Advances in server technology have provided new server platforms for the small to medium sized business, providing purchase options at a great value. Increases in hardware power and scalability have driven equivalent improvements in the software available.
One of those advances is the development of Virtual Server offerings, both hosted and local that allow a small business to run different applications in their own server environment on a single hardware platform.
This reduces the hardware footprint the business needs to buy and support, and hence reduces capital and operating costs.
What are the server options for a small or medium sized business, and how do you choose the best for you?
The first step is to understand why you need a server and to set out clearly what you need it to do. Lots of what you can do with a server, such as file sharing, you can do with a single high-spec desktop computer. However, the hardware and software for a desktop is designed to support only one user, running desktop applications like word processing and email. While you can share data between users, collaboration and document sharing is limited. A server is specifically designed to support many users by providing a central resource for applications and data. The server manages document sharing and security, provides internal and external email services, supports shared printers and in general hosts all your application needs.
For the very small business, say of ten users or less, running simple applications like email and word processing, and with a limited need to share files, a small server like a Windows Home server, or even a network application sharing device will suffice.
If your office has more than around 10 users, and you already use, or want to use specialised software like Production or Customer Management, then you will need a full‑on server.
The next question, having decided that you need a server, is whether to embrace the cloud or not, and if so, a private or hosted solution?
Basically, by embracing a hosted cloud solution you hand over all the technical worries to a third party. However, the downside is that you lose a significant element of control, particularly in that by holding your data outside your organisation, you raise security and privacy concerns. Indeed, you may not be able for legal or security reasons to hold some or all your information on a server managed by a third party. If you are in an area with unstable communications, external hosting may not be an option.
An alternative is to use technologies like Microsoft Azure to create an in-house private cloud and host it yourself on your own hardware.
Where you look next really depends on how many users you have now and in the future, and the applications they will use. If you currently use a specialised application in your business, consider how will it co-exist with other applications you intend to run.
If you intend to run multiple applications, perhaps on different systems platforms, this is where Virtual Servers come into play. Simply put, a Virtual Server environment allows a single server to look like several independent servers. They can run the same operating system, or several different ones. By having what used to be several physical servers running on the same hardware, you use the hardware more efficiently, and save on the capital and operating costs of the different servers.
If you have no internal IT resource, it will pay you to have an IT specialist assess your business needs and recommend a suitable supplier and hardware and software configuration.
Simply put, you need to ensure that the server has the processing power to deliver an optimal level of service to your users. In hardware terms, the processors must have sufficient horsepower, there needs to be sufficient memory, sufficient disk space, and your network needs to deliver information to and from users quickly and efficiently.
In software terms, you need to configure your applications, even in a Virtual Server environment to make effective use of the hardware resources.
Choosing a server is like choosing a car. There are plenty of basic options, and additions to the basic configuration to meet your needs. Virtual Server can give you more bangs for your buck.