With the worst of the recession looking to have passed (touch wood), things are looking up and growth is returning, even if it is erratic. Companies are hiring again and people are buying more, resulting in an increasing pressure on systems and applications. The past couple of years have seen budgets slashed and renewals put on …
They don't need to remain servers.
They can be used as "desktops" for the work experience kids.
That's what happened when I got a Summer job in a multinational; for development I was using an old machine of at least full tower in height and width plus about a foot extra at the back (barely fit under the desk).
A raid rebuild and a full OS re-install (different occasions) were required; the latter was due to bricking it after the manager suggested I download a particular piece of software which resulted in problems that surpassed the understanding of the entire office full of professional geeks.
Missed an obvious one
Repurpose as a high end developers desktop.
This is the best option financially in a company where "sane" finance mechanisms are being used. It will not work for various questionable lend/lease/outsource move left pocket to right pocket and pocket the difference quantum economics stuff unless you declare the developers dead for tax reasons.
First of all, you can bring forward server replacement cycle so you stay on the performance edge without depreciating them at a rate which is unsustainable financially.
Second, you get the developers to develop on a machine similar to the one they deploy. As a result performance issues tend to be ironed out in-development instead of in-the-field. This results in a better server utilisation and lower cost. Rinse, repeat.
The costs of doing this amount to the cost of man-hour or so per server recycled and a new case. This is considerably cheaper than refurbishing a server to be a server and cheaper than purchasing new desktops.
The only caveat here is that it works well only if you use linux and do not play silly OEM license games for MSFT software which are specifically designed to ensure that you buy new hardware when you do not really need it.
Servers make crap desktops
Right, just how "high end" a workstation is a 3-5 year old server exactly? Given that you can get a six.core chip at nearly 3GHz for under $300?
Then there are the noisy fans, the noisy disk arrays, the fact it's in a rack-mount case?
Waste of time and effort for a technician, unless you do it as a "hobby" project.
Most of ours get sold for spares. Smaller businesses often purchase servers as "one-offs", with no or only a short contract which isn't renewed and the service is then done in house, these spares can be of great use to them.