Posey's Tips & Tricks

Is It Ever OK To Use Refurbished Servers?

You can save some money by going the refurbished route. However, learn what can and cannot be in used condition before taking the risk.

With all of the supply chain issues of the last few years, it hasn't always been possible to get the servers that you are looking for. Even so, refurbished server hardware seems to be abundantly available. The question is, however, is it ever OK to use refurbished equipment in a production environment?

Like so many other things in life, the answer is that it depends. Let me just say up front, that I would not recommend using refurbished servers in the enterprise. One reason for this is that refurbished servers tend to be a few years old and may not even be as current as the hardware that you are using right now.

The second reason for avoiding refurbished hardware in the enterprise is that of self-preservation. You never, ever want to be put in a position of having to explain to your boss that an outage occurred because you decided to save a few bucks by buying refurbished hardware. People lose their jobs over that sort of thing. In the enterprise, extreme reliability is an absolute must so it's best to purchase new hardware and a service contract to go along with it.

So what about non-enterprise use? Outside of the enterprise, there are two main acceptable use cases for refurbished server hardware. One such use case is that refurbished hardware might be a good fit for a lab environment.

The other use case is that refurbished servers can sometimes be a good option for small- or medium-sized businesses. After all, true server hardware tends to have a sky high price tag that puts it out of reach of smaller organizations. Such organizations may resort to running server workloads on PCs simply because server hardware is too expensive. Purchasing refurbished hardware may make it possible to run workloads on server hardware rather than on PCs.

Of course this raises another question. Is refurbished hardware reliable enough for use in small business environments? The answer once again is that it depends on a few different things.

First, you have to consider the overall condition of the hardware and where it came from. There is a big difference between used hardware and refurbished hardware. Used hardware is just that -- it's hardware that someone has used for a period of time and has decided to dispose of. Refurbished hardware, however, is essentially used hardware that has been tested and repaired (if necessary).

It is worth noting that quality control standards vary widely among refurbishers. Some will make refurbished components like new, aside from minor cosmetic defects. Other refurbishers do little more than to blow the dust out of the fans. The point is that if you are going to buy refurbished hardware then it is critically important to use a reputable provider and to make sure that the system comes with some kind of warranty.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that some hardware components wear out more quickly than others, hence there are some things that it might not be in your best interest to buy refurbished. For example, most larger organizations refresh their server hardware every few years, but these refreshes have more to do with technological obsolescence than they do with hardware lifespan. My own personal experience is that as long as a server is kept in a clean, temperature-controlled environment with conditioned power, the hardware usually lasts far longer than the amount of time that organizations plan on keeping them.

Conversely, there are components that do have comparatively short lifespans. Hard drives, for example, tend to wear out with use and so I would never recommend buying a refurbished hard drive.

Every organization's needs are different, but if an organization is looking to save a few bucks and doesn't mind using older hardware, then the best option may be to use refurbished servers. But purchase new hard drives and power supplies for use in those servers.

One more important consideration is that when you purchase a refurbished server, it almost never includes an operating system. So budget for an operating system license. Smaller organizations may be able to save money by using Windows Server Essentials rather than using Windows Server Standard Edition or Datacenter Edition. However, there are hardware limitations associated with Windows Server Essentials. Windows Server Essentials 2022 is only available from an OEM. You can purchase Windows Server Essentials 2019 licenses for use on hardware that you have already purchased. Keep in mind that Windows Server 2019 limits you to 64 GB of RAM and two physical CPUs. If you are need to use more powerful hardware, then you will need a Windows Server Standard Edition or Datacenter Edition license.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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