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Hardware considerations for new servers

How many processors? How much memory? Windows compatibility. Recommended hardware specs. These are some of the hardware-related factors to consider when purchasing a new server.

There's a lot at stake when a company purchases new server hardware. The main reason is obvious: Servers are expensive. Any time you're spending that kind of money, you want to feel confident you've made a wise decision.

Servers also tend to be long-term investments. And they perform critical tasks. Your company probably expects the next server you purchase to be able to run a mission-critical application reliably for the next five years. Employees have lost their jobs for purchasing server hardware that did not perform adequately.

Even though you're planning for how your server will be able to keep pace with the anticipated work load, it never hurts to hedge your bets by making sure the server's capabilities can be extended down the road. For example, even if you decide that the server only needs a single processor, it's a good idea to purchase a server that can accommodate additional processors. . .just in case you ever need them.

Similarly, make sure that the machine can accommodate more memory than you actually need. Having room for a few extra hard drives doesn't hurt either.

Almost every application comes with a list of minimum and recommended hardware specifications. Even so, in most cases it would be a mistake to purchase a server based on the application's recommended hardware requirements. Several of the world's largest software companies are notorious for understating the hardware requirements for their software.

Do some research on the Internet to see what people have to say about the hardware that the application actually requires. Contact the software publisher and ask to speak to some of their customers. Or just get their names and call them directly.

In reviewing the application's hardware requirements, there are two things to take into account.

  • The resources required by the application will vary depending on how many people are using the application. How many users are the hardware recommendations are based on?
  • Account for future growth with room to spare. Earlier I suggested asking a manager about the company's projected growth over the server's intended life span. Whatever the number of users that management tells you to expect, increase that number by 10%. That doesn't mean that you have to buy 10% more licenses. Just estimate the hardware requirements based on the server being used 10% more heavily than is being estimated by management.

Hardware compatibility list

Make sure that your proposed hardware is on Microsoft's Hardware Compatibility list. This is the only way to guarantee that the server will be 100% compatible with the Windows operating system.

Realistically, you'll probably be fine even if your server isn't listed on the Hardware Compatibility list. However, having guaranteed compatible hardware also ensures that Microsoft's technical support department will help you in times of crisis. Imagine trying to explain to your boss that tech support won't take your call because you decided to save a few bucks by buying hardware not guaranteed to be fully Windows-compatible.

About the author: Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server, Exchange Server and IIS. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. He writes regularly for and other TechTarget sites.

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