off equipment “by weight”, including data Centers of bankrupt banks. Then most often reconfigure and sell.

The second type - private owners, most often system administrators of the large organizations selling the written-off or unused from the spare parts.

3. Who better to buy from?

Firms that do this professionally: can give you a warranty on the used server from 14 days to one year. But when they receive the server in the maximum configuration, they often configure it to the maximum, believing that the memory, processors and drives the client will buy additionally on the principle of “so cheap”.

Private owners keep the server at home, it interferes with them. Rushing to sell on ads and faced with the fact that the server does not need anyone, in a month they can start to reduce prices. As a result, after a couple of months of sales, a private trader faces a choice: to carry the old stuff to the trash or sell for a penny.

Total: Want a guarantee, check delivery, Bank transfer? Contact specialized companies. Want cheap and pickup for cash - please contact private owners.

4. The basic principle of pricing

Anything that can be used in a desktop gaming computer will cost more due to higher demand. In the second-hand server equipment the basic principle - cheap will cost only that it is not necessary to the private trader in the house computer.

5. Case type - 1U and 2U only

The 1U and 2U cases use motherboards of a special format that can not be put into a gaming computer. Starting from 4U, servers can use e-ATX cards with 4 or more PCI-Express slots. This is a gift for gamers, so such solutions will cost more.

6. Forget about AMD, UltraSparc, and Itanium is the only Intel Xeon!

If you are looking to search for drivers for the old motherboard for the new operating system, forget about AMD. Even 10-year-old Intel servers can be used under VMware 6.0, not to mention Windows Server. As a rule, Intel drivers are built into all modern distributions, AMD is not happy with such generosity, so it is better to abandon the old server on Opteron, Sparc or Itanium processors.

7. Forget about Blade servers

Item 4 determines the price of blade components at a level slightly above zero. Platform for Blade-server can cost 20$ or less, but do not get fooled by the price.

The most expensive thing in blades is a enclosure where blades are installed. Due to its low prevalence, buying components for blade servers, such as power supplies, switches or other modules, is problematic even in the United States. The enclosure will break - the whole cluster will break, so how cheap would not cost Blade-servers, this idea is better to give up.

8. What is a “server platform or barebone”?

Initially, the term “platform / barebone” was used in Supermicro servers. The platform included: enclosure, motherboard, power supplies, sled for disks. It remains only to add processors, memory, HDD and expansion boards to taste.

In the used market, the “server platform / barebone” is most often a case with a motherboard. Even the VRMs which is necessary for top processors are often removed from the old servers before they are sold.

Buying “platform / barebone” makes sense only if you already have all the components. Otherwise, it is better to buy the assembled server.

9. HP, IBM, Dell, Fujitsu, Supermicro, Intel - what to choose?

  • HP is number one in primary and secondary market sales. You will always buy any accessories to any HP server, well, except for exotic series such as Integrity.

  • IBM / Lenovo - the standard of reliability, and that says it all. Better situation with the firmware of the motherboard, not a bad situation with components on the secondary market. The batteries in the RAID controllers of IBM servers last for 10 years. If HP was bought in due time by all, IBM was bought by those who do not consider money: such organizations as the financial, oil companies, various state companies, so there is more chance to buy IBM from a private trader in a good configuration.

  • Dell - special advantages neither the price, nor on reliability or parts availability.

  • Fujitsu - it is better not to buy - it is a rare guest in our country, and in General in the world.

Supermicro, Intel - the only advantage is the ability to use HDD drives of any manufacturer. Intel servers are very rare, Supermicro reliability is much lower than IBM or HP.

10. All attention - on the power supply

Power supplies are the most expensive component on the secondary market. They are expensive to buy on Ebay because of delivery, they often have breakdowns. It is best to buy a server with a fault-tolerant power supply - there should be two or more. If the power supply overheats or the fan is broken, require a replacement module or look for another server.

11. Processor - Dual socket or more

It makes no sense to buy 1-processor servers. It is better to choose a configuration with two processors, and keep in mind that buying a server with the simplest Xeon, you will put two CPU cooler. Buy a new processor on Ebay - it’s a 30-40$, buy a second CPU cooler can be more difficult and expensive.

12. RAID / BBU

If you need a fast disk system, the server must have a RAID controller with a battery. It can be embedded on the motherboard or be a separate expansion card. Without battery, RAID may not use caching, and may not support RAID 5, 6, or higher configurations.

In some servers to enable RAID 5 support, you had to buy a software activation key, and in Supermicro - a hardware key. If a RAID battery is present and you’re not looking at Supermicro, you’ll likely get a true fast disk controller.

13. Hard drives - select FRU and P/N

HP, Dell, IBM, Sun servers are protected from the use of disks of other manufacturers. Therefore, HDD will have to take the same manufacturer as the server itself, but for the Used market it is not a problem. When buying a used disc, make sure that it has a holographic sticker of the manufacturer, and before buying, check with the compatibility list on the manufacturer’s website. At IBM, each part has its own number FRU, HP and Dell model is specified as P/N.

Normal sellers of hard disks will help you to pick up model under your server and if you buy the car assy, it is better to make sure that all HDD are included, are defined by the controller and do not make unnatural sounds. It is almost impossible to hear the operation of the hard drive behind the noise of the server fans, but when you boot the server, you can go to the menu of the RAID controller and see the status of the hard drive, it must be “OK”, “Healthy” or “Optimal”.

In Supermicro and Intel servers, you can use any hard drives that are suitable for the interface, including Dell, IBM, HP and other servers.

14. Hard drives - SAS, 10K and 15K only. Only Hitachi!

Ultra320scsi interface - the last century, it is not considered under any circumstances. Remains of SAS and SATA. See paragraph 5 of this guide and refuse to buy SATA drives.

SAS hard drives are not necessary for the home user, so they are cheap. There are two classes of SAS drives: Enterprise class and Nearline-SAS.

Nearline SAS (NL-SAS): Seagate is the most common. Normal desktop HDD with SAS controller and other firmware. Designed to install large-volume hard drives in disk shelves with SAS interface. Format - 3.5 inches, spindle speed - 7200 RPM, disk volume - any.

These drives take undesirable, as you would not want to buy many terabytes on the cheap. In fact, this is a normal computer HDD with another controller, most likely this hard drive has already worked out its resource, but even the new ones were not comparable in reliability with enterprise-class models.

Enterprise SAS: hard drives with a spindle speed of 10 and 15 thousand RPM are HDD of the highest class. Their design has been improved for years for reliability and speed, but they have a smaller volume than the NL-SAS at 7.2 to RPM. Do not be afraid if such HDD worked under loading of 5-6 years - for them it as a running-in for the car. It is better to buy 5-6 such HDDs and combine them in RAID 5 than to buy one SATA or NL-SAS drive.

On branded hard drives HP, IBM, Dell, very often the sticker with the model of the HDD can be sealed with a holographic sticker. In principle, choosing such hard drives, you can take any - Seagate series Savvio, Cheetah or Hitachi Ultrastar. But if you have a choice, !!! always take Hitachi !!! - this is the most reliable hard drives in the world, their resource is not limited.

15. SSD is better to buy new

If you need an SSD drive, it is better to buy it new, or when buying yourself using a special program, see its remaining life. If the SSD resource is less than 70%, or if it can not be determined, it is better to abandon the purchase.

16. The rails in the rack

Most likely, the rails in the rack will have to buy separately. This is a tradable product, and even used is expensive, so if you plan to put the server in the rack is not on the shelf, namely through the Rackmount mount, find the components for installation in advance.

17. CD/DVD drives

Optical drives age even when they do nothing. So be prepared for the fact that even if the CD/DVD is not used in the server, it will refuse to read the discs. Fortunately, today it is not necessary: all servers can be loaded from USB and over the network, and without an optical drive you can do.

18. Network port

Typically, the server has 2 to 4 network ports. Be prepared for the fact that one or two ports may not work - this is a frequent failure, regardless of the manufacturer. Eliminated by buying a network card for 15$ for 4 port. Good reason for a discount.

19. Fans

In the server case, all fans must be installed, they should not rattle or make strange sounds. On average, the server fan costs 20$, and buy them - not a problem. Quite another thing - fans on power supplies, they can cost much more expensive and are sold separately rarely.

Fans on expansion boards in 1U or 2U enclosures are generally useless - even without them, expansion boards such as HBA controllers do not overheat.

20. Built-in dashboards: HP iLO, IBM Light Path, Dell DRAC

Branded servers have built-in monitoring panels: LCD screens or panels with LEDs. They should work because they detect faults, and this is the easiest way to quickly diagnose the server


If the diagnostics panel displays error, warning, burning yellow or red lights, better off buying, or to figure out which element fails. Maybe a hard drive, maybe a motherboard.

21. Risers should be included

In servers, the expansion cards are connected via risers: it is an adapter, for example, from one PCI Express 16x to 4 PCI Express 4x, or just a corner adapter for the PCI Express slot. By default, the servers are equipped with risers, but the seller can pull them out to sell separately. Even if you do not plan to install expansion cards, make sure that these risers are included.


Why? Because you may have to put some sort of expansion fee, and risers are not so much expensive as rare.

Conclusions: choose HP or IBM 1U or 2U format with two power supplies, a battery on the RAID controller, two processors and SAS hard drives with a speed of 10K or 15K RPM. We test at the seller if there is such opportunity, we find rails for installation in a rack and we prepare the server for the second life.

Immediately after purchase

After purchase, we recommend that you do the following:

  • Find on the manufacturer’s website and download PDF instructions to the server - tomorrow it may no longer be.
  • Do the same with all drivers for the motherboard and controllers
  • Update the BIOS Of all components: motherboard, self-test Board, RAID controllers. You don’t have to flash the hard drives - it doesn’t usually make sense
  • Reset internal monitoring settings (BMC, HP iLO, Dell iDRAC)
  • Clean the fans from dust.
  • Run a Memtest or other stability test for a few hours.

What you need to be prepared for

  • New operating systems, such as VMware ESXi, may not support older processor, motherboard, or network card configurations. Use previous generation operating systems.
  • If the RAID controller battery fails, you may not find a new one on sale.
  • Server backups should be stored on external storage or in the cloud.
  • Technical support for old servers is not provided, but most of the problems have already been solved on numerous forums.

Conclusion

For your server, you are the last resort, most likely, you will throw it out when you need a new one, because selling a used server is much more difficult than buying it.

Most likely, its performance will be enough for the growth of your company, and having worked for several years in a bank data center, it will still serve you well for 3-4 years. No new server will give you the same efficiency on the invested ruble as a used one. The issue of reliability is solved by simple duplication - you can buy two or three old servers and set up a failover cluster, and it will be 5-6 times cheaper than one new one.