When Is a Used Server Right for You?

Why should a datacenter operator turn to already-used equipment instead of buying new from Dell or Hewlett-Packard? To maintain compatibility with older hardware that the OEM itself just doesn’t support, as well as a nice discount.

But any reputable reseller should test the products it sells—take the case of Network Hardware Resale, which offers both new and pre-owned servers from HP, IBM, Dell, and Sun (among other vendors and equipment). The company runs its wares through the gauntlet of a ISO 9001:2008 and TL 9000 certified testing facility.

“Once the equipment is burned in and tested we see very few failures in the field,” said Jeff Zunardi, vice president of business development for NHR, based in Santa Barbara, California. “In fact, we typically see lower out-of-the-box failure rates than OEM products.” NHR also has engineering teams that will either try to solve client issues over the phone, or approve what the company calls a “best-effort advanced replacement unit.”

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—that old saying neatly sums up the philosophy of many customers who turn to used servers. “The simplest answer is that they have an existing platform, say a [Dell PowerEdge] 2950 or 2850,” said William Buchanan, who sells used servers for Stallard Technologies in Overland Park, Kansas. “They work, the software works, the applications works.”

Buchanan paints his company’s customer base as expansive, including not only small- to midsize businesses but also governments, schools, and larger enterprises. “I’ve been with the company seven years, and we sold [Dell] PowerEdge 2650s when I started,” he said. “And we still sell those. Those are single-core, 400-MHz front-side bus, 533-MHz front-side bus processors, and bunch of government entities are still using those. That’s because of a bunch of constraints, and they haven’t changed.”

Probably one of the major concerns about buying any piece of pre-owned or used equipment is whether or not it will break immediately.

NHR offers a lifetime guarantee: equipment will be replaced or repaired for free, and the company will ship a replacement part without needing to swap the unit. After a year, it will also exchange the server for the same or an equivalent part.

Other companies have similar measures in place: Stallard offers a 30-day warranty for replacement, repair or refund; Abacus Solutions, another reseller of used servers, touts something similar. When OEMs such as IBM offer refurbished servers at a discount, they generally provide quality satisfaction guarantees (generally for up to 90 days).

IBM and other large OEMs also offer disposal services, where a customer can trade in an older server for credit. But OEMs may not hold onto—or support—a server for as long as a reseller.

In the end, it pays to remember that a vendor is in the business of selling you a new product, with a secondary emphasis on selling and supporting previously-owned products. A reseller specializing in used products will put the latter first.

Buying a used server might not be for everyone; after all, if the budget’s there, you might as well spend it. But in a pinch, and to maintain compatibility with previous infrastructure, it’s an option to consider.


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