Municipal IT Budget Planning – Part 5: Municipality Servers

Blog / Municipal IT Budget Planning – Part 5: Municipality Servers

This is part 5 of a 9-part series that will look at selected areas of interest to Municipalities, pertaining to IT Budget Planning.  Please contact me if you would like copies of other articles. 


Servers – every Municipality has them; in some cases 15 or 20 (or even more.)  Most of them cost more than a new car and generate a lot of noise, heat and headaches.  They never get to rest and hardly ever get cleaned.  Most Users don’t know and don’t care what they do, except when they stop working, and then there’s plenty of scorn heaped on them.  Servers have a tough life!

OK, that’s a bit over-the-top, but there is a lot of truth in what’s been written.  Of course, servers are nothing more than large computers specifically designed to run continuously and perform multiple functions simultaneously; for the most part they serve the needs of the Users by validating User Accounts, managing print jobs, providing Email, storing databases, GIS maps, Rate Payer Records, and more.


For Budgeting purposes, we just need to understand a few non-Technical terms to  ensure servers are provisioned properly to do their job:

Physical Servers: These are the server computers boxes that populate your Server Room.  They come in tower and rack style; rack servers are long and thin – and are designed to be stacked in special equipment racks – some racks extend floor to ceiling.  Tower servers look like large mini-tower computers that typically sit under a User’s desk.  Both can perform equally well and the choice between rack and tower is best left to the IT Provider specifying the equipment.


Virtual Servers (VMs): It used to be that 1 physical server was required for each separate function.  About 6 or 7 years ago, a new Technology was developed, that allows a single physical server (the HOST) to be electronically split into multiple virtual servers (called Virtual Machines – VMs.)  VMs perform exactly the same functions as physical servers and most software applications don’t know the difference. The advantage to VMs is cost and space savings; a single physical HOST server provisioned with lots of RAM, processing power and storage space, can host multiple VMs (4-6 or more), which is cheaper than multiple physical servers, and takes less room. VMs operate independently from each other; if one VM crashes, it doesn’t affect the other VMs on the HOST.

Another advantage to VM technology is the ability to easily manipulate VM instances; they can be transferred from 1 (physical) server to another, as easily as copying a file. Multiple versions of the same VM can be stored for Backup & Recovery purposes, and VMs can be easily re-provisioned with greater processing power, memory, and storage from the HOST (providing it has a Reserve.)

Given the advantages and flexibility offered by VM technology, it has become The Standard for Server Architecture and deployment in Municipalities; it is rare to see a single-purpose physical server installed in today’s Municipal offices.

VM Technology has also enabled the migration to Cloud-hosted servers for some Municipal functions; Municipal VMs can be provisioned and enabled on massive Data Centres that can be accessed by Users over a secure Internet connection, thereby reducing the need for physical servers in the local Municipal office.  The advantages are obvious: reduced capital costs, reduced infrastructure (space, power, cooling), reduced local Technical Support and Staff, and increased Reliability and Efficiency (Data Centres are designed for a single purpose and have Expert Staff.) TRINUS recently expanded its’ Stony Plain Data Centre specifically to host Municipal VMs for Clients.  


Server O/S  & CAL Licensing: It’ impossible to discuss servers, without discussing the Operating System (O/S) software that is required.  With workstations and laptops, the O/S is straight-forward (Windows 10) and it’s a small fraction of the unit’s cost.  However, with servers, the situation is different: the software cost could be as much – or more – as the hardware price. Assuming we’re using Microsoft’s Server Suite of software, each User who accesses the server must also have a Client Access License (CAL) to login to the server.  If you have Microsoft’s Exchange Email system, then the server needs the Exchange Server License AND an Exchange CAL for each User account.  If you have an application that requires Microsoft’s SQL Server (database), then you need the SQL server license AND a SQL CAL for each User.  Costs can escalate quickly!


But wait, there’s more!– Going back to the O/S licensing, Microsoft changed it’s license model.  Each VM plus the HOST server needs it’s own Server O/S license – sort of.  For each Microsoft Server license you buy, you get to run up to 2 VMs.  In addition, they started to sell licenses based on the number of processing (CPU) cores the physical server has; any more than 16 CPU cores requires a 2-pack Server license add-on up to the total number of cores in the server. Many servers have multiple CPUs and more than 20 cores total. Yes, it’s complicated and expensive – and best left to the IT Provider to ensure the server is properly provisioned and licensed. If not done properly, you can expect a call from the Microsoft Licensing Police (yes, they really exist).


We’ll deal with Cloud hosting in a future article, so for now, we’ll assume that the local servers in our example Municipality have to be replaced – or we are starting with a new system.  Here is our scenario *:

  • New System – or one that’s 5 or MORE years old and due to be replaced (Little Idea #2 **)
  • IT Systems comprised of:
    • 1 x Physical HOST server with 4 Virtual (VM) servers
      • (Domain Controller, File Server, Exchange Email & Applications)
      • Finance Application uses Microsoft SQL Server database
    • 4 Network Devices (Firewall, Switch & 2 x Wi-Fi Access Points)
    • 25 Workstations & Laptops
  • 35 Users or User Accounts
  • Budget Plan: 12 months

Notice that 2 new parameters have been added to our scenario; TOTAL number of Users and the Finance Application have been specified.  We’re also going to assume the Finance Application software Vendor does NOT supply the SQL Server licensing.  This is important, as each User will need a CAL for each Microsoft server application***. Of course, you need to check with your application provider.


Capital Costs

  • New Rack Server Hardware to host 5 VMs (4 x existing + 1 spare): $20,000
    • 2 x 12 Core CPUs
    • 192GB RAM
    • 2 x 500GB Solid State Drives (O/S)
    • 6 x 1.2TB 10K SAS Hard Drives (Data)
    • 2 x Network quad-port Network Cards
    • 2 x 1100 watt Redundant Power Supplies
    • Enterprise RAID Controller
    • Enterprise Management Controller
    • 5-Year Next Business Day Hardware Warranty
    • Configuration and Deployment Labour
  • Sub-total New Server Hardware: $20,000
  • Licensing:
    • Microsoft O/S Server License (6 required for 24 cores ): $5,500
    • Microsoft Server CALs (35 users): $2,100
    • Microsoft Exchange (Email) Server License:$1,000
    • Microsoft Exchange CALs (35 users): $4,375
    • Microsoft SQL Server License:$1,000
    • Microsoft SQL Server CALs (35 Users): $7,500
  • Sub-total Licensing: $21,475
  • Sub-total Capital Costs: $41,475


Operating Costs:

  • Proactive Support:
    • Server Hardware Alerts (1 x HOST plus 4 x VMs = 5) @ $250/month x 12: $3,000
    • Server Windows Update Service (1 x HOST plus 4 x VMs = 5) @ $625/month x 12: $7,500
  • Additional Licensing:
    • 6 x Anti-Virus (A/V) Licenses: $24 x 12 = $288
  • Sub-total Operating Costs: $10,788
  • Total: $52,263

Total Budget: $52,263 + 10% contingency = $57,893 -> $58,000


This is a significant investment!  There are a few things to point out:

  • Specifying the correct server configuration is not a trivial task.  There are hundreds of possible hardware components and configurations for a single server and not all configurations support the applications required – or provide the necessary performance; this has to last 5 years. Specifying the server is a job for experienced Professionals.
  • Licensing does cost more than the server hardware (in this case.)  Notice that CALs are required for each User, not device (i.e.: workstation or laptop.)  That means if you have part-time Staff or Volunteers accessing the corporate Email system, you need CALs for them – even though they use their own hardware.  Same is true for elected Officials.  Conversely, if you only have 15 people accessing the Finance Application, you can reduce the number of SQL Server CALs.
  • Proactive Support for servers is time-consuming, expensive and absolutely required.  Server O/S’s are complex and require careful administration.  Servers have to run (virtually) error-free and continuously, and so monitoring the hardware health is a priority.  A failing hard drive that goes unreported, could cause a server to crash and leave your office without it’s vital systems.  Most Manufacturers’ warranty covers replacement of hardware ONLY, not monitoring, diagnosis, data recovery, downtime, or a host of other related costs.


Next week, we’ll explore Networks, Firewalls and WiFi.  Until then, please contact me or your Account Manager, if you would like some personalized help with some stress-free Server Budgeting.



Dave White 


stress-free IT


* – Full Disclosure: We’re going to use Services and prices for TRINUS-supplied Systems and Services. Other Provider costs and equipment may vary.

** – Little Ideas – along with the BIG IDEA – were presented and defined in Part 1 of this series.

*** – There is another method of licensing SQL Server for Users – you license the SQL Server for the number of processing cores.  Per-core Licensing is more expensive, but SQL CALs are not required for each User – and so for a large number of Users, it may be cheaper. 

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