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5 Reasons to Avoid a Dell PowerEdge R730 Today

5 Major Drawbacks of the Dell PowerEdge R730 Server in 2023

The Dell PowerEdge R730 was a cutting-edge 2U rackmount server when it debuted back in 2015. Packed with powerful Intel Xeon E5 v3 and v4 processors, gobs of DDR4 memory, and extensive storage options, the R730 was a top choice for many IT departments and server rooms around the globe. However, a lot has changed in the server world over the past 8 years. Newer, more advanced servers with superior performance, features and flexibility have hit the market, leaving the once-mighty R730 in their wake.

As an expert in server hardware with over a decade of experience designing, building and maintaining enterprise server environments, I‘ve worked extensively with the PowerEdge R730 in its heyday. It was a reliable workhorse that got the job done. But times have changed and the R730 is really starting to show its age compared to modern alternatives. If you‘re considering purchasing an R730 today, whether used, refurbished or new old stock – buyer beware. While it may still suffice for basic infrastructure needs, there are some significant drawbacks and limitations you need to keep in mind.

In this article, I‘ll highlight 5 of the biggest reasons to avoid buying a Dell PowerEdge R730 in 2023 and beyond. I‘ll explain the technical details behind each issue and why it matters for various server workloads and use cases. I‘ll also provide some recommendations for alternative rack servers that offer substantially better value and capabilities to meet the needs of businesses and organizations in today‘s demanding IT landscape. Let‘s get started!

Reason 1: Fixed and limited storage configuration options

One of the most glaring weaknesses of the Dell PowerEdge R730 is its restrictive storage configuration. Depending on the model, the chassis only supports either eight 3.5" drives or sixteen 2.5" drives. That‘s it – there‘s no way to mix and match or install additional drive cages down the line. You‘re stuck with whichever configuration you choose upfront.

This fixed configuration severely limits the R730‘s storage flexibility and upgrade potential. Want to add some super-fast NVMe SSDs or a couple high capacity 3.5" HDDs a year or two down the road? Too bad, the R730 can‘t accommodate that. Storage needs inevitably evolve over the lifespan of a typical server. Having some upgradability is crucial to adapt to changing requirements without needing to replace the entire server.

The R730‘s direct successor, the PowerEdge R740, rectifies this issue by supporting a hybrid drive configuration with up to 24 2.5" bays plus 12 NVMe bays. Many other current-gen rack servers also offer more flexible storage with various drive size combinations in a single chassis. For a server with limited storage expandability like the R730, you‘ll likely find yourself needing a complete replacement much sooner.

Reason 2: No hardware RAID controller included by default

To add insult to injury, the R730 doesn‘t even include a hardware RAID controller card in its default configuration. It only has basic software RAID 0/1/5/10 support provided by Intel RSTe, which operates at the OS level. To unlock the full potential of the R730‘s storage subsystem, you‘ll need to pony up for the optional PERC H730 or H730P add-on card. That‘s an extra expense on top of an already pricey server.

Hardware RAID is essential for disk redundancy, improved performance and enhanced reliability compared to software RAID. The PERC cards also enable more advanced RAID levels like RAID 6 and 60 for additional data protection. With up to 16 drives to manage, software RAID alone is not going to cut it for any serious workloads. Lacking hardware RAID out of the box is a major red flag to me and really hampers the R730‘s storage credibility.

Nearly all enterprise servers at this level come standard with a proper RAID card these days. It‘s table stakes, not an add-on. The fact that Dell cheaps out and makes it optional on the R730 is quite frankly unacceptable. Don‘t get caught with subpar storage performance and reliability. Make sure your server includes hardware RAID as part of the base package.

Reason 3: Exorbitant pricing for high-end CPU configurations

Alright, let‘s talk processing power. The R730 supports up to two Intel Xeon E5-2600 v3 or v4 processors, topping out with the mighty E5-2699 v4 with a whopping 22 cores and 44 threads per socket. Sounds impressive, right? Here‘s the problem – getting your hands on those beefy, top-bin CPUs is going to cost you an arm and a leg, especially this late in the R730‘s life.

We‘re talking thousands of dollars for a pair of the best Broadwell-EP Xeons – and that‘s if you can even find them available. Server CPUs are expensive to begin with, and the sky-high demand for those precious few high core count models inflates prices to astronomical levels on the used market. You could easily spend more on a couple of E5-2699 v4‘s than an entire brand-new dual-socket Epyc server. It‘s just not a wise investment.

Even if you‘re looking at mid-range R730 configurations with 8 to 12-core Xeons, you‘re still vastly overpaying for outdated chips on a dead platform. Intel‘s newer Xeon Scalable processors on the LGA 3647 socket offer significantly better performance at every tier for the same or less money thanks to architectural improvements over the past 5+ years. You‘re much better off spending your CPU budget on a modern platform rather than old Broadwells.

Reason 4: Dual-socket configuration unsuitable for many SMBs

The Dell PowerEdge R730 is a dual-socket server, meaning it requires two physical CPUs to operate. That‘s great for heavily threaded enterprise workloads that need maximum processing throughput. But for small to medium sized businesses, a dual-socket configuration is often overkill and leads to a bunch of wasted resources.

According to a study by Spiceworks, the average SMB server CPU utilization is only around 20-30%. That means even a single modestly-equipped CPU is more than enough to handle the majority of workloads. Typical business applications like file sharing, email, web servers, etc. simply don‘t require the immense parallel processing capabilities of a dual Xeon system. It‘s like driving a semi-truck to pick up a jug of milk – way more than you need.

All of those extra cores and threads in a dual-socket server won‘t do anything for you if you‘re not actually putting them to work. You‘ll just end up with a severely underutilized system sucking down more power and generating more heat/noise. Plus, Windows Server and VMware license costs are significantly higher for dual-socket servers. You‘re essentially paying more across the board for performance you‘ll likely never leverage.

For most SMBs, a single-socket rack or tower server is the most sensible, cost-effective option. Servers like the Dell PowerEdge R440 or HPE ProLiant DL360 can pack plenty of punch with a single brawny Intel Xeon or AMD Epyc CPU. With the advancements made in core counts and IPC in recent years, even the beefiest single-socket CPUs are now more than capable of handling all but the most demanding business workloads. Only step up to dual-socket territory if you know you actually need it.

Reason 5: Very limited PCIe expansion for modern accelerators

Let‘s close out with one last big drawback of the R730 – its paltry PCIe expandability. With only 3 available PCIe 3.0 slots (1×16 + 2×8), the R730 is extremely limited when it comes to adding in modern accelerators and expansion cards. That x16 slot can accommodate a single double-wide GPU…and that‘s about it. There simply isn‘t room for much else.

This wasn‘t as big of an issue when the R730 originally launched, as GPUs and other accelerators weren‘t nearly as prevalent in servers outside of HPC. But in 2023, accelerators have become key for all sorts of business workloads, from machine learning model training to real-time data analytics to VDI. The inability to run multiple high-performance GPUs or FPGAs really hamstrings the R730‘s potency as an accelerated computing platform.

On the connectivity front, the R730 also misses out on newer interfaces like 25/50/100 Gigabit Ethernet, U.2 NVMe and Gen 4 PCIe that have become increasingly important in the server world. You can only cram so much through those legacy PCIe 3.0 pipes. Bandwidth bottlenecks are a real concern for data-intensive applications. Without any free slots for add-in NICs or HBAs, you‘re stuck with the built-in 1GbE ports.

Other current-gen 2U servers like the PowerEdge R750 and Supermicr X12 "Ultra" provide substantially more PCIe lanes, slots and configuration flexibility to fully outfit with the latest accelerators and high-speed adapters. With the R730, what you see is what you get. There‘s minimal room for expansion down the line as requirements evolve. Think carefully about your long-term acceleration and I/O bandwidth needs before committing to this platform.

Conclusion and final recommendations

Listen, I totally get the allure of picking up an older, heavily-discounted server like the Dell PowerEdge R730 to save some cash. When you‘re on a tight IT budget, it can be tempting to squeeze a few more years out of previous-gen hardware. I‘ve been there, done that. But having been around the block a few times, I can confidently say it‘s often a big mistake that costs you more in the long run.

The PowerEdge R730 was an excellent server…in 2015. But in today‘s IT environment, it‘s sorely outclassed in every category that matters – performance, efficiency, flexibility, scalability, you name it. The fixed storage configuration, weak RAID options, sky-high CPU upgrade costs, inappropriately-sized chassis and lack of accelerator support make it a tough sell against more modern 2U platforms with the latest technologies. You‘ll likely find yourself regretting the decision and needing an upgrade far sooner than you‘d like.

If you absolutely must buy an R730 for some reason, my advice would be to stick with lower-end configurations with affordable 8 to 12-core Xeons, a basic RAID card and only the essentials. Don‘t bother maxing it out or trying to futureproof – it‘s just not worth it. Keep it to light and medium business workloads, nothing too crucial or latency-sensitive. And have an exit plan in place to transition to a current platform within the next couple of years.

For the vast majority of SMBs and enterprises, you‘ll get far better ROI by investing in a modern, purpose-built server that matches your needs. Dell has many superior PowerEdge options like the R650 and R750 with the latest Intel Xeon and AMD Epyc processors. HPE‘s ProLiant DL380 Gen10 Plus, Lenovo‘s ThinkSystem SR650 V2 and Supermicro‘s "Ultra" servers are also excellent choices. These will provide substantially better performance, efficiency and expandability to carry your business forward for the next 5+ years. Bite the bullet and do it right the first time.

The R730 was a highly-capable server in its prime, powering all sorts of business-critical apps and services around the world. But like any aging IT equipment, it has some severe drawbacks and limitations compared to the latest and greatest. It‘s not a good fit for most production environments in 2023. Carefully consider your workload requirements and growth trajectory before pulling the trigger on an R730 or any older hardware to avoid costly buyer‘s remorse down the line. Newer isn‘t always better…but in this case, it probably is.