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Rack or Tower?

Less and More: A Buyer’s Guide to 4U Servers

Of course, in some environments, particularly small- to medium-sized businesses that haven’t completely adopted rackmount architecture, one of the top questions may be where to put a 4U server in the first place.

According to Kamesh Ramalingam, Acer product manager, servers and thin clients, his company’s AT350 differs from conventional standalone server towers in that most products in this category are 5U designs while the AT350 is 4U. (This may be true, but some quick searching shows that Supermicro, Aberdeen, ASA, and others either have full systems or suitable server chassis in this convertible 4U category.) Such a tower can be purchased as a standalone system, much like a standard mid-tower PC, and then mounted into a rack later if and when the company decides to expand (or at least organize) its server collection.

“For a customer who is currently using let’s say three or four servers, they might prefer a tower,” says Ramalingam. “The moment the business grows and they add more servers, instead of throwing these boxes out, they might put them into the racks they buy, and it gives them a huge benefit in being able to use the same box. The other benefit is that some full-height cards fit better on a tower server. So a customer who doesn’t want a traditional rack system but who wants add-on cards, which are a little bigger and need a little more thermal flexibility, may buy these boxes and then rackmount them.”Acer AT350 4U ServerAcer AT350 4U Server

There is a class of 1P tower servers, often in the sub-$1,000 range, that greatly do resemble standard issue PCs. Insome cases, they even use desktop-class components and will serve quite well as small-scale Web servers, file servers, and so on. Ultimately, the difference between a server and a desktop in this category may boil down to nothing more than support and validation.

Some software vendors won’t provide support for systems unless they’ve been validated, and, unable to test every box out there, they have to be selective. When software issues arise, a validated tower server, even one that is indistinguishable from a desktop, will be supported whereas a client PC may not.

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