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Selecting a server: Six assessments

Selecting a server: Six assessments

Servers have transformed the way small businesses operate. As prices are on the decline and the level of efficiency is improving, now seems like an optimal time to begin using a server in your business. Only, you don’t know which to choose. Deciding on a server can be a daunting task--from wrapping your head around the jargon to understanding your options to finally making the right choice. But it doesn’t have to be.

Most big name brands like Dell, Cisco, HP and Oracle offer server platforms that target you, the small business user. However, it's important to choose a server type that is in line with your specific business needs. Before beginning your search for servers, first answer these five questions:

1. Are you purchasing a server for file sharing?

2. Will your server be primarily used for email?

3. Does your workforce need to connect to the server remotely?

4. Will your server be used for data backup?

5. How much space do you have available to accommodate a server?

The answers to these questions will help you understand the kind of server features you should be seeking to accommodate your business needs. A server can often be used to manage multiple workloads, like file sharing and data backup. Therefore it's good practice to create a list that prioritizes your needs for a server--this gives you a well-defined guide to follow. Ultimately, it will lead to you choosing the most fitting server for your business’s main requirements.

Front of a rack of servers

After answering the aforementioned questions and creating a prioritized checklist, it’s time to begin your server search. Below are six assessments of a server you must consider before making your final decision.

Best of Breed

Now that you have decided which type of server is best for your business needs, search for the leading vendors among that particular server type. This will ensure you always buy a server from a reputable source and one that is fully supported.

Affordability

As with any other large business purchase, it is wise to always set a budget and stick to it. The server market is comprised of a number of vendors who are all vying for your business. Shop around, consider refurbished IT hardware, and don’t be afraid to talk to vendors to determine the best match of hardware and software for your budget.

Storage, Processor & Memory

The amount of memory and storage your server will need is crucial to your decision. Let’s say your server will be carrying out several functions, like sharing documents and files, managing networked office printers, finance system, email server, etc. For each function, you will need to allocate three main things: storage, processor and memory. You will then decide how many processor cores are needed to run all the applications and services your business needs and search for a server that holds enough servers to cover that number.

Although it’s possible to add processors at a later time to accommodate future needs, it is wise to allowing for some overhead up front. For example, although your current need is for ten processor cores, you may want to search for a server with 12 or 16 cores. Additionally, when adding a new processor, ensure that the subsequent processor is the same specification as the one you already have.

Mike's Recommendation

Sold out

Memory is easier to upgrade, but you will still need to fully account for your current business needs and anything you anticipate in the immediate future. Luckily, most vendors maintain stock of common upgradable components so you don’t have to invest in hardware before you need it.
To ensure your business data isn’t lost should a hard drive fail, consider using a RAID configuration.

Operating System

As with your business desktop PCs, choosing the right operating system is vital, as this ensures all applications are stable. In the past, each server was allocated a specific task--email would run from its own server. Doubling up functions so a single server could run your email and finance system wasn’t considered the best practice because if the server failed, access would be lost to two critical functions.

Additionally, the amount of processing power available wasn’t sufficient for both functions to run effectively on the one server. In short, servers need an operating system that is robust enough to manage the many thousands of requests for data they could have to handle over a typical session.

Support & Maintenance

If your business doesn't have onsite IT support, this must be outsourced. Your server vendor may also offer maintenance as part of a package deal. Be careful to read the service level agreement you will be asked to sign to ensure it meets all your needs.

Cloud Storage

As an alternative, small business often leverage the many benefits cloud-based servers can offer. These services should be treated just as if they were on your premises. Take the extra time necessary to research the vendors on your shortlist. Before signing up for their services, explore their client list and speak with some of them, if possible, in addition to learning the service levels you can expect. Also, closely examine security if you plan to store sensitive information on your cloud-based servers.

Wisdom in purchasing server capacity simply means exploring and understanding how your business fundamentally uses data. Once you learn this aspect of your business, choosing the best server is a much less daunting endeavor. You have the power and the resources to choose a server that will meet your business needs, you just need to make use of them.

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