Small Business Server Buying Guide
So, your business has grown large enough that you need your first server. Congratulations! Acquiring a server is a big decision, many expanding businesses struggle with deciding what server to get. While buying a first server is more involved than buying a PC, a smartphone, or a tablet, it’s less intimidating if you keep some basic information in mind during the process.
Here are some important things to consider when choosing a small business server.
Have you considered Cloud?
Your first choice when it comes to servers is whether or not you actually need one physically in your office. For businesses tight on space, introducing a business server may not be the best idea. Leasing a server on the cloud sometimes makes more sense—especially for small businesses that don’t have a robust IT infrastructure. However, there are limits to what you can do with a cloud-based server. If you decide that you definitely need the server on premises, then you should choose whether to assemble a server in-house or to purchase a pre-built.
Find a snug fit.
There are different types of servers for an assortment of needs, so evaluate the needs of your business accordingly. What do you want your server to do?
Server Type: Network Attached Storage (NAS) or Application Server
The first choice you’ll have to make is between a NAS server and a more conventional application server. NAS servers, such as the LaCie 2big NAS, are specialized devices that provide shared access to files and folders, as well as other network resources such as printers. Application servers, such as HP’s MicroServer Gen8 share folders and printers too, but they use a full-fledged server operating system that can run myriad types of software and typically provides a broader repertoire of features.
A big advantage to NAS servers is that they’re relatively inexpensive. Another is that they’re usually simple enough that non-technical people can handle setup and management chores, such as configuring user/group accounts, shared folders, access permissions, etc. However, since NAS servers run proprietary operating systems (typically a compact and customized version of Linux), they won’t necessarily run the software your business needs.
If you choose an application server, you can install QuickBooks or any other application you want—as long as it’s available for the operating system (OS) you choose. Windows is naturally quite common, but so are various flavors of Linux. The presence of a full server OS tends to provide more sophisticated features and better integration with your other networked computers. For example, Windows Server Essentials 2012 R2 can automatically perform complete system backups of each PC on your network. Application servers also have the cost-saving benefit of being able to run virtual servers (multiple servers simultaneously on a single piece of hardware).
Building or Buying
Building and buying both have their advantages and disadvantages. Buying a server gives you plenty of value from bundled software, warranty, and support from a brand-name manufacturer. Building a server on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to custom-tailor your build to your application. Keep in mind that purchasing a pre-built server may still require you to physically build out the system. For instance, some pre-built systems may not include hard drives, memory, or optical drives. You need to install them in-house.
Anticipate future growth
In general, understanding the process of purchasing a file server with enough ram and hard drive space is akin to the process of buying a regular PC. However, you need to take into account the amount of people that will be accessing your network. In addition, when accounting for the number of network users, also take hard drive space into consideration.
Server Storage Capacity and Redundancy
The primary purpose of any server—NAS or application—is to store, share, and protect files. That makes the amount of storage capacity and type of redundancy it offers major considerations. Any respectable small business server uses at least two hard drives configured via RAID (levels 1, 10, 5 to ensure against data loss. Obviously, the greater the number of drives a small business server supports, the more storage capacity will provide.
What Operating System Do You Plan to Run?
The operating system you plan to use on your server is also extremely important. Pre-built server workstations often don’t include operating systems, so you need to purchase your software separately. This leaves you room to choose your own software and hypervisor licenses. While many small businesses choose Windows Server, some may go with a Linux distribution.
Make sure that your server can take the heat.
We’re all aware of the loud sounds that a regular desktop can make when the internal fan is activated to prevent overheating. This often occurs with smaller servers, especially when there isn’t a dedicated air-conditioned room inside the business to prevent this effect. A server with an advanced feature set will be able to sense when it’s overheating and shut itself down to prevent damage. A server from a no-name manufacturer will sometimes lack this heat-sensing protection mechanism.
Pick a provider that specializes in small business servers.
This will ensure that you have access to round-the-clock customer support should something go wrong. If you feel that you can use some help, we would be happy to help you. Our team of Small Business Server Specialists have years of invaluable, in-the-trenches experience with managing and monitoring Small Business IT infrastructure.
Choosing a business server workstation—especially your first one—can either improve the way professionals carry out their tasks or be a potential bottleneck. If they don’t have enough storage bays, you may easily find yourself rushing to purchase another machine with even more drive bays.