Why Are Servers More Expensive Than PCs—Aren’t They All Just Computers?

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In our quest to provide you with insightful EHR information, we will be featuring guest bloggers from time to time. This week, we’re excited to host our first guest blogger, Gregory Nizich, Healthcare Technology Account Manager at Custom Computer Specialists, Inc. in Hauppauge, NY. We hope you find the information he provides helpful and useful.

With the emergence of EHR, many practice administrators are finding themselves faced with not only deciding which solution best fits their practice, but also how best to support the solution. Practices need PCs and servers to run the EHR software, and a network that connects everything. Unfortunately, many practice administrators aren’t familiar enough with technology to know whether or not they are making the right decisions.

One of the biggest decisions facing practice administrators is computer and network purchases, which can involve tens of thousands of dollars. My goal is to demystify that technology, using plain language, so you can make better decisions. Today’s blog explains why two computers that come in similar casings (a PC and a server) can vary in price significantly.

The answer to this mystery lies in what the “guts” of each box are designed to do. Here is an explanation of the 3 key areas of difference:

Sensory Interface
A primary goal of the PC is to provide an impressive sensory experience to the user—video images, sounds, and a wide selection of accessories such as cameras, printers, and scanners that add to the joy of using the PC. All these user experiences are addressed by a couple of inexpensive components inside the PC, which is why PCs can cost so little.

A server, on the other hand, is not really interested in the user’s sensory experience—it is focused on receiving, storing, and delivering information to dozens of computers and users. This requires many more robust and sophisticated internal components, which translates into higher cost.

PCs are designed to be used intermittently by the user, while a server is built to run 24 hours a day for 3 to 5 years. You can imagine how important it is for the components of a server to run at lower temperatures, and consume less power, than those of a PC. In addition, because a server needs to manage the high volume of incoming and outgoing user data, it requires more processing power and more short-term memory than a PC. The fact that it stores data for each user means that it needs to have a much greater hard drive capacity, too. These functional differences contribute to the higher price of the server.

One of the biggest differences between a PC and server is the fact that when a PC fails, only one user is affected. When a server fails, many users are affected. Because the server is so critical to the day-to-day operation of the business, it has to keep running even if a key element fails. Basically, the server has to have a “Plan B” for many of its components—if the fan stops working, a second one needs to kick in so the server doesn’t overheat.

More significantly, servers have to have permanent memory configurations that protect data in the event of a hard drive breakdown, unlike a PC where, if the hard drive fails, the data is lost. You may have heard the term RAID thrown around by your IT vendor—RAID stands for “redundant array of independent disks,” which is a hard drive configuration that may consist of 5 or more drives. A few of those drives can go bad and the data is still accessible from the remaining drives. There are several versions of the RAID strategy, with varying levels of protection. The more protection (physical drives) you demand, the higher will be the cost of the server.

I hope this has given you some new insight as to why servers are necessary to run the programs on which the practice relies, and why PCs are great for workstations but cannot be used as servers. Check out my next blog to learn why the best choice may be a virtual server.

Gregory Nizich
Healthcare Account Manager
Custom Computer Specialists

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  1. EHR Interoperability: Making Sense of It All
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