How to choose a server for your small business

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.

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The stability and reliability of whichever service provider you choose is your first and most important concern. If that firm goes belly-up or experiences a disaster, your business could quickly grind to a halt. What’s worse is that you could temporarily or permanently lose access to all your data. If you lose your connection to the Internet, you’ll be cut off from your applications and data, and your employees won’t be able to share files. You could lose the ability to manage your business until your internet connection is restored. And if your business uses large files, and your broadband connection is too slow, your operation’s productivity will suffer.

Storing your data on equipment outside your immediate control also brings up privacy and security concerns. And although you’re not paying for an IT staff, ongoing maintenance, and investments in new capital equipment directly, you’re still incurring a share of those costs indirectly - they’re reflected in the fees you’re paying the service provider. The cloud is no cure-all.

Choose the right server for your needs

The big names in the server market are Dell, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Lenovo, and Oracle. Choosing the right server depends in large measure on the applications you intend to run on it. If all you need is file sharing, automated client backup, and light-duty remote access for PCs (typically 10 or fewer), consider a NAS or even a Windows Home Server machine; HP, Netgear, QNAP, Seagate, and Synology are the major players in this arena. If your business has more than 10 employees using computers, if you need to operate an email or print server, manage a complex database, or run sophisticated server-based applications (such as ERP or CRM), if you have very large storage requirements, or if you require large-scale virtualisation capabilities, you’ll want a more robust option such as a tower, rack, or blade server.

A virtual-machine primer

Before I go into a detailed explanation of each of those server types, here’s a quick primer on virtualisation for anyone who might be unfamiliar with the concept. Small to medium-size businesses have been behind the curve when it comes to adopting virtualisation to date, but the technology can deliver significant benefits to companies of nearly any size because it allows the enterprise to make more efficient use of IT resources.

Virtualisation enables one server to behave as several servers, each with its own operating system and unique set of applications. A virtual machine consists solely of software, yet it has all the components of a physical machine: It has a motherboard, a CPU, a hard disk, a network controller, and so on. The operating system and other applications run on a virtual machine just as they would on a physical machine - they see no difference between the two environments.

In virtualisation, a program known as a hypervisor places an abstraction layer between the operating systems and the hardware. The hypervisor can operate multiple virtual machines with the same operating system or different OSs on the same physical server. Microsoft, Oracle, and VMware are among the top virtual-machine developers.

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