A small business network server will let you create a network for your office's computers so that files can be easily shared. Other common features include email, shared calendars, Internet service so your company can host its own Web site, and security tools such as a firewall and antivirus protection. The right computer server for your business will:
- Provide the level of connectivity you need.
- Provide the mix of customization versus ease of installation that meets your needs.
- Provide the level of security that your business calls for.
Identify the features you need in a network serverFile sharing is the starting point for all servers; it keeps your employees from having to pass important info around via email. Beyond that, there's a host of other features: groupware, security, support for mobile devices, an intranet. Security features vary; the more sensitive your data, the more robust your security should be. A firewall, anti-virus and anti-spam protection, and user authentication procedures such as passwords are basic elements. Begin by deciding which features are must-haves and how many users your server must support.
Define your company's level of IT expertiseTake an office poll: Do your employees create networks for their home computers? Or do they belong to the "just-make-the-darn-thing-work" group? Do they regard new software as a headache or a toy? Installing a network server can range in complexity from requiring a dedicated IT professional to nearly plug-and-play. Decide how much you want to do in the way of computer server support. If the answer is "not much," choose a prepackaged option with technical support included.
Choose the computer server software you wantMicrosoft's Small Business Server 2003 is widely used and comes preinstalled on many PC servers, but other options are available, including a variety of Linux-based software for open-source users. Your choices regarding features, compatibility and comfort level with various platforms should drive this decision.
Pick and purchase the server itselfChoosing the actual hardware comes down to price, compatibility and availability. Naturally, you can purchase servers directly from most of the major vendors or from one of the major electronics store chains.
Your dedicated server and youRather than house your own netwrok server, you may choose to rent the use of a dedicated server from a hosting company.
- Plan for growth: buy more capability than you currently need and consider how you will add users or servers as your requirements grow (network server makers call the ability to grow "scalability").
- Provide for ongoing technical support. If you're buying a PC server with a service package, consider how long it will last and how many help-center calls you get. If you're relying on in-house support, do you have knowledge management processes in place to ensure that you don't find yourself with only one employee who knows how to keep the server up?
- Get input from end-users when planning your purchase. Would your employees love or hate to be able to drop files directly onto each others' desktops? Would a shared calendar utility be a selling point, or would employees ignore it because the office manager handles scheduling efficiently already?