'It seemed like a crazy idea': A tech expert got the inside story of how Blizzard saved big bucks by selling 10,000 old WoW servers to fans via a charity auction — and one of them even ended up as a wedding gift

World of Warcraft Blade
(Image credit: Blizzard)

While flying to SC23 (the 2023 International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage, and Analysis) in Denver, Patrick Kennedy from Serve The Home had a chance encounter with a man on the plane who shared an intriguing story about Blizzard's decision to auction off its servers to fans.

World of Warcraft launched in November 2004 and was hugely popular - and even now boasts over a million daily logins. Each player's character is tied to a specific realm, requiring servers that track the state of all players and NPCs continuously.

In 2005, Blizzard deployed AMD Opteron 275 processors in HP ProLiant BL25p blades, offering significant performance improvements. These servers, essential for saving the state of every player, faced constant database writing.

A wedding present

After 6-7 years, the TCO payback for replacing over 10,000 blades was about 13 months. However, the removal of old blades was a key issue. Recycling companies often take ownership of decommissioned infrastructure, selling servers to generate revenue. Blizzard's HP server blades were so outdated that instead of recycling teams paying to take them, Blizzard faced potentially paying up to a million dollars for their removal.

In a bid to avoid these costs, the company decided to sell the hardware to WoW fans. Kennedy says “Instead of selling the servers directly, the blades were pulled from global data centers. A company then produced the placards with the instance name and a message. These were then auctioned off in a charity auction for St. Jude.”

This charitable auction provided Blizzard with a tax benefit and covering the project cost of removing the old blades.

It’s a fascinating story, and well worth a read. While it’s impossible to know where all the blades ended up, we know what happened to one. 

In a comment under the Serve the Home story, reader Tod Weitzel says, “In 2011 I had just gotten the save the date card (and invitation to be a groomsman) at the wedding of two best friends, who had met on World of Warcraft. Then I heard about the auction. After a lot of nerve wracking eBay refreshing, I won one of the two listed for our home server, Cenarion Circle. It cost more than I would have liked, but less than the limits of my goodwill towards the newlywed couple. When the blade arrived in the mail, I was delighted to see the WoW logo plexiglass cover that replaced the steel lid. It attached using embedded magnets, so I popped it off. I then spend the next six months shipping it around the country in a chain amongst every member of our guild, who signed it in silver ink. I have a picture of the happy couple seeing it for the first time at their wedding and all the in-attendance guild members surrounding it.”

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Wayne Williams

Wayne Williams is a freelancer writing news for TechRadar Pro. He has been writing about computers, technology, and the web for 30 years. In that time he wrote for most of the UK’s PC magazines, and launched, edited and published a number of them too.