Dell and HPE: A Small Business Server Buyer’s Guide (2019)


When you decide to buy a server for your small business, you have some difficult choices to make.
What server hardware do you need? Should you buy or build? Do you want to go with Dell or Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) servers?
This guide will help you make the best decisions for your small business server.

Identify Server Uses

The first thing you need to know is what you’ll be using your business server for since that will impact your hardware choices. Some typical uses are:

  • Email hosting
  • Website hosting, including eCommerce sites
  • Database management
  • Control for peripherals such as printers
  • Document storage and collaboration
  • Application hosting
  • Virtual desktops
  • Data backup

If your needs are focused mostly around storage, look for a server with more hard drive space. Also, consider how easy it will be to expand when your business grows.
If your server will be getting a high volume of queries from users, such as with a database server, look for something with a large CPU.

Bear in mind that application and web hosting often have specific requirements. Make sure you evaluate those before making any decisions.

Types of Small Business Servers

Next, you want to look at server models: towers, racks, and blades. For small servers, though, you should focus on tower and rack options. Blade servers have a higher up-front cost and offer only basic options compared to the other types.

Tower servers

Tower servers look like a standalone desktop CPU. They typically come with a basic level of configuration and can be upgraded from there.

This gives them a number of benefits:

  • Low initial cost: Buying a tower tends to cost less up-front than rack servers, while still meeting standard requirements.
  • Configurability: Towers can be easily adapted to meet different business needs. They could be used for general purposes or more specific needs such as email or website hosting.
  • Cooling: Towers, like regular PCs, don’t need any special measures to stay cool, no matter how many you have.
  • Maintenance: The standalone structure of towers also makes them very easy to maintain and troubleshoot. You can work on one without impacting the others.

Those benefits also come with some trade-offs. If you’re planning on getting a tower server, you should keep in mind:

  • Future expenses: You’ll need to spend more on customizing and upgrading, and you should evaluate if that will outweigh any initial savings.
  • Large footprint: Towers cannot be stacked or combined in any way, which means you’ll need quite a bit of space if you add on multiple servers.
  • Peripherals: Each tower server needs its own set of peripherals – video, keyboard, and mouse. This adds to the space requirement and can make using them awkwardly.

Rack servers

Rack servers have a completely different configuration. They’re stored in a standardized cabinet called a rack that has bays to slot in multiple servers.

As with towers, rack servers have a number of useful features to consider:

  • Small footprint: Since each rack can contain multiple servers, these are ideal for areas where space is limited.
  • All-in-one: Rack servers provide room for other necessary equipment, such as the power source, so everything needed to run the server is in one place.
  • Scalability: The nature of rack servers makes it very easy to add components if you need more storage, memory, or processors.
  • Processing power: Rack servers support significant processing, which is ideal for high-end applications.
  • Multiple needs: With multiple servers, a single rack can meet many needs. One server could be for email, another for a database, and another for storage.

As with towers, some of the benefits lead to complications. These are some things to keep in mind for rack servers:

  • Cooling: Since the servers in a rack are so close together, keeping them cool is difficult. You may need to invest in a specific cooling system.
  • Energy usage: Rack servers use a lot of energy, and that will increase if you need a cooling unit.
  • Troubleshooting: It can be difficult to isolate a problem with multiple servers across a number of racks.
  • Initial cost: Racks have a higher up-front cost, and it can add up fast if you expect to grow and need to scale your infrastructure.

Build or Buy?

Once you know the kind of server you’re looking for, you should also consider if you want to build or buy.

If you build a server, you have full flexibility to customize, and you won’t spend as much up-front. On the other hand, you won’t have the support of a manufacturer. And even though you save on initial costs, you might spend more on the customization, as well as on maintaining the server.

If you buy a server, you may spend more initially, and you won’t have as much configurability. But you will have the support of the vendor. You’ll also know that you’re getting a tested and proven system.

Dell vs. HPE

Finally, you want to consider which brand to go with, Dell or HPE. These are the top two in the server market.

Both have good options for towers and racks, but here are a few points to consider in making your decision:

  • Performance: Dell tests as being faster with a heavier workload, while HP had 20% less efficient reading performance.
  • Price: Dell servers are slightly more expensive up-front. HPE servers offer more competitive prices, which could make them better for smaller companies who don’t need as much focus on performance.
  • Support: Dell doesn’t restrict updates to those with a paid support program, although HP does. Dell’s support, in general, is very reliable and has more add-on packages than HP.
  • Documentation: HP has more robust documentation, with manuals for almost anything you would need to do.
  • Reviews: In a comparison by Gartner, 85% of reviewers said they would be willing to recommend Dell, while 74% were willing to recommend HPE.

You should also compare specific server builds since even within a brand, you’ll find differences between generations and server types.

What’s Best for Your Business

Small business servers all have their own pros and cons. You won’t find one that’s a clear winner in every situation.

The best option is to evaluate your individual needs, including physical space as well as server usage. You can then find the server that’s a match for your business.

Want help deciding what server option is best for your business? Contact our experts by calling (213) 810-3013 or connecting with our online form.

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