Do you really need a Server?
PCs networked in a peer-to-peer fashion are adequate when you have only two or three users on the network. After that you really need to consider investing in a network server. If your business have more than 5 employees then your business should be using a server network. While implementing a network is not a trivial or inexpensive undertaking, the benefits you gain by adding a server to your computing environment far outweigh any shortcomings.
The Mistake Small Businesses Make
It is surprising that the majority of companies never bother implementing a client/server based network. Instead they just continued adding on workstations to their old peer-to-peer network. Peer-to-peer networks don't provide you with much in the way of security and resource sharing. So, not surprisingly, they often have problems accessing workstations, lose data due to viruses or spyware, or experience intermittent Internet problems. PCs networked in a peer-to-peer fashion are adequate when you only have a few users on the network, but once you have more than 5 or 6 users on your network, then you really need to consider investing in a network server. Nevertheless, convincing a small business owner to make this type of investment can be a hard sell. Unlike large corporations, small businesses don't have the benefit of an IT department and/or the deep pockets necessary to maintain a complex IT infrastructure. However, network servers don't have to be overly expensive or complex for you to benefit from them.
What Exactly is a Server?
Many people are under the misconception that a server is no different from a typical desktop PC. This couldn't be further from the truth. While almost any PC that meets the minimum hardware requirements can run the server operating system, that doesn't make it a true server. A desktop system is optimized to run a user-friendly operating system, desktop applications, and facilitate other desktop oriented tasks. Even if the desktop had similar processor speeds, memory and storage capacity, it still isn't a replacement for a real server. The technologies behind them are engineered for different purposes. A server is engineered to manage, store, send and process data, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 356 days a year. For these reasons, servers need to be far more reliable than their desktop counterparts. In order to accomplish this, servers offer a variety of features not typically found in a desktop PC. Some servers will include:
- Duel processors; either equipped or capable
- Redundant hard drives or power supplies
- Hot swappable components
- Are scalable; to meet current, as well as future needs
- Can process data faster and more efficiently
File and Network security
The most important role of a file server is the network security it provides. By creating individual user and group accounts, rights can be assigned to the data stored on the network preventing unauthorized users from accessing materials they shouldn't be viewing. For example, the sales team doesn’t need access to employee personal records which should only be accessible by HR.
Increased reliability; decreased workflow interruptions
Many servers are equipped with redundant power supplies. With a secondary power supply running in tandem, the loss of one of the power supplies doesn't affect normal system operations. The same goes for a server's storage system. Unlike an average desktop PC that uses a single hard drive, a server will typically use multiple hard drives working in a RAID configuration to prevent data loss or an interruption in workflow. In addition, many servers are also equipped with hot swappable hard drives and power supplies. These hot swappable components allow you to replace faulty hardware without interrupting the entire office. In addition, since all employee data is being stored on the network, if a user's workstation fails mid-workday, employees can access the same files from another workstation.
Centralized data storage and shared resources
With a network server, all of the users on the network can make use of various network resources right from their desks, increasing efficiently. Some of these resources include the following:
- Centralized data storage (RAID Array)
- Network Attached Storage (NAS) Devices
- Printers, emails and Fax servers
One of the greatest threats to your network is the possibility of infection from viruses, spyware and spam. So having good, updated, anti-virus software installed on your systems is a necessity. In an office of 10 people or less, systems can be maintained individually. Anything more than that, though, can become a real burden. In those circumstances, an anti-virus package that combines workstation and server virus protection into a single solution makes more sense.
All businesses should backup their data on a regular basis. By having all of your company and employee data stored in one location, backups can be performed reliably and quickly. So you'll never need to worry about what data is stored on what workstation as you do in a peer-to-peer network. Today, almost any media type can be used for backup purposes. In addition to the traditional tape drive, CDs, DVDs, removal storage and even Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices are acceptable. Your choice of media will depend on your specific backup requirements. Depending on your budget and your data retention needs, any of these would be an acceptable solution. Make sure you have at least a scheduled weekly backup, although a daily would be better.
Servers are the unsung heroes of the corporate computing environment, working behind the scenes to help get the maximum benefit from the personal computers that people use every day. Before investing in server hardware, you need to consider applications, storage, processor, form factor, and more to help you choose wisely.