Server Shopping Made Easy
New vs. Used
If you decide to buy online or by phone, there's an additional decision: do you want to get new or used hardware? Used systems are rarely available through the retail or VAR channel.
The advantages of buying new equipment are obvious: you get the latest, fastest, most updated systems with all the bells and whistles. But do you really need those bells and whistles? Is there some specific feature or wrinkle in this season's processor chip, motherboard, or optical drive that you must have if your IT functions are to avoid collapsing?
Probably not. Most server needs are fairly straightforward. And that brings us to used equipment, which is usually hardware that was bought new three years ago and was on-lease at someone's premises since then. After the lease was up it was disposed of through a used hardware vendor (or sometimes sent back to the original vendor) who refurbished it, tested it, and offered it for sale. Many used hardware vendors (or used equipment divisions of original vendors) will offer a warranty that is comparable to what you could get on new equipment.
Notice we are not talking about acquiring random pieces of hardware from total strangers on eBay or CraigsList. While doing so may be justifiable in certain circumstances, generally you should be dealing with established, reputable suppliers for mission critical business equipment.
The chief advantage of buying a used server is price. "Pre-owned" hardware may cost only a quarter of what a new system would cost. But, as ever, the low-cost way of doing things is not automatically the best way. There are numerous disadvantages to buying used equipment:
- The hardware is, by definition, used. It will probably be at least three years old when it arrives, so that three years from now (after you've become totally reliant on it) it will be at least six years old, which is an advanced age for mission-critical computer hardware.
- Not only will a used system not be as powerful as a new, but its obsolescence will accelerate quickly. As Moore's Law is still in force, a system bought new today may be two and a half times as powerful as one with the same price was sold three years ago. Moore's Law is the famous 1965 prediction by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, that the number of transistors that can be etched onto a computer chip will roughly double every two years. The exponential rate of innovation in chip design guarantees that used computers age very quickly. Indeed, Moore's prediction has been proven accurate for more than 40 years, as shown in this chart:
- A used system will not have today's bells and whistles, and three years from now it still won't have those bells and whistles -- but by then those options may have become mainstream features. The latest software may require them, blocking you from updating.
- When shopping for used systems, getting specific hardware or software configurations may be difficult. The vendor will have certain configurations in stock and can ship them immediately, but that is all it will have.
On the other hand, an organization that has learned to rely on older hardware may see no reason to update. In such cases, used equipment can also provide spares for maintenance and for disaster recovery purposes.
Experts suggest that used equipment is good for non-critical or redundant systems. For back-office functions such as a print server or firewall, a used server should also suffice. But for mission-critical systems, getting a new system with a fast-response repair warranty is an approach that's hard to argue with.