Tips for Buying a File Server for Your Small Business

Your start-up is going swimmingly.  You’ve grown much bigger than just a few people and need an efficient solution that can support file-sharing, file-saving and backups.  And that means you need a server.  ChooseWhat.com’s Strategies Officer Gaines Kilpatrick has recently been through this process and offers some tips for selecting a server that works for your small business.  Read on to learn about who needs a server, main server options and how much they cost.

Business Server Options

PC as a Server

If you have fewer than 20 office computers running windows, you can use a Windows 7 machine (i.e. a PC) as your server.  In this scenario, your “server PC” is acting like a shared hard drive so you can’t set different security protocols for different files.  Otherwise, it accomplishes most of what a true enterprise server would accomplish and it’s a lot less expensive and easier to maintain.  In addition, you can sign up for an online backup service like JungleDisk or Mozy to back up your server, which costs less than $10 per month.  Unfortunately, if you need more than 20 connections, this is no longer an option.

Business Server OS

Here at ChooseWhat.com, we used a PC as our server for a long time (which worked well enough), but we outgrew it. If you have 20 ore more computers that need to connect to your server, you will have to purchase a business server with a server operating system (OS), such as Windows Small Business Server 2008 that can support up to 50 employees. The main advantage of having an enterprise-level server is that you’ll be able to set multiple levels of permissions for each file on your server, which means increased security.

Virtual Private Server (or Dedicated Server)

A virtual server means that your server is hosted online and managed by a hosting company.  Gaines says that if you’ve already hired an IT team to manage your server, you may also want to pay them to provide a virtual server (which many IT firms do).  However, Gaines is hesitant to recommend this option to start-ups, as virtual servers for this purpose can cost  $500+ per month.  In this scenario, you’re also depending on a bulletproof internet connection and an extremely reliable IT service firm.  Gaines said this option just didn’t make sense for ChooseWhat.com.

Cost of Buying a Business Server OS

According to Gaines, who was responsible for purchasing our new business server here at ChooseWhat.com, business servers for small businesses start around $2,500.  We spent about $6,000 when it was all said and done.  Here was the cost breakdown:

Server Machine:   ~$3,500

OS:  Windows Server 2008 (~ $1,500)

We got ours for free because we’re a member of Microsoft BizSpark.  If you qualify (i.e. you have 10 or fewer full-time employees), BizSpark is a really great program sponsored by Microsoft that provides free software to certain types of small businesses.

CAL’s:  You are required to purchase licenses for each machine connected to the server ($85 per machine)

Setup and installation:  8 hours for the server and about 1 hour per machine ($75 – $150 per hour in Austin, Texas)

Tips for Configuring Your Server

  • Servers should be configured with multiple redundancies. This means that the server has two hard drives that mirror each other, allowing for both on-site and off-site backup and ensuring that your backup is preserved in the event of a localized disaster.
  • You should also configure the server to back up every night. This ensures that no more than a day’s worth of data will be lost in the event of a disaster.  To configure your server, check with your server provider for detailed instructions.  If you’re using Windows Server 2008, you can follow this guide on Backup Basics in Windows Server 2008 R2.
  • Don’t host your email or calendars on your server. Most business servers allow you to host your email on your server.  However, you may want to avoid hosting your own email for a couple of reasons.  First, you want to protect your server from any viruses you may accidentally download through your email.  Second, if your server ever goes down or you have server issues, you won’t be able to access your email.  Using a cloud (online) email service like Gmail or Yahoo Mail is preferable.

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