Technology – Be careful when building servers on desktop hardware

Old 4 Comments on Technology – Be careful when building servers on desktop hardware 55

This is another installment of my Technology posts, geared towards those of us who are technology professionals and support users or clients.

The topic of server operating systems on desktop hardware gets brought up every so often. Can it be done ? Should it be done ? There are many varying opinions, with many good points brought up on either side of the argument. In the end, it really comes down to this one question: what are you going to do with this server ?

This is the critical question that must be asked, because it will ultimately determine whether you’re able to handle the requirements of the server with desktop hardware. Are you running SQL ? Are you running an Exchange server ? Are you simply sharing files and folders ?

Today’s processors, even in the desktop lineup, can handle a lot. Intel’s Core series processors will generally work fine in server environments. Intel’s Celeron processors ? Not so much. Likewise, SSD hard drives will perform great in a server environment, 5400 RPM spinner hard drives, not so much.

I would encourage any newcomers in the IT field to experiment with different solutions in a lab environment. See what works, see what doesn’t. There is no ‘right answer’ to the argument of whether desktop hardware can be used with a server operating system. Rather, the right answer depends on what is being done with the server. And the ability to come up with the right answer really comes from experience, nothing else.


Martin Lehner

Martin Lehner is an technology professional working for an IT services firm in Whitehorse, Yukon (Canada). He has been working in the technology field for over a decade. With a degree in Business Admin and numerous industry certifications, Martin leads a team of IT professionals that provide third party support for clients. Originally starting a company to offer web development services, Martin quickly realized that clients wanted the entire spectrum of technology services. When Martin is not at work (which is not often, since his company offers 24/7 support), he is busy at home spending time with his family.

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  1. Devin August 8, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    Agreed that it all depends on what you are doing. IMHO… Anything production related SHOULD be on actual server hardware. Server hardware is designed to run 24x7x365 for 3-4 years at least. Or in a virtual environment hosted on server hardware. There are many advantages server hardware usually gives you like iLO, multiple NIC’s, hot swappable components and better warranty support just to name a few.

    If you are testing out something on a server OS, studying for certification, or basic file share for a small group of people that you don’t need redundancy for and can risk some kind of down time, then there is no reason not to use desktop hardware.

  2. Tom Gorman August 9, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Question concerning the server built with desktop materials. What is your opinion of using server material for a desktop that is used as a desktop and file sharing in small SOHO ie….10 to 12 seats.

    Is using dual processor board worth it. How do I assure the fastest processing and deliver time using Server board for Desktop? My Reason for using Tyan over many years, is that board is build like a tank, and when support is needed, they are there, fast and ready to help. My reason for the original switch to Tyan years ago was the frustrating loss of time when receiving defective MB from other suppliers.

    This new build will be have a large Intel Service Center SSD PCI Express card.

    Thank you,


    • Jeff Newman August 11, 2014 at 11:13 am

      You can share a server and use it as someone’s desktop as well, but there are a few things to be aware of.

      In no particular order:

      Server operating systems are tuned for background tasks. Desktop operating systems are tuned for foreground tasks. A user sitting in front of a server may not see the same responsiveness as one sitting at a desktop computer. The server’s multitasking for other users might contribute to this as well. Whether the effect is noticeable… maybe.

      In the case of Windows, the look and configurability of the desktop is different in server vs. user versions. However the “user experience” is an installable feature and the two can be made to look and work very much alike. (Windows Server 2008 R2 with the user experience feature installed is commonly seen in the virtual desktop space as Microsoft doesn’t grant service providers a license for offering virtual Windows 7 desktops.)

      Servers (especially Windows servers) occasionally mysteriously hang or crash. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen often, but it happens. User desktop PCs tend to hang, crash or misbehave far more often, owing, in part, to the applications the user is running on them and other tasks the user might be performing. Having a user running those applications and performing those tasks on a shared server is likely to increase the instability of that server and end up causing inconvenience to more than just that single user when the server needs a restart.

      Servers and the work they process tend to be looked at as protected objects, requiring operational and physical security. Removing that physical security by having a server out in the open, with a user logged into it can potentially open up that server and those work processes to unwanted access. A user with local admin rights can easily stop any number of services, delete necessary files that are not their own, etc. It’s long been considered that a server that is not physically secured, i.e. behind a locked door, is not secured at all. A user without local admin rights can still cause damage if they really want to.

      All that being said — and that’s not an exhaustive list — you can do what you’re asking, with some expense saving and some risk.

      I hope this has been helpful.

    • Martin Lehner August 11, 2014 at 2:43 pm

      Well, I would have ask, why do you want to use this machine as a “desktop” as well ? If you’re building a setup with things like PCIe SSD, then you obviously have an acceptable budget to work with. Generally, you’re using a “desktop” as a “server” (dual purpose) to save money because the budget simply doesn’t allow buying a stand alone server. Desktops are fairly cheap, so why are you trying to use a server as one ?

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