Buying Used Business Servers

To start my DevOps experiment I decided to create a mini server farm. I went to ebay to find some inexpensive business class servers to use. I was pleasanly suprised to see how inexpensive they were. You can find some decent ones for around $200. Yes, they are old and a bit obsolete but they are cheaper than a “bookshelf PC” from NewEgg. And, they are better for my test because they are real business class machines.

My requirements were fairly simple. I planned to make heavy use of virtualization so I needed a server with a CPU that was fast and had the right Intel extensions, and that had enough RAM to run several VMs simulataeously. After a lot of Google research, I narrowed it down to two:

  • Dell CS24-SC
  • HP Proliant

In its favor the Dell was incredibly cheap, many selling for $150. However, I read that these were custom models and not supported by Dell. I really didn’t want to add to my pain by using oddball hardware so I decided against them. So, I ended up ordering 4 HP Proliant DL 360 G5 1U servers. The server’s specs are as follows:

  • Dual 3.0 GHz Intel Xeon quad core E5450 CPUs
  • 16GB of ECC RAM
  • 2 x 73GB SAS 10K drives
  • Dual Gigabit NICs

Not bad specs for such cheap servers! The E5450 does support basic virtualization extensions (VT-x) and is 64 bit. That’s about it. It doesn’t support the newer Intel features such as Hyper-Threading and Turbo boost. That’s OK, I don’t know what those are. I can run a bunch of VMs on these old work-horses and that’s all I need.

Here is a picture of the DL 360:


I ordered them on ebay from someone called “digitalmind2000”. They arrived in only a few days. Wow, they were heavy. These monsters weigh almost 40 pounds! They came packed in these amazing foam molds. They fit the box and conformed perfectly to the servers, which I guess is kinda the point.

They arrived in great shape. The empty drive bays had blanks, all were identical models, and each came with 2 power cords. The power cords are needed for the dual power supplies. Just what the home user needs—redundant power supplies.

All 4 powered on fine. When they start up they sound like an F-16 using its afterburner while buzzing your house. Then they quiet down to to only really loud. I was pleased to see the bios and other system drivers were all current (well current to 2010 anyway). They passed all the diagnostics and I didn’t have any trouble with passwords. The only glitch was that one had a dead CMOS battery. I wonder where to find one of those?

They have this built in remote admin NIC called Integrated Lights Out (ILO). It doesn’t do much since I apparently lack the right license to use it. I’m on ILO v2 but the latest is v5. Perhaps HP will take pity on me and give me a free license. They must have some old v2 licenses lying around somewhere.

I did learn that the G5 is still—sorta—supported. I found the manual and a set of drivers on HP’s web site. Just what I wanted.

Anyway, thank you digitalmind2000. I already feel attached to these monsters. It appears, however, that I seriously underestimated the infrastructure I will need to run them. Guess I have a lot more gear to buy before I can start…

Categories: Hardware

Tags: ,

3 replies

  1. Hi,
    Long time refurb’ server fan, I built my first virtualization lab with HP ML110 G6 (Xeon X34xx) tower servers which had the advantage of being really quiet… Now that I want to go a step further and build a private cloud lab, I need more boxes and more dense one.

    Fearing a WAF overun, I’m lurking at 2U/3U servers on eBay in the hope the larger fans should be slower/quieter than the ones of 1U pizza boxes. Actually, one can find very nice Rackable Systems half depth servers which have my preference ATM… will have to make a decision at some point 🙂



    • I have definitely been bitten by the refurb bug as well. The noise and heat are the biggest challenges. Surprisingly the electricity cost hasn’t been an issue at all with my HPs.

      I’m looking forward quiet and low-heat ARM or Atom based servers at good prices. The Intel Atom C2750, for instance, has 8 cores! I just don’t know how well the ARM and Atom processors do at virtualization. Maybe not so well? Maybe they would work well using lightweight containers such as Docker and Solaris zones.


      • Indeed low-heat/power ARM/Atom based platforms are very tempting but I too might save them for lightweight container based virtualization… on which I’d happily settle but I still have to handle W$ VMs in my lab (and prod) and so have to stick with KVM (or Xen) for the time being.
        … googled a bit since yesterday about those C2750 and they could do the job even for full virt setups. In the end the problem is more that I can’t afford to buy a handful of these just to test, so best bet may be to more accurately baseline my power (supply and compute) reqs because a 8C/32GB/4GbEth/PCIe/20W/Silent platform is such a sexy basemnt to build on !



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