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Recently a long time customer of mine completely jumped the gun and ordered a file-server all by himself from a local “white box” distributor to replace one that had been running solid for 8 years 24/7/365. Here’s why that’s typically a bad idea; This distributor has no idea what my customer intends to use the server for and does not provide technical support directly to the customer.

What precipitated this “jumping of the gun” is that one of the mirrored hard disks (RAID 1) failed after 8 years of faithful service. The server is a lower-end Dell Poweredge server running Novell Netware 6.5 and simply has been running rock-solid for that long without so much as a reboot. The only time it was shut down was due to an extended power failure because of a hurricane and this one hardware failure.

We like to design customer networks with longevity like this in mind. When we ask a customer to spend $2500+ on a server that everyone in the office uses all day, every day, we expect it to last 8-10 years without any issues.

After reading the specifications of the server that the customer sourced himself, on the advice of the “white-box” supplier, it became clear that this “server” was really a glorified desktop computer with mirrored hard drives. In fact, it was supplied with Windows XP because my customer was told that “it would work.”

Let’s get this straight. “It will work” and “uninterrupted service for 8-10 years” is two completely different things. Windows XP is not designed to run like that. In fact, Microsoft expects that a computer running Windows XP will be rebooted on a regular basis. Also, a common “fix” for random, unexplainable Microsoft operating system behavior is to “reboot the system.” This is absolutely NOT what you want running on the main computer in your office.

Another reason we recommend that a customer purchase server-class hardware is that Microsoft Windows Server is usually certified by the manufacturer to run in a solid manner on this hardware. By “solid” I mean, no regular rebooting required, no race conditions in the hardware and no memory leaks in the software drivers. Certification like this is a result of testing the hardware with specific operating system software. Typically white-box hardware is NOT subjected to testing like this and as a result, you may or may not get a system that runs reliably.

Also, for the record, we typically do not install Microsoft Windows Server unless it’s absolutely necessary but that’s a story for another blog post. Stay tuned.