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How to choose a server for your small business

Thinking of buying a server for your growing business, but don't know where to start?

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So, your business has grown large enough that you need your first server. Congratulations! Acquiring a server is a big decision, so some trepidation is understandable. This guide will explain the basic principles of the technology, help you decide which class of server will best fit your needs, and give you some ballpark pricing, so you don’t overspend or acquire a product that’s insufficient for your needs.

I’ll also explore the chief alternative to running your own server - relying on the cloud - and provide a primer on one of today’s hottest server trends: virtualisation. You’ll find this guide useful even if you ultimately decide to hire an IT consultant to analyze your requirements and make a purchase recommendation.

Server basics

Although a small server might look no different from a high-end desktop PC, the machines are designed for very different tasks. A desktop computer is designed for one person who needs a user-friendly operating system to run desktop applications such as a word processor, a spreadsheet, an email client, and a web browser. A server runs a specialised operating system designed to support many users. It’s engineered to run multiuser applications such as email, messaging, and print servers; shared calendar programs; databases; and enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management software.

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A server also makes it easy for your employees to share data and collaborate, since it operates as a central repository for all of your documents, images, contacts, and other important files. It can host a company intranet, for sharing information with your employees quickly and economically. Set up a virtual private network, and you and your employees can access the data on the server remotely from anywhere you have internet access. On top of that, a server can automatically back up your desktop and laptop systems, so you’ll never lose critical data if one machine fails or is lost or stolen. Servers are designed to be reliable, secure, and fault-tolerant, with redundant storage options. If you expect your business to expand, choose a server that’s scalable and can grow with you.

If you operate a small to medium-size business, the question isn’t "Do I need a server?" but "Which type of server do I need?" Before we get into that, however, let's address the number-one alternative to operating and maintaining an on-site server: relying on the cloud.

The cloud alternative

Why not put everything in the cloud? Services such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft’s Windows Azure, and Rackspace Cloud Hosting offer a number of benefits. For starters, they don't involve a significant capital outlay, and you won’t need an IT staff to manage the server. You won’t need to worry about the equipment or software becoming outdated or obsolete, either. In the days when businesses relied on big-iron mainframes, this strategy was called "time sharing." And the cloud is burdened with many of the same limitations as that model was.


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