Disadvantages of installing a server on a workstation

campinam used Ask the Experts™
What would be the disadvantages of installing a server on a workstation machine?

For instance, on a DIY machine with i9-9980XE and SSD 905P, a motherboard I've not decided on yet (any suggestion?), I'd install Win Server 2019.

But still, that's workstation hardware, not server hardware.  It is not cheap, but fast, and it seems it is even more reliable, especially due to the  905P.

A server as fast as this from Dell would be double the price probably.
And now I wonder what I loose buy installing a server on a workstation...
Watch Question

Do more with

Expert Office
EXPERT OFFICE® is a registered trademark of EXPERTS EXCHANGE®
It's all purely sales/marketing terminology, no more than naming more expensive package of anything "Pro", "Gold", or "Platinum". As long as the hardware can run the software you put on it, it's OK. There's no such thing as "server hardware" or "workstation hardware".

In fact, in many cases the requirements for the "server" are lower, because there's no user interface, which, with today's graphical niceties, can easily take much more resources than i/o and such.
Top Expert 2014

You don't get the reliability features such as dual PSUs and RAID controllers with workstations and also the monitoring software is not provided (OMSA for example). Other than that there's no big difference.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013

What are you doing with the server?  Do the math.  A business that relies on a server to support 20 users where every user's tasks rely on an application that runs on the server (a database based one, for example), could be dramatically impacted if that server fails:
*20 users, paid $10/hour (seems cheap to me) sitting mostly idle for 4 hours costs you $800 in salary, paying people to do nothing.
*During that time, your users cannot easily sell, perform customer service, or potentially resupply the company.  This impact on sales could be huge... or not, depending on the business.

Think about how the business works/will work and what you will REALISTICALLY do if the server is down for half a day.  Think about how you will get parts in 3 years.  Think about how it's possible you won't be able to get identical parts and then, because you built it yourself, you have to worry about hardware compatibility.  Yes, in theory, it's all PC hardware so it should all work together... but sometimes hardware has issues and when you buy hardware from 10 different manufacturers, do you really think they'll all work together to help you solve your problem or do you think they'd be more likely to point fingers at each other and say they can't help you, it's the others fault?

Power Supplies fail.  Hard Drives Fail (Even SSDs!)  Motherboards fail.  CPU Fans fail.  EVERYTHING fails.

Yes, when you buy a server, you're paying a premium.  But with that premium you're getting a warranty that everything sold will work together and one neck to wring when they don't.  You're getting assurance that for the duration of the warranty, you can get parts to cover failed components that are guaranteed to work together.  You're getting (assuming you configure it properly), appropriately redundant storage and power supplies (things that fail most often).  You're getting remote management capabilities at the HARDWARE level (not talking about RDP to the server I'm talking about an iLO or iDRAC card in HP and Dell systems, for example.   If this has little to no value to you, then build away.  All professionals I know recognize the value in these features and capabilities and that's why almost no one builds their own servers these days.

If all you're looking at is the amount you pay today to build the server, then you're being VERY short sighted.
Should you be charging more for IT Services?

Do you wonder if your IT business is truly profitable or if you should raise your prices? Learn how to calculate your overhead burden using our free interactive tool and use it to determine the right price for your IT services. Start calculating Now!

Adam BrownSenior Systems Admin
Top Expert 2010

Depends on what you are using it for. Server hardware has a lot of things desktops don't have. In particular, Serial Attached SCSI capabilities allow you to attach large arrays of storage to a server directly, which has a number of benefits for certain workloads. You can certainly install a SAS card into a desktop box, but those cards can be expensive, particularly if you want one with any RAID fault tolerance. Server CPUs are also designed a little different from consumer CPUs, and are designed to allow expansion, since server motherboards often allow multiple CPUs (No consumer desktop motherboard has allowed multiple CPUs in over a decade). There's also the rack-mount form factor. Desktop cases are not optimized for space and cannot be rack-mounted without significant modification. Rack mounting saves space, makes cable management easier, and is generally better for organizations that need multiple servers, layer 2 switching capabilities, and business rated routers and firewalls. Servers also use ECC registered RAM at a minimum to reduce processing failures caused by corrupted memory registers. There are plenty of other benefits as well.

So for a small business that doesn't have much need for server infrastructure, sure...Desktop parts can work...for a while. Eventually you'll get to a point where it makes more sense to use server hardware instead.
Andrew Hancock (VMware vExpert / EE Fellow)VMware and Virtualization Consultant
Fellow 2018
Expert of the Year 2017

If you want to do thinks on the cheap...


1. Single Points of Failure.
2. Support.
3. Certification.
4. Drivers.
5. Design.
6. Longevity.
7. Air flow...
8. Business next day on-site replace parts/hardware. (included usually up to 3 years)
David FavorLinux/LXD/WordPress/Hosting Savant
Distinguished Expert 2018

As Vadim said, "It's all purely sales/marketing terminology"...

State software you'll be running on your machine + likely someone can assist.

So... There is no difference between a server + workstation... Hardware is just hardware...
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013

Hardware is hardware...
But do you want to trust a battery powered scooter to get you 20 miles to work everyday or a new car?  Both move you... one takes forever and offers no protection from rain, snow, wind, heat, etc... the other makes the trip relatively comfortable every day.  Take your pick... The scooter costs $100 the other 10,000.  But be late twice and you're fired.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013

BTW, If you're building for yourself and MAYBE one other person, build away.  If you're building two and setting up redudancies, it's less risky.  BUT build for a business of any size more than your household and you're being foolish in my opinion. I used to build my own servers... for years.  Last time I did was about 10 years ago.  About 4 years back I started ordering used servers off ebay and buying new hard drives.  Get three otherwise identical used servers (one for parts, two for replication with each other) and the cost is about $3000-$4000.  I don't generally recommend this to clients, but for myself and if a client is being REALLY cost conscious... this is, in my opinion, MUCH more reliable and wiser than building a server to run the business.  Ebay is full of perfectly capable G7 and Dell Rx10 and later servers.
campinam - Where is the pressure coming from to go the cheap / cost-conscious / austerity program approach (i.e. you because you own the company, your boss, the owners, your customer, ... )? ... and, as asked above ... what is it to be used for (i.e. SQL, Exchange, FTP ...)? ... what is the uptime (and backup) requirements?

I'll reserve my opinion, pending those answers ...
... also, hardware is hardware ... maybe ... that's like saying a smartphone is a smartphone ... personally, I don't think it is that black and white!

Not to digress, but https://www.fxtec.com/ is the same as https://www.catphones.com/en-gb/cat-s61-smartphone/ ... depends on if you *require* thermal imaging or *want* a hard keyboard or ... it all depends on needs.
>do you want to trust a battery powered scooter to get you 20 miles to work everyday or a new car

According to the logic "server hardware is automatically better", if battery powered scooter has "Pro" in model name, while the car does not, you should prefer the scooter.

The level of hardware does matter, but the assumption that the word "server" automatically projects into higher reliability, has no justification. If you go and order today "business" telephone line instead of "residential", you will pay five times more, but it will be the same cable and the same "support" people. Same with the computer. One should look at and buy the features that really matter, from companies that have good ratings - rather than basing on the marketing label attached to them.


In my case I don't need much drive space but speed and threads for a large number of remote users or visitors of a web site. This one has 36 threads and the 905P is an incredibly reliable optane ssd. No hard drives to crash or to go mechanically for the data. I might think twice of making it safe handling a large number of remote users. Other than that, why worry that much about a manufacturer's warranty? If it's half the price, buy another if anything.
Is there an economic impact if it is down for ... 3 minutes ... 2 hours ... 2 days ... ? If yes, what is the "chainsaw math" value of each? If not ...
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013

Any time you have one neck to wring, the hardware should be more reliable.  There are always exceptions, but building your own vs buying for a SERVER should not be done.  Do you think Dell wants to field calls about why their shipped hard drive doesn't work with their RAID controller?  I'm certain they don't.  So I'm certain they have confidence in the reliability of the combination. I've also seen issues - strange issues - in 25 years of building systems - that make no sense but replace a piece of hardware with a different piece or brand and things just work as expected.

i would sooner run a server on a Dell Optiplex than on a home build "server".

And business often (but not always) does translate to better quality.  

Years and years ago, when Gateway still existed, the company I worked for ordered Gateway PCs.  20% had issues requiring us to open them up at some point in the first 90 days.  This annoyed us.  So we tried Dell.  Ordered 10 Dell Dimension PCs.  3 had issues.  We called Dell and were told we should be ordering the business class systems, Optiplex.  So we did.  Our issues went from 20-30% to 2%.  We almost never touched the insides of Optiplex systems... they just worked.  They cost a little more, but they just worked.  The support costs dropped dramatically even though the acquisition costs increased slightly.  

Not ALL companies successfully differentiate business and consumer lines.  Maybe your cable company doesn't.  Mine does.  With my cable provider, my business line offers 24x7 technical support for everything.  My home line offers 8-8pm for most things except complete outages.  Sorry you have a bad cable company.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013

As I said originally, do the math.  But not JUST math on the acquisition price.

If you're running a brokerage - even a small one with 10 people - having the server go down can cost you and/or your clients MILLIONS.  It's foolish not to be buying the most redundant, reliable (reasonably expected), system possible.  If you're accepting 5-10 orders a day for floral web site, then you build two cheap systems and don't worry about it.  I don't have your business plan in front of me, so I don't know how to begin to analyze EXACTLY what it will cost you.  But if you're nickel and diming yourself over a few hundred dollars that, if you're successful, means a couple of hours of sales, I think you're being, as the saying goes, penny-wise and pound foolish.
Philip ElderTechnical Architect - HA/Compute/Storage

Lots of great points above.

Windows 10 Professional for Workstations is basically the Windows Server shoehorn we used to do onto workstation/desktop hardware without all of the painful hacks to make that happen.

Two key features in server grade hardware:
 +++ SSD Storage: Power Loss Protection helps prevent data loss/corruption in the event of a power loss
 +++ Hardware Memory: Error-Correcting Code (ECC) helps prevent a flipped bit in memory due to memory issue
Again, why cheap? Is the pressure from people or technical reasoning about hardware?

Also, what does the business do and how many employees (in a nutshell)?
John TsioumprisSoftware & Systems Engineer

The main difference between servers and workstation is that server always is a step behind regarding tech level...while it might seem "strange" it does has a great advantage...keeping the server hardware "older" gives the time to thoroughly check if the new chipset/Cpu works as it should...it avoids the need for emergency bios update and the accompanying hardware (RAM,HDD,SSD,PSU) are all tested in greater extend.
So when you buy a server from a well known manufacturer what you are paying is the time and effort it took to make sure that the server delivered to you works as it should and everything "stupid" that might disrupt the functionality is eliminated.
John Tsioumpris is correct with regard to consumer technology. As far as stability, resiliency, reliability, and failover, servers are way ahead of consumer desktop technology and more than ahead of business desktop technology ...
Another thought keeps running through my mind regarding value ... somewhere along the line throughout what led up to the initial question (and possibly after it was posted), "value" is being missed.

From my perspective, when I was working with a VAR and on a proposal like this, we would try give them the best solution and let them "redline" the proposal. Then we would go through their redlined proposal and inform them of the "value vs sacrifice" proposal they just created.

You've got to take all of this back to your decision and decide what risk you want to accept based upon the "value vs sacrifice" solution you choose to embrace.

This thought isn't new or rocket science but it keeps going through my head, so here it is ...
Linux/LXD/WordPress/Hosting Savant
Distinguished Expert 2018
You said...

In my case I don't need much drive space but speed and threads for a large number of remote users or visitors of a web site. This one has 36 threads and the 905P is an incredibly reliable optane ssd. No hard drives to crash or to go mechanically for the data. I might think twice of making it safe handling a large number of remote users. Other than that, why worry that much about a manufacturer's warranty? If it's half the price, buy another if anything.

Hardware is just hardware, so just pick whatever hardware you require.

Tip: If you're talking about Website visitors, you'll lease a server on one of the large public pipes, say from a company like OVH.

You won't run a local machine, as your connection will likely be too slow... You likely won't have multiple backbone connections, as this will cost many $1000s/month... You also won't have diesel  generators for backup power... Running a local Website server is far more complex than it's ever worth doing.

Tip: I run 8x Core CPUs to handle many 1M+ requests/minute WordPress sites on one machine. Even when one site is under heavy load, CPU usage is nearly zero... because of correctly tuned i/o caching...

If you're running a Website which must tolerate large traffic, like 100K-1M+ requests/minute sustained traffic, hire someone to help you tool for high i/o throughput as the tuning you'll do is at the i/o layer, as the only slow part of any site's throughput is disk writes.

Tip: SSD drives may or may not be the answer, as many SSD drives have far slower write speeds than mechanical drives.

If you must have optimal disk write speed, use an OVH machine with an pure RAM Disk (not SSD).
Top Expert 2014

Serevr is just a name given to a system that has software that runs as a server.  They're just computers.  Whether it's a workstation or a server depends on what you use it for.

You can have low end servers and you can have high end servers.  Not all servers have dual power supply and redundant whatever.  You just buy 2 or more for redundancy.  Even with dual power supplies, they can still both fail.  It depends on how much down time you can afford.  It also depends on your needs.

I've been using an old laptop as my home "server".  It's low powered and has a built in battery backup in case of power failure.

Do more with

Expert Office
Submit tech questions to Ask the Experts™ at any time to receive solutions, advice, and new ideas from leading industry professionals.

Start 7-Day Free Trial