Need help with choosing a small business server.

Hello, everyone! Please forgive any ignorance, as I'm new to the tech scene and this website.

Basically, I'm trying to help my mother update her small business server to newer hardware and software (which is 10 years old at this point), and I'm having some trouble with the situation (I don't have a large understanding of servers).

Our I.T. associate quoted her on an Intel Xeon CPU, 2x 1TB HDDs with RAID 1, 16GB RAM, and running the Small Business Server program from Windows; this was quoted to be $6,000.

From what I understand, this seems a bit excessive, as we're only currently running 5 PCs. As such, I was thinking about a Dell PowerEdge T420 server for $1,900, which I will link at the bottom of the post.

The server needs to be set up for RAID 1 minimum backups, as well as having a backup away from the physical location of the server; and email sharing, as she currently has her inbox set up to receive all other employees' emails (these emails are for work tasks only).

Would anyone be able to advise on the best solution for this dilemma? The information I've given isn't as detailed as it should be, but that's all I was able to gather.

She works in insurance brokering, so the server also has to be set to a certain legal standard, too.

Thank you and best regards,
4 answers Last reply Best Answer
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  1. Best answer
    For 5 pc's you wouldn't need much fancy - just a high end lga2011 pc - i7 4930k, 32gb ram, cpu cooler, ssdd for os, raid array - 2 x 4tb hdd, small graphhics card, cheap monitor and keyboard, Windows Server 2012, 800W psu. Say $3500

    But depends if you plan to grow. Over that you'd need a SW mobo with 2 x Xeons on lga1150 and say 64GB ram and as above - say $5000

    You realise that servers are advertised without cpu's, ram, hard drives, OS, etc?
  2. Thank you for the information you provided. I appreciate the help. :)
  3. If you are running a business environment on your server system, don't go with consumer-line hardware. It's not meant for that type of usage or that type of environment and even if you do get support for the software you need to run (drivers, compatible licensing, etc.) you may not have it running long or stable if the hardware isn't up to the task of running 24/7 with this sort of work.

    I'd suggest sticking with actual server hardware. There is a difference here in quality and reliability. You don't have to stick with the big names like Dell or HP if you are comfortable with managing and maintaining a server yourself, but since it sounds like this is your first server and you aren't too familiar with them yet, save yourself the stress, the worry, and the responsibility and look into pre-built solutions by the trusted enterprise providers like Dell and HP. Their systems have all been tested to work together with all the hardware they provide, plus have all the software ensured in-house and tons of available help online and through expert support as well.

    I can't make too much of a helpful suggestion here on the specific hardware you might need for running your office as I just don't know everything you plan to use it for or your expectations. Here's some things I can give you as pointers, though, for what to look into.

    Virtualize: If possible, there's very few reasons why a person or a company buying a server today shouldn't think about virtualizing their workloads. It can be very simple and quick to do, and has almost no difference in performance from running everything on the physical hardware. The benefits, though, are tremendous. Virtualizing allows you to abstract your critical server roles from the underlying hardware. This means if you need you can move that virtual machine to a completely different set of hardware, turn it on, and it should start up and run just like before. In disaster recovery situations, this is huge. It also allows you to compartmentalize your needs for better management or efficiency. For example, instead of having to create a single server and host all of your file sharing, your email system, run and store shared application data like QuickBooks, or perhaps security camera system, you can set up separate virtual machines for running separate roles. This way if you need to make changes to one service or piece of software, you can take it offline without also taking everything in your network offline.

    Hardware: You probably don't need a whole lot for a small office, but again it is hard to tell without having a much better understanding of your specific network, needs, and expectations. Stick with at least a quad-core processor. If you want additional headroom for light loads you can definitely use hyperthreading, but if you really need some room to grow, then I'd suggest looking into at least a single socket LGA2011 server platform which can accommodate six-core, eight-core, or even greater processors plus a lot more RAM. RAID is good for storage to keep uptime in the event of a single hard drive failure, but RAID is not backup. Never think that RAID will get you buy in the event you need to recover data. Always have a separate backup, even if it is just sticking an external USB hard drive on there and setting up Windows Server Backup or some other free utility to do your backup system for you to the external drive.

    Don't neglect your network infrastructure! If you are doing a lot of file transfers between computers, even just a few computers, but have a very limited or weak network switching capability or lots of problems with how it is configured/connected, then having the most powerful and insanely costly server available is not going to fix your issues. Installing a gigabit network for most small offices is very cheap anymore, so make sure everything is in place within your network to support at least gigabit otherwise improved speed on your server may not make much difference.
  4. Basically, I agree with choucove. Hardware doesn't need to be really expensive, but I don't think there will really be a problem with choosing consumer hardware.
    What I agree the most with him about, though, is that hardware is important, but the network setup is also really important. The configuration and maintenance, and the way things are run, everything is very important. Therefore, it would help us give better feedback if we knew a bit more about your network.
    Waht kind of workload do you usually handle? What kind of PC is conencted? How much speed do you need? How tragic would it be to have a few hours of downtime? How do you manage the back-up system?

    Everything you can think of will be very helpful to better understand your needs and help you.
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