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Hardware Thread, What makes Server Hardware server hardware? in Technical; What is it about a box that makes it a server? I'm not talking about the software here, just the ...
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    What makes Server Hardware server hardware?

    What is it about a box that makes it a server? I'm not talking about the software here, just the nuts and bolts, ground-to-earth hardware side?

    The reason for asking is that I salvaged an old Digital Signage Server from the recycling pile, couldn't get windows to fly (password protected) so I loaded a new Linux Mint14 on it (as a desktop machine) and now use it as a web server for my intranet. It runs very, very quietly and you get the impression it will run 24/7 for ever - unlike my windows desktop machine sat alongside.

    Thing is, the school has got wind of something new and would like to try a windows webserver on another (new) machine and I'm wondering how to spec it. A server isn't just a desktop with server s/w which is left turned on 24/7 is it?

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    SYNACK's Avatar
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    Server hardware is just hardware and drivers designed for stability and always on running, so better hard drives, efficient PSU, motherboards with thicker PCB tracks and better capacitors, better support, well tested drivers that should make it less likely to crash, ram with ecc checking to prevent certain errors and keep running, hot plug hardware for swapping drives/ram in some boxes. Duplication of certain bits for redundancy like the power supply/ram/hd/ssd/even cpu in some cases.

    It depends on what you want to spend and how reliable and supported it needs to be for the application.

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    Quote Originally Posted by catch21 View Post
    What is it about a box that makes it a server?
    The purpose for which it is being used!

    This may sound glib, but the function of the box makes it a server, the hardware (and to an extent software) do not.

    In the dim and distant past I've had production file servers running on former desktop machines for months or years at a time and I've had rack mounted, specially designed "servers" falling over with regularity.

    It's not what you've got, it's what you do with it

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    Well for example you have server specific processors - such as the Intel Xeon range which are typically aimed at servers or high end workstations. These will have many more cores and more on-board cache meaning greater processing capabilities.

    The memory type support is normally ECC (Error Correction Code) and generally supports/addresses considerably more than your average workstation.

    Hard disks and controllers vary enormously, but you have many more SATA or SAS ports and support for numerous types of RAID. Most workstations typically have a handful and either no or few options for RAID.

    The motherboard itself can be comparably big to a workstation, again supporting many more devices or addressing higher amounts of memory (as I wrote above) with anywhere between 4 to 12 DIMM slots.

    To answer your question - basic servers are very comparable with some workstations. It all depends what you're doing with it and the specific requirements. Generally however you'd install a Server OS of some kind, such as Windows Server 2012 R2 vs. Windows 8.1 used on a workstation. Since Windows Server 2003, server editions of Windows are locked down compared to Windows versions designed for a workstation. Hope this helps!

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    To be strict about it it doesn't even need a server OS. It's any computer that offers a service to another. Every server, or desktop for that matter, has to be fit for purpose. And EVERY device is a compromise. Some servers compromise power consumption and noise for performance and fault tolerance, others, like a digital signage server would compromise fault tolerance and capacity for better noise levels and a smaller form factor. I've seen a cheap desktop used as a licence server for AutoCAD compromising just about everything for price (not running autocad you understand, just a licence server). Look at what you need it for and make your decision accordingly.

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    tmcd35's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael View Post
    Well for example you have server specific processors - such as the Intel Xeon range which are typically aimed at servers or high end workstations. These will have many more cores and more on-board cache meaning greater processing capabilities.

    The memory type support is normally ECC (Error Correction Code) and generally supports/addresses considerably more than your average workstation.

    Hard disks and controllers vary enormously, but you have many more SATA or SAS ports and support for numerous types of RAID. Most workstations typically have a handful and either no or few options for RAID.

    The motherboard itself can be comparably big to a workstation, again supporting many more devices or addressing higher amounts of memory (as I wrote above) with anywhere between 4 to 12 DIMM slots.
    None of which makes the machine necerssarily a server. You could put all that kit together in a rackmount chassis, Install Windows 7 Home Premium and a GTX Titan and have a whale of a time on COD...

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    I agree, not necessarily... but shall I say I have described typical 'characteristics' a server normally has.

    You don't find notebooks or tablets with Xeon processors in them now do you?

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    You do find servers with notebook or tablet processors in them

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    Modern servers have advanced sensors in them to monitor and maintain stability. Standardised form factors is another aspect - as servers in most cases end up in standardised racks. Things like amount of cache, ECC RAM, battery backed RAID controllers, redundant power supplies etc... also normally only feature on servers. Sometimes though, server 'aimed' components end up in high end workstations instead. Just as low end components end up in cheap servers.

    It is only a server if it actually provides a service really. I've ran 'servers' on desktops before - Fog was running on a desktop for a while, for example.

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    tmcd35's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by catch21 View Post

    Thing is, the school has got wind of something new and would like to try a windows webserver on another (new) machine and I'm wondering how to spec it. A server isn't just a desktop with server s/w which is left turned on 24/7 is it?
    A more serious answer, to the actual question...

    Technically, yes servers are just desktop's with server s/w which is left turned on 24/7, but...

    ...purpose built server hardware tends allow for various forms of hardware redundancy so the server can remain online when a component fails. (RAID, EEC memory, redundant PSU's, multi-CPU, hot swapping, etc)

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    In terms of components: validation. Xeons are typically higher quality processors than the otherwise identical Core i3/5/7 processors, binned and pushed through more testing (server CPUs also support ECC memory, as one actual difference). SSDs will have much more spare area and have been quality checked more thoroughly. HDDs will be produced to tighter tolerances. It's all produced to a higher standard with less variance in the quality, which takes man hours and better production lines, which puts the cost up.

    That's my understanding of it, anyway. Servers are all about stability - a lot of HP kit has its graphics provided by a ten year old AMD (ATI) chip on the motherboard, for example, because the drivers for it are rock-solid after this many years and you only need 2D performance anyway (not even that, for Server Core).

    We run FOG on an old Core-2 Duo system, or thereabouts spec-wise, but wouldn't dream of running my virtual stack on anything less than full and proper server kit. Pick where you want your service to sit on the cost-reliability line for a given performance point and purchase accordingly.

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    Thanks for the replies and discussion. Very helpful!

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    Quote Originally Posted by sonofsanta View Post
    server CPUs also support ECC memory, as one actual difference
    So do many Core i3, Celeron and Pentium CPUs when paired with a suitable motherboard and chipset. e.g.


    Intel loves removing certain features from their processors for market segmentation reasons - rather than technical - in order to maximize profits. For example, I can't see why a Core i7-4770 supports VT-d, but a Core i7-4770k doesn't.
    Last edited by Arthur; 7th March 2014 at 07:18 AM.

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    That's just typical isn't it?

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