Shopping Guide to Buying a Server for Your Small Business
Growth. It’s the number one reason why small businesses end up re-evaluating everything from their office space, to their benefits packages. When a business grows, its needs change, and some of the most dramatic changes happen when a one-to-three person team grows to six or more people. The office that felt cozy, now feels cramped. And the free web-based software that was “good enough,” for a plucky start-up? It now feels limiting, and a little unprofessional. Along with all of these changes, comes yet one more area for consideration: It might be time to get a small business server.
Why would you need a server in the first place?
A server, in a nutshell, is a central computer for your business. If you think of your laptops and desktops as spokes on a wheel, a server is the spinning hub in the center. It can take on a wide variety of tasks, from running your email platform, to managing the security updates and permissions on your fleet of PCs, to acting as a protected data vault for your most sensitive files. Unlike regular laptops or desktops, servers are designed to be 24/7 workhorses – always on, and always available to connect your people to the software and shared resources they need to get their work done. For some great examples of what a server can do for your small business, check out 5 Signs Your Business Needs a Server.
Some businesses choose to use cloud-based servers. These servers are located with a third-party cloud company, and are kind of like a time-share. You rent “space” in the form of a virtual server, just like you might rent a room in a hotel. The benefit to cloud-based servers is that they can be set up instantly, according to your needs, and can be scaled up and down in terms of power (CPU) and storage (hard disk space) as your needs change. This is all handled for you, by the third party, and should anything happen to your rented server, you won’t be on the hook to fix it – it will be the cloud company that has to take care of it. On the downside, this flexibility, scalability, and 24/7 on-site support comes at a cost. The more employees you have, and the greater your performance and storage needs, the higher the monthly outlay. There are also certain server-based tasks that are compromised by accessing them over the internet, such as video editing, or security surveillance capture.
These issues, of cost, performance, and control, are why dedicated in-house small business servers remain a viable option. Whether you choose to buy a pre-built business server, or build your own from scratch, you’ll be able to match the hardware and software to your team’s needs. If you have someone on-staff with a bit of technical know-how, you’ll save a lot of money over the medium to long term with a dedicated server.
The components of a server
A small business server is still a PC at heart. It has a power supply, a CPU, memory (RAM), storage (hard drives), USB ports, and some kind of network connection, like gigabit Ethernet. Some servers, configured for specific high-intensity applications, have graphics cards too, even though these GPUs aren’t used for actually displaying graphics on a screen. The big difference is that servers are engineered for constant and heavy use, so most of these components are built to be extra robust. Some servers can have more than one CPU, and those CPUs tend to have more cores, to facilitate multitasking. Memory is another major difference: A regular PC only needs enough RAM to handle the typical workload of a single person, whereas a server needs to keep up with the demand of an entire office, so its memory capacity and speed will be correspondingly larger. When it comes to storage, most servers will have multiple hard drive bays. This design gives you flexibility (you choose how much storage you need) and redundancy (your data can be spread across multiple physical hard drive in case one fails). On higher-end servers, the bays and drives are “hot swappable,” meaning you can add and remove them without needing to power down the server first.
Entry-level business servers look a lot like tower PCs. The design is self-contained; if you’ve got room above or below a desk, you can simply plug it in to power and Ethernet. If you’re looking to the future, and suspect you may need more servers down the road, a rack-mounted design might be a better choice. Rack mounted servers contain the same components as towers, but are built to a common set of width, depth, and height standards, so that multiple servers can be mounted in a single server rack. It saves space, facilitates maintenance, and increases security by letting you place your servers in a locked cabinet.
Server spec requirements by business case
So what kind of server does your small business need? It really depends on what you’ll be asking of it. If you just need a central depository for shared files, like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or Excel, or other documents, you may not even need a full-fledged server; for many businesses a robust NAS (network attached storage) device fits the bill nicely. But if your needs are more complex, you’ll need a small business server, configured accordingly. Here are a few examples:
Email and productivity
Running a productivity suite of software like Microsoft Exchange, for email, calendaring, contacts etc., is not resource-intensive, especially if your team is small, i.e. 20 or fewer. A relatively modest server, with a low-power CPU could handle these features plus file sharing, as long as it has enough redundant hard drive space. Servers that offer RAID configurations, and hot-swappable drives, are ideal.
Hosting a website
For a public-facing website, you should have a dedicated server. Depending on what your website is designed to do, and how much traffic you anticipate you’ll get, you may need to consider buying two physical servers: One to handle the traffic, and another to house the database your site is built on. This is especially important for e-commerce applications. High traffic webservers will benefit from more powerful CPUs, and larger than average amounts of RAM, as this will keep the site from becoming bogged down by multiple simultaneous requests.
Managing security and authentication for all of the computers in your company is one of the biggest benefits of a small business server. Running domain controller and active directory software (built-in features of Windows Server) doesn’t require a lot of resources, but it benefits from running in its own environment. Also, look for a server that can run multiple virtualized servers.
Shop Lenovo SMB entry-level servers
There’s a lot of choice when it comes to buying a server for your small business, but there’s also lots of great resources to pull from when making your decision. We’ve built a dedicated resource center for small businesses that covers all aspects of your IT needs, including buying your first server. One of the biggest benefits of working with Lenovo for your business server needs is how we can help you grow. From the efficient and budget-friendly Lenovo ThinkServer ST50 tower server, all the way up to our data center-grade ThinkSystem SD650 high-density system, we can help you manage your server requirements as you expand your business.