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Server upgrade tips - get more for less

With the gradual move to the cloud, local servers are perhaps less needed than they were. However, there are a range of services that still need a server - gateways, firewall, domain controller, rdp servers, SIMS, print servers and so on. While I've tried to scale back on the need for these - new things that people want to run seem to keep popping up.

So how do you meet the need for reasonably fast local servers on a small education budget? Well rather than going direct to retailers of the latest server kit, consider picking up a few parts secondhand and putting them together yourself. You can build a pretty respectable rig for not that much money if you know the parts to go for. So I've set out a few examples of parts I've used below to either build new servers from scratch or zoop up other ones.

New build

Our main staff rdp server, print server and it support helpdesk (running Spiceworks) live on this machine.

Brief demo of the rdp side of things running in Chrome (using Ericom AccessNow 7.5.1):

This all lives on a 1U rackmount server. The base is an HP DL360 g6. You can pick up base units on ebay for £100-£150. You want units which already have two power supplier and ideally two of the cheaper processors e.g. E5504's (as we are going to replace them - but we need the heatsinks). You then need 2xX5670 processors - these can be had for around £70. These are 6 core chips that run at 2.93Ghz and turbo to 3.3Ghz and are the best you can put in this unit. They also have hyper threading - so you end up with a 24 thread machine.

For RAM, you need DDR3 ECC Registered RAM. You need to but this is multiples of 6 (so 6/12/18 sticks) and either 4/8Gb sticks. I currently buy these on Ebay for around £15 a stick. So around £180 for 96Gb of RAM (144Gb is max on this machine).

You will also need some hard drives. You might get some with the base unit. But you can fit any 2.5inch SAS or SATA drives. You will need caddies (HP 378343-002) - these can be had for a few pounds on Ebay. I'd recommend some nice SSD's for something like rdp services and get these new - so Enterprise or good quality units. An example would be Sandisk X400 512GB - around £100 online - get 4 for RAID 10.

So it total you have spent around £800 and half of that is on the drives. You get:

  • 24 thread, 12 Cores @ 2.93Ghz
  • 96Gb RAM
  • 1Tb of RAID 10 SSD storage
  • 2 Gigabit NICs
  • 2 Power Supplies
  • iLO for remote server management

HP server units in my experience have rock solid reliability - so this will keep you going for a while. Not the latest kit by any means - but your end users won't care or know as long as its quick!

Upgrade

We have a Ml350p Gen8 server as well. It was running two 2Ghz hexcore E5 Xeons until the other day. E5 V1 Xeons have dropped massively in price in the last year or so and now make amazing server upgrades for very little money. These chips still retail for >£1000 online new, but can be had for as little as £70 for an E5-2670 on Ebay. This is a 8 core 2.6Ghz chip - hyperthreaded so presents 16 threads. So for around £140 you can upgrade to a 32 thread beast. Perfect for loads of virtual machines.

Again - not the latest kit - but still fast enough for the average school and does not break the budget.

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