Enterprise or Consumer Server for Small Buisness


I have an interesting topic that I cant really find an answer too, and I suspect its really more of a matter of opinion than anything at all, but I was curious if I could hear from some IT guys that arn’t tying to sell me anything.

Some background, I make my living in the tradess, and have been for 10+ years, but have always been into technology/computers/IT as a hobby since my teens. Tinkering at home, playing in the home server environment, Unraid, plex, have a nice ubiquiti setup at home… that sorta thing.

As I now am out of the “field” and found myself in an office/supervising position of our company. I took a bit of an interest in our IT infrastructure, mostly because I found we are spending 10’s of thousands a year for “IT” (Its Canadian $$, but still) . We are a company of 25 or so, but an office of 6 - 8… I by no means have experience in IT in a business environment, but think I got a good handle on it.

I sat in on a meeting a few weeks back pitched by our managed IT provider, that says our server needs a re-fresh as its approaching end of dell warranty (3yr)… . and its going to cost $20K+ (Labor, licenses and hardware, but $12k was hardware! ) Here’s the thing… the server just runs 3 VM’s on VMware… Xeon E3-1240L, 32GB Ram and some 10K drives. I believe the quote for the new one was a 16core xeon, 4 x 960 enterprise SSD’s and 64GB RAM

1 DC for all of 8 people, that stores our files. Its about 1.5TB, and probably only 200GB of which I would consider active with projects on the go, user profiles and the database file for our application server.
Our application server running our accounting program (max 3 users at any given time, typically 2, but psql database is upto about 8GB of transaction)
and Terminal server… that untill the last 2 months with COVID was typical used off business hours by employees working at home in the evening. Although now we can see upto 3-4 people mid day… its handling it fine. It could use more RAM, but seems fine.

Our data is important, dont get me wrong. But we lost our accounting server for a week as our IT company couldn’t keep it running for more than 2 hours due to a “Bad windows update”, it was inconvenient, but by no means stopped our business dead in its tracks.

My Question: Do we really need, what I would consider “Enterprise” hardware in a small office environment? ?!

Im looking at what we do, and I feel that we could easily accommodate it with some consumer gear, few 1TB SSD’s in RAID5, a decent backup/disaster recovery plan and save 8-10K in hardware…

What am I missing?

Well, it goes by the same saying that nobody got fired for buying cisco. Enterprise hardware generally has ecc ram, which is useful in preventing a bitflip and causing the system to crash or corrupt. If you recommend them commodity hardware and it crashes, it’s on you for not getting enterprise hardware. However, if you get enterprise hardware and it still crashes or fails down the line, then it was the hardware that fails and that’s where the warranty and a support contract come in (you won’t be dead in the water for long).

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I think you’re probably asking the wrong question. A 3 year old enterprise class server is likely more reliable than a new ‘consumer’ grade server. If you’re not experiencing any performance issues then there is no reason to buy a new server. There are plenty of companies out there that provide 3rd party extended warranty contracts, which often even have higher level SLA’s than Dell provides. I’ve worked for a couple of pharmaceutical companies with extreme requirements for high uptime, and even they will accept 3rd party warranties with proven solid SLA’s.

edit: I get the feeling your IT provider is looking at his pockets rather than your needs.

A hammer is the solution for someone looking at a nail !

From what you’ve described, your kit will last for a few more years well after it is fully depreciated. Your company is better off ensuring your processes are documented, you have disaster recovery in place and your backup plans work. You may even want a test or staging environment set up. It’s all unsexy but saves your neck, shiny new kit is always great but it pays to also do the basics.

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The warranty and parts availability make a bid difference in why people choose enterprise hardware. With consumer hardware your not as likely to get next day parts replacements the way companies such as Dell do. Also, most enterprise systems offer redundant hot swap power supplies which is a common failure point with consumer hardware.

I would call Dell with the serial number and ask how much an additional warranty will cost, you should get a good 5 years out of any enterprise class equipment. The difference between 3 years and 5 years is almost always the difference between asking and paying for the extra time.

Maybe what you should be looking for is a quote from another MSP.

Also 12k for that level of server seems like a huge markup unless software licenses are huge. A Supermicro 20 core dual Xeon Silver with 128gb of ECC RAM and no drives is around $3000usd from Provantage, add in some storage or make a second machine for Freenas.

The only other thing I can think is that the 12k included some large amount of labor to migrate all the data that was not included in the other labor price.

Just for reference, everything I run at work is Supermicro. I just recently had to put a server from 2007 back into service. It’s a prototype machine for a remote connection tool, but it ran for 11 years before this test. I have others that are from 2012 that I was supposed to replace this year, but budgets are not available, I mean really not present at all.

I should probably add that both Dell and HP offer MSP services, maybe when you call them about warranty you should ask them for a quote for services. They handle licensing of all kinds.

Thanks everyone for the comments,

I can see the benefits of server grade over consumer grade, but as far as parts availability. I can drive down to our local computer supplier and buy any consumer part needed and be back in the office in an hour if It dies in most cases.

Our sever does have dual power supplies, on separate UPS’s. I’m tempted to run it out of the 3 year warranty for another year as it still has the resources we need. In my view, just because its our of warranty, doesn’t mean its not reliable. Our MSP has our VM’s backup ed up locally and remotely, and for a nice fee, will drop off and setup a loaner server next day.

As for the server replacement, from what I can tell, when I priced it out using dell’s website for comparison its about $8K CND… $3.5K of which is just new SSD’s.

The more and more I think about it, I think as an MSP, they are doing the right thing (although I need to revisit the server pricing issue). Recommend a product that will be reliable… and since we pay a set fee per month, will be less work for them to keep up.

But, if we run our server out of warranty, we increase the chance of a day or two of downtime while our MSP gets us a loaner sever set up (I know we would pay for the rental/setup) while our new one is on order.

There is a part of me that wants to see if I can take on migrating the old server to the new server for the experience (again, hobby), cant be that hard… Just need to watch a few you tube video’s and I will be good to go!

I would do this before committing to a new server. 1 check and eval the smart data of your drives: 2 Check the price of an extended warranty: 3 If you think there would be benefit from more RAM see if there are empty slots and the specs on the installed RAM, it could be as easy as adding more sticks; look at buying a FreeNAS Mini XL+ for data stroage or backup.
A three year old server with 6-8 users should have plenty of life left in it. You can also run the Dell diags that are included or can be downloaded from the support site get the specs with your service tag number.

I would look into hosting your applications/data with a cloud hosting provider. First, I don’t want to come across as trying to sell you something, but I will tell you what I charge one of my customers for a similar solution so you can have something to compare.

This customer needs file storage and QuickBooks. Currently they run their QBs on my hosted environment for $250/month which covers them for 5 users and includes MFA, MS Excel (for reporting) and management. Another option is to go with public cloud, which you could manage yourself or outsource to an MSP. Even a bare metal provider could be a better option than on prem.

For the file storage we are in the process of migrating to Office 365 OneDrive. This limits the local network services to DHCP and internet access. I use pfSense for firewalls and found this type of solution to be the best value for small businesses.