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Back to basics tech refresher: Server selection tips

Is one box just like the other? Sometimes, it's what you don't see that counts. Check out these server selection tips.

"The same way your customers depend on you to keep serving them, you depend on your servers to keep running," said server specialist Susan Whitney. This co-dependent relationship can fall apart if you don't get the right kind of server equipment from the get-go.

Whitney, general manager of IBM, Corp.'s xSeries servers, and her colleague Tom Bradicich, CTO of White Plains, NY IBM xSeries servers, recently gave SearchWindowsManageability some tips to choosing the right server. Several factors besides price, power and speed need to be taken into consideration, they said. Service, reliability, ease-of-use and manageability specifically contribute to the total cost of ownership.

10. Local and online service and support
When disaster strikes, every minute counts. You'll be one step ahead if you create a disaster recovery plan and make sure everyone knows how to implement it. Further, find out beforehand where service and support is in your area. Remember, calling your vendor's help center or accessing Internet help desks can easily solve many server problems.

9. Full and on-site warranty
Have you ever tried to lift a server, or disconnect it from the rest of the gadgets and cables it's connected to? Most servers are not practical to lug over to the repair shop. If you don't want to get stuck with a dead server, have a good on-site warranty that covers all the parts: the box and the technology in it.

8. Operating systems
This may sound simple and obvious, but don't overlook checking for multiple operating system support. If you plan on running various OSes, your new server should have the resources to support them, whether it's Windows, Linux, Unix, or Solaris, for example.

7. Failure protection technology
If you want to minimize server failures, Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID), hot-plug and Error-Correcting Code (ECC) memory are necessary. RAID protects data by writing it on more than one disk. Hot-plug, or hot-swap, technology lets you change broken parts while the machine is running. ECC memory tests for and corrects errors on the fly.

6. Redundant components
Always think about total cost of ownership. It's one thing to buy the cheapest box on the market, but it's another to take into account repair and downtime costs while a part is being replaced. Consider this, if you need your server to be available 24x7, you probably need redundant power supplies, replacement fans, hard drives and network cards. Any moving part should be backed up with a spare. It costs more, but it is a bargain compared to the cost of being offline while one of these parts is being replaced.

5. Predictive failure analysis
Servers keep running until they don't run anymore. Often, there are not telltale signs that they will go down. If zero downtime is necessary, consider using predictive failure analysis technology. This technology warns you up to 48 hours in advance of an imminent server failure. That's plenty of time to prevent disaster.

4. Automatic data backup
A server can hold several gigabytes of data and you know the importance of backing up. If you don't want to take a chance on losing everything but need to free up some of your time, think about installing automatic back up procedures.

3. Compatibility
If you don't want to run into compatibility issues, find out beforehand if your new server can work with all the applications and hardware you might put on it. Remember, all software does not run on every machine. If you get a list from potential vendors of what they have checked and found compatible, this will save you a lot of frustration later.

2. Systems management
Systems management can often be seen as an unnecessary extra when purchasing a server. However, if you care about the health of your server, systems management technology is vital. It will inform the IT staff of how the server is running, and it will predict how it will perform in the future. Systems management can eradicate some of the pain of an IT manager's work. Once again, consider total cost of ownership rather than the immediate cost of the box.

1. Product range
There's nothing worse than spending money on something and finding out six months down the road that it no longer fits business needs. If your business is growing, make sure your vendor offers an upgrade path beyond the system you are buying.


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