Do I need a server?

Hello,Hello, I am trying to figure out this whole server business I went through your Do You Need A Server guide you have on the website and I do need a server. But have no idea where to start.

I will give you a little background. We have a so called computer technician that has helped us crutch our way to what we need but I am looking for a less costly way.

I run a small business that buys and resells phone systems. I have 6 employees and plan on expanding to 10 at most within that next 5 years. We are running 6 Windows XP SP3 machines ( they did have Windows 8 ) and we plan on going back to windows 8 in a few months or until the bugs get worked out of it for businesses.

We do a lot of internal emailing ( hosted through Google ), We have a website that is used for merchants but that is hosted 3rd party, We do inventory tracking for buying and selling. We have hundreds of contacts, We run intuit quickbooks, Microsoft Office, have 2 laser jet printers.

From my understanding that I got from my technician is that quickbooks is installed on everyones machine and then the file is hosted (shared) from my machine so everyone can access it, same goes for our printers as well.

I hope this gives enough background, and I did not scare you off.

So what I am looking for is a server that is able to host my printers and and my programs and shared files. I am also looking to install CRM software as well not sure if that is something a server can do.

The only backup solution I have is a monthly 1TB USB external drive I connect to the computers and run a backup on them.
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  1. It sounds like you've already decided you do need something but don't have the staff to manage it in-house. HP and Dell have pretty good solutions for small business. It might be cheaper than contracting someone.
  2. The majority of the work we do at my business is helping small business like yours with their technology needs, and we have migrated many over to their first server environment. It does take some work, depending upon what all they intend to use their server for, but to be honest the most difficult part of the change over is not the actual setup and installation of hardware or software, it is getting all your staff to utilize the server properly and change their file access habits perhaps to saving data on your new server instead of their own computer.

    It doesn't sound like you would need a massive server to begin with by any means. I really like the HP ML110 G7 server as it can be very easy for a first server to configure, and very cost effective as well. So for this I will base my example on this server.

    First off, you would not have to go with a full-fledged Windows Server operating system to do what you are wanting to do initially it sounds. Installing Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8 Pro on the system would allow you still set up individual user accounts, create shared folders, assign individual share permissions to those shared folders, and also share out direct-attached printers. If your laser jet printers are network-capable (have a 10/100 LAN port) then you can just install them directly on each end user workstation instead of running it through a single server connection, but if not then plug them in to the server and share them out from there.

    Quickbooks should have a way of installing onto your server and the software will act just as a server to be shared out to multiple users. This way, your company file stays on your server where it is protected, backed up, and centrally managed. Your end user workstations will work just as they do now for Quickbooks, where it will point to the server for the actual company files.

    Your contacts list is also something you might be able to move to the server to make it easier for everyone to access all the same contact information. Is there a certain program you use to keep track of all the contacts?

    Now, while you can get away with using just a Windows 7/8 Pro installation on your server to do all these things (and it will save you money), you may also consider going to a full Windows Server 2008/2012 solution. Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard or Server 2012 Standard will allow you to run all of your tasks plus room to grow if you need to add new functionality. In other words, if you wish to set up a domain network, where all user accounts are controlled by the server, or set up additional backup features, website access, or remote access, then you should look more into Windows Server OS. The other benefit is being able to leverage virtualization to help improve your flexibility. With virtualization, you can have little installed on the physical machine, but run a virtual server within it that does everything within your network. Backing up this virtual server is much easier because everything for the entire server is saved in a single virtual hard disk (VHD) file. In the event that your physical server were to go down, you can help eliminate downtime by simply loading up that VHD file onto any other Windows 8 Pro computer in your office running Hyper-V (can be installed on the Pro version at no cost), and starting up the virtual machine again. Instead of possibly being without your server for two weeks waiting for replacement hardware or fixes, you are now up and running again within an hour.
  3. To simplify, the approach I always tell clients is there are three choices:

    1) Sharing files. This is the least expensive, where you designate one or more computers running Windows Desktop (XP, Vista, 7, 8), and you simply create shared folders. This is the least expensive route, the easiest to manage, but the draw back is there are huge holes in security. Typically you don't have to buy any new hardware/software.

    2) NAS Servers. The least expensive "server" out there, where an enclosure is added to the network, and simplified security is introduced. It takes a bit more to manage, and security does have holes in it. NAS Servers start at around $200.

    3) Windows Server (2003, 2008, 2012). Servers start at $1,000, and offer good security for data, storage of user's data, backup options, etc. Cost is the highest of the solutions, and it takes quite a bit more to manage, but the security and management is so much better.

    The biggest concern is going to be security - how much do you need?

    The second - data integrity.

    The third - cost.

    If you are looking at security/data integrity being of the highest importance, I would suggest at minimum either having an employee familiar with servers or hiring a consultant to administer the network.
  4. consider office 365 and host all docs on sharepoint. the pc's are 'just' hardware then.
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