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I have the opportunity to get my hands on an older server (Dell PowerEdge T320). Now I don't know very much about servers in general and had a few questions.

  1. If I were to get it, it wouldn't come with any hard drives in the bays. Based on the official Dell spec sheet for the server, it supports SATA, which is what I would want to put in. So would normal every day hard drives, (like a WD 2TB Red for example) work? Or would I need to use an expensive proprietary hard drive from Dell?
  2. I know RAID software was used by the previous owner. I most likely would not be using that software. However, am I being crazy in wanting to get rid of the RAID software? Or how does it work exactly? (I know it is used to help restore data if a drive is lost) Is it going to cause me any problems by leaving it on the system if I don't want to use it? Or should I fresh install a new OS?
  3. Is a server basically just like any other computer (i.e. is installing a new OS, most likely Ubuntu, possible)? If not what separates it from a typical computer?

I don't plan on doing anything huge with it. Just want to start messing around with some home projects and figured this could be useful and a great learning opportunity. Any help would be appreciated!

EDIT - As recommended by LPChip since the Dell PowerEdge T320 can come with either 2.5" drive bays or 3.5" drive bays. Using the service tag, I was able to confirm the server in question has the 8, 3.5" bay tray option.

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Yes, you can use a regular SATA drive. Note that "server grade" drives will have longer MTBF ratings (mean time before fail), etc. but the actual plugs etc are all same same.

RAID software... that would either be in the BIOS of a controller card OR another option for us Linux users is to use software raid implemented in the OS.

For BIOS raid (aka hardware raid) you'd use a BIOS utility to configure the raid volumes, etc. and the OS would see a single disk/partition presented. With software raid, you define the RAID array(s) when the regular OS is running, and the OS will see each individual drive as well as the "combined" RAID array drive.

And yes, servers are just another computer. Slightly different form factor (for rack mount) but basically the same.

EDIT - LPChip below has a good point about the possibility of the drive bays being configured to support laptop form factor drives vs. standard 3.5" drives. You can check this online on dell's support site to see how the machine shipped if you have the service tag number/code of the machine in question. Depending on age of box, you may or may not be able to order a replacement bay system, but at that point you can probably get them on ebay, etc.

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  • I'm almost certain the front Harddisk slots are the only form of disk storage the server offers, which are not your traditional 3.5" drives, but 2.5" drives. True, you can put most 2.5" drives in it (there are drives that are higher, they will likely not fit), but many people don't consider that a server may only support laptop size, or SSD size drives. It is something you should mention in your answer, because it is something many people will overlook. And a WD Red 2TB is definitely a 3.5" drive, not a 2.5" drive, so that would NOT work.
    – LPChip
    Aug 12 '19 at 20:06
  • So a -1 from me for the above reason. I will change it to a +1 if you alter the answer to reflect this accordingly.
    – LPChip
    Aug 12 '19 at 20:09
  • @LPChip The information below is from the Dell spec sheet on it here. Would that not mean it supports 3.5 inch? Or would it depend entirely on the current tray setup? Storage Maximum Internal Storage: Up to 32TB Hard Drives: Hot-plug hard drive options: 2.5” SATA, nearline SAS, SAS (15K, 10K), SAS SSD, SATA SSD, SAS 512n (15K) 3.5” SATA, nearline SAS, SAS (15K) Self-encrypting drives available Cabled hard drive options: 3.5” SATA, nearline SAS, SAS (15K) Aug 12 '19 at 20:17
  • It says: "Choose from four 3.5” cabled, eight 3.5” hot-plug, or sixteen 2.5” hot-plug drive bays" which means, it is either one or the other. But I have to admit, I don't know if the end-user can configure it to their liking, or that you have to buy it pre-made. I was unable to find that information. It is very crucial information for this question though so at least your question should reflect that. I will vote you up if you make that change.
    – LPChip
    Aug 12 '19 at 21:05
  • @LPChip - IIRC dells are just removable trays that snap in/out or whatever of the chassis. Depending on what the box actually comes with when the questioner obtains it, it may be a hunt on ebay or a simple phone call to dell with the service tag # of the box to find the tray style the questioner wants.
    – ivanivan
    Aug 12 '19 at 21:45

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