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We Bought the Cheapest Rack Server in Québec

Over the weekend I decided to purchase the cheapest rack-mount server for sale in Québec, quite possibly in Canada. Why? I think I have a problem with buying useless things, but for $20 I really don't think there's much wrong with the purchase. We are now the proud owners of a 2004-ish HP ProLiant DL380 Gen3 rack-mount server, and all the glory that comes with it's likely insane power consumption. We are planning to film some videos for PRN_tech on this monster, but we want to talk a little bit about the hardware and it's intended purpose.

First off, this has dual single-core Xeon Gallatin processors, each running at 2.8Ghz, with 400Mhz front-side busses, and 2 MB of L3 cache. Not overly bad for 2003's $3,600 price tag per CPU. The 6GB of RAM isn't fully realized with our 32-bit version of Windows Server 2003 but it does get the job done, addressing 3.5GB of it. The 5 SCSI HDDs are currently configured as RAID 0 because I like to live dangerously, and the dual power supplies both work. All-in, for $20, you get quite a lot of hardware.

This is the first server I've purchased since my triple-thread IBM buy from 2011, which consisted of two IBM eServer x360s and an x365, none of which with hard drives, but I was able to score one from a recycle pile. The only x360 server I got up and running would have been around the same type of power and also was running Server 2003, so there's a bit of a re-learning curve for me to get this thing back up and running. The lack of a DVD drive meant all our media needed to be burned on CD, and we're lucky to live near an OrdiVert computer store which helped us out immensely to get this thing running again.

If you've never installed a version of Windows Server before, then you haven't really lived life yet. That prompt at the bottom of the screen in the photo above is what stopped us from getting this OS installed in the first place, the requirement of a RAID or SCSI controller driver that could only be installed via floppy drive. After some more searching online, we found the most helpful tool created by HP, their SmartStart application. A quick CD burn later and we were up and running.

SmartStart allows you to select which OS you want to install and it will build the environment in order to do so, including those pesky SCSI drivers. Since this software was specifically designed for this ProLiant DL380 G3 we had no issues whatsoever. We selected Win S2k3 and were off to the races, after quite a lot of rebooting we were in and ready to go, something I had started to lose faith in after the third day. This is easily one of the most important pieces of software you'll need if you're deploying an HP ProLiant server, and is highly recommended if you buy anything for your own personal use.

While Windows Server 2003 is definitely not a recommended OS given it's seriously out-of-support status, any production servers actually running this are at serious risk of vulnerability. While I imagine most large companies have switched over their older hardware to something slightly more recent, I do understand how difficult it is to replace older hardware in a live environment, and can sympathize with IT professionals who still have to rely on software and hardware like this.

So back to that original question, why would I buy something like this, aside from the fact that it cost $20? I've always been fascinated with technology like this, seeing the near-unlimited potential that's afforded to use with hardware and software like this. While this specific server is pretty limited by it's 15 year old architecture, it still gives me something cheap to play around with, so that when Perpetual Radio gets to the point where we can expand our services, I have some experience with the hardware to get it done. We don't plan on being a one-man-show forever, and having a solid infrastructure to build an entire media company from is crucial.

We're planning to do some content with this ancient server, and hope to get some videos published on PRN_tech covering this over the summer. While the server itself won't be used for much, it helps to get me back into working on hardware like this. This should open up the floodgates for more hardware for us to acquire, and hopefully get others interested in this sort of thing as well.

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