“How long should I keep my server?”

We, as in Bright Software, don’t really install servers anymore, but I get the “How long should I keep my server?” question a lot.

I used to do hardware, years ago, and have in-depth knowledge of systems engineering. I know it’s difficult sometimes to trust the guy trying to sell you a new server because of their obvious incentive. I never pushed for unnecessary upgrades, but, now, since I don’t sell hardware anymore, you can know with certainty that I have no vested interest in getting you to upgrade when you don’t need it.

So what is the answer? It depends of course. Anytime you have any mid to high level reliance on your server, you should replace every 5 years. There are some cases where you can go longer. I have one customer with a 8 year old terminal server and this is fine. They aren’t reliant on it. They don’t even back it up. It is basically a throw away. If it fails, they buy a new server and have it up next week. If you have a similar server where, if you don’t get a new one for a week, it doesn’t matter, then you can hold off on the upgrade.

So why 5 years? Actually, at 4 years, you should start allocating your budget, getting quotes, and preparing for the move. If you look at statistics on hardware failures, all of the moving parts (hard drives and fans) and the power supply have the highest probability of failure. The hard drives are the biggest concern. They have a rating on them for mean time between failures (MTBF). It is a rating of the number of hours the hard drive is expected to last. As time goes on, and you exceed the MTBF, you are just playing with probability. At some point you’ll lose. Figure out the cost of being without your email server for 2 or 3 days and compare it to the cost of a new server. It is likely that the cost for the new server is cheaper. Why take a chance?

This summer at one of my clients, their terminal server crashed. All 30 of their users use this terminal server which ran Windows 2003 Server, for their accounting software and other application. The cause of the crash…someone was playing web based games from a website that also installed spyware on the server. It bypassed Symantec Antivirus and took the entire server offline for the rest of the day. 30 people not able to work for an entire day. I had been trying to convince them to upgrade for years. So another reason to have upgraded in this case, is that if they had used Windows 2008 R2 Server, which, like Windows 7, is much more resistant to spyware and viruses, they would not have had an outage.

Always run those Windows Updates and keep your hardware and software up to date.