Server

What is it?

Servers are specially built computer systems designed to run 24/7, usually with redundant parts to keep the system running in the event of a failure.  These redunant systems include; multiple power supplies, multiple CPUs, and multiple Hard Drives using RAID system.

Why not a PC?

Many small businesses will use a PC to act as a server, although this will work you will not have any of the redundancies or improved performance a server was built to provide.  One primary example of this is the RAID system, RAID stores data to multiple drives at the same type, this protects against a drive failure and improves drive performance.  PCs are also designed for basic tasks and to be used 8 hours a day.  A server needs to run tasks throughout the day, updates or backups at night, many users accessing data, etc.  The PC will wear out substantially faster then the server.

RAID

Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) is used to protect against drive failures and sometimes improves performance.  There are multiple types of RAID including…

RAID0 – Two or more drives are combined to create one large storage with NO protection.  Great to create large storage space, but does not give any improved performance or failure protection, if one drive fails all data is lost.

RAID1 – Two drives are used to create two copies of all data.  One drive can be lost with no data loss.  There is also improved read speed since both disks can be used to access data.  However, write speeds are reduced since the data must be written twice.

RAID5 – Three or more drives are used.  This writes the data to a disk and information on how to recover that data to another disk.  If a single drive fails no data is lost.  Read performance is slightly better then RAID1.

RAID10 – four drives are needed.  This is a combination of RAID1 and RAID0.  In theory you could loose two drives, but only if it is the correct two drives.

RAID50 – six or more drives are needed.  This is a combination of RAID5 and RAID0.

RAID6 – Four or more disks are required, this is the same as RAID5 but with an extra drive for protection.  In this setup two drives can fail without data loss.

RAM (Memory)

Random Access Memory (RAM)

This is temporary storage within your computer this is NOT the same as your Hard Drive.  RAM is temporary/fast storage used to improve the performance of your computer.  You should have at least 4GB of RAM in your computer, it is recommended that you have 8 or 16GB for most computers.  More RAM does NOT always mean improved performance, your computer will only use the amount of RAM it needs.  So if you already have 8GB of RAM in your computer and use your computer for running one or two basic applications at a time, increasing to 16GB will have no improvement in performance.  There are rare instances where more RAM will make a difference, examples would be servers or running graphics intensive applications like Games or Graphic design.

Graphical Memory

As well as system memory for applications and operating system, there is a secondary memory used by your graphics card (note all computers have a graphic card this may be built into the system or may be a separate card.)  This graphic memory may be shared through the standard application memory or it may be part of the graphic card.  If shared, when using graphic intensive applications you may have less available application memory.  In this instance a new graphic card that uses it’s own internal memory is recommended.  These addon graphic cards can be anywhere from $30.00 – $3000.00.  Use case will decide what type you need, again a $3000.00 card will not necessarily be better then a $30.00 card in regards to money spent.  If your computer is used to access websites and do word processing you don’t need anything too special.

Hard Drives

Traditional Drive (HDD)

Hard Disk Drive (HDD) uses spinning storage media, similar to how your CD-ROM drive works, but with multiple spinning “disks” that spin much faster and can store more data per “disk.”  These drives can store substantially more data than SSD drives per dollar.

Why?

HDDs are best for large amounts of storage compared to SSD drives.  These type of drives are used in everything from your desktop or laptop computer to data center servers.  RAID is a technology often used in Data Centers and sometimes even in personal computers to protect against drive failures.  With RAID data is written to two or three drives.  When a drive fails the data is retrieved from alternate storage, the failed drive can then be replaced and data restored to allow future failures.

Limitations

HDDs are much slower then SSD storage, but are more reliable and using RAID the speed can be increased.  HDDs still have a high failure rate and are susceptible to shock.  This is due to all the moving components within a traditional hard drive.  These moving components include the spinning platters (disks) which spin between 5,200 RPM and 10,000 RPM.  Also the drive head, the drive head moves back and forth to read data from the platters.  These heads are very close to the platters, if they are not first parked away from the platters they can slam against the platter causing damage to the platter or head.  There are also many motors inside the drive to spin or move these components. When your drive fails it is usually either these motors or the head hitting the platter.

Data Recovery

If you have ever had to use one of these services you know they can be very expensive.  On average a standard drive recovery for a non RAID drive will be around $500.00, this price goes up as the complexity increases and can easily go beyond $1000.00.  If you have a RAID configuration or otherwise more complex setup this cost could easy exceed $2,500 to $5,000.00.  The reason for these high costs include the requirement to use a clean room, these clean rooms can easily cost $100,000 or more to build.  There is also a good bit of very precise labor required.  The drive componets are both very small and most work within very small tollorances.

Backups

If you want to avoid ever having to use a Data Recovery service, use backups!  Test your backups!  Backup daily to at least one other storage location.  Storing your data on an external drive and accessing it from that external drive is NOT a backup solution, you must store your data in two separate locations.  If your unsure about your backups, contact a professional, alternatively unplug your backup storage device and see if you can still access your data, if you are unable, your backup is no good.

Cloud Backups

Cloud Backup services are a great way to backup your data and get it into a completely separate location, this would both cover you in a drive failure as well as protect your data in the event of a fire or flood.  Cloud backups will cover your data, but they will not cover a full system backup, you should still have a full system backup stored at least once, preferably once a quarter.  This will allow quick recovery of your computer operating system, applications and data.  Without a full backup, you will need to have access to your Operating system installation media, application media as well as your data in the event of a failure.

Defrag

Traditional drives require defrag for best performance.  Defragmentation is a method of moving file pieces together and moving the data to the center of the drive “disks” (also known as platters.)  This increases the speed at which the data can be accessed.  Without this when a file is written it is placed into free slots in the drive, this may mean that a single file is located in 100 different locations within the drive, this causes the drive head to jump to each different location to access all the file pieces, after defrag the drive head will only have to move to one or two locations to load the same file.

Solid State Drive (SSD) Drives

SSD drive uses Solid State storage, similar to RAM in your computer, however, RAM is very fast, but looses all information when power is lost.  SSD maintains data when power is lost.  This gives the speed benefits of RAM with the long term storage of a standard hard drive.

Why?

SSD Drives are much faster then standard hard drives (HDD.)  This can increase the boot time of your computer to seconds and loading applications in half the time or better.

Limitations

SSD drives wear out over time, they have a limited number of times that the data can be written.  Proper operating system configuration can increase the usefulness of SSD drives, including disabling Page File and Defrag.  These two settings are imperative, defrag will offer no performance improvement on an SSD drive.  Page file is not needed on systems with properly sized RAM, this means you may need to look at upgrading the amount of RAM on your computer when installing an SSD drive.

SSD drives will always be smaller then traditional hard drives, since the technology is more expensive per Gigabyte of storage.  The work around to this is to use the SSD drive for Operating system and Appications then have a second drive using a traditional drive for data storage.  This will also help protect your data in the event of an SSD failure.

Notes about backups

Backups are very important, at minimum the data that is important to you, but a full system backup to include the operating system should be created at least once.  This will allow you to restore your computer quickly and fully in the event of a drive failure.  Backups must be on a separate form of storage, some people will use an external storage device to store there data and consider this a backup.  If this external device fails, your data will be lost.  An external drive should be used as a second location of your data for backup purposes.  This means either the external device or the internal storage can fail and your data will still be good.

RAID is another way to help protect against a drive failure, this is NOT a backup solution, RAID storage can become corrupted, RAID can also only support 1 or 2 drive failures depending on the setup, if you do not properly monitor and replace a failed drive and a second or third drive failure occurs your data will be lost.

If you choose to use an external drive for primary storage, you should consider purchasing a second external drive to backup your data.  Many external drives of the same type support direct backup from one device to the other through a single click or on a schedule.  Something to consider when buying one.