How to choose the best small business server

What is the best Small Business Server for a Small Business?

Choosing the best small business server can be difficult especially if you’re a small business with limited in-house IT staff/knowledge.

This guide is designed to help describe the basic principles of server technology and give you a list of the different small business server types with their key features. Hopefully this description of business server options and their differences will help guide you through to identifying the right type of server for your business.

The Basic Principles of Servers

Although visually similar to a normal personal computer or PC, servers perform very differently. A PC is built to be visually user friendly and mainly run single user programs. A server on the other hand is built for volume with multiple user applications often with more complex looking interfaces. Examples of typical processes often handled by servers includes processing emails, print services, calendar programs and databases.

A server is a great way to create central resources and pockets of data that all employees / users can access, alter and update. Often companies will use a server to help backup their employees / user’s information so that if a user’s machine fails or was damaged the data could be retrieved. As a hub of valuable data it is important that a business servers is both reliable and secure.

What is Virtualization?

Although this isn’t going to be needed by all small businesses this is a word which comes up a lot in server purchases so it’s worth understanding what it is.

In essence virtualization is a way to get more bang for your buck.  Servers are designed to accommodate peak–versus average–loads, so they’re underutilized most of the time. In fact, the typical server utilizes only between 5 and 15 percent of its overall resources.

Virtualization allows you to create different virtual servers on the same hardware helping you to run several virtual servers and boosting utilization to between 60 and 80 percent. For example instead of operating one physical server for email, one for database management, one for your intranet, and one for CRM, you can run all of those applications on several virtual machines running on the same physical hardware saving both space and money!  The two most popular virtual server platforms are Hyper-V and VMWare.  Both have paid for and free versions.  Most people don’t know that each Windows Server Standard license gives you rights to two virtual machines.  So you can buy a server, install Windows Server Standard, and install two Windows server standard virtual machines in effect giving you three servers, the host and two guests.  Useful if your budget will only extend to one physical server!  anyway, i digress…back to the topic at hand.

So what types of small business servers are there?

Cloud Small Business Servers

If you’re considering either part based or fully based cloud servers you are in good company.  More and more companies are considering the cloud solution. Cloud solutions don’t require buying a server but rather borrowing space on someone else’s server allowing you access to your company data and files without owning, storing, supporting or maintaining a physical server for a single monthly fee.

Physical Small Business Servers

The big names in the server market are HP, Juniper, Cisco and Lenovo. Choosing the right server depends largely on how you intend to use it and the applications you want installing.

Network-Attached Storage

A NAS Box or Network Attached Storage system can be as simple as plugging in a USB storage device which is shared across and network.

Budget range NAS boxes can start from as little as £200 and if all you need in a server is a device for sharing files, gaining remote access, automatically backing up client PCs over the network, or hosting IP security cameras, one of these budget models will fit the bill.

Most people don’t realise that any Windows PC can easily be turned into a NAS device simply by enabling sharing, however this doens’t scale well and offers no centralised authentication method or redundancy by default.  A good NAS box will have both these features including some kind of authentication method and also redundant drives and backup.

This system works best for small companies of up to 10 users, once you get over that level it becomes difficult to manage and doesn’t scale well.

Tower Small Business Servers

Tower servers generally cost more than NAS products, but less than rack-mount systems. Ideal for businesses who want file sharing, client backup and some remote access, but have over 10 users or who are expecting to grow. For a company in this situation it might be best to have one or two more-powerful tower servers. The real benefit is that they are scabable and powerful but you don’t need a cabinet or dedicated room to host them.  They are designed to sit in an office with you, not making much more noise than a normal PC. They don’t take up a lot of floor space, and they don’t require complex cooling systems.  They are easily expanded, and high-end models that can also support virtualization.

Rack Small Business Servers

If you anticipate the need to run several servers for your business it may be worth looking at a rack mount system. These types of servers come in a standard size enabling them to fit in a rack structure reducing their storage footprint. Plus they typically include a cable-management system to keep your installation neat.

Dozens of these machines can fit in the same footprint as a couple of towers, and this server architecture is very scalable. Since rack servers are stacked closely together, they require view website more cooling than tower servers do. The fans in these servers can be quite loud, so you’ll usually need a dedicated room and possibly a climate-control system ideally to keep a full rack cool.

Prices can really add up for this system with adding CPUs (or CPU cores), memory, hard-drive bays, virtualization capabilities, and other features. It is also worth noting when your comparing the prices of rack servers, be sure to include the cost of an operating system and any embedded hypervisor (for virtualization)

Blade Servers

Like Rack servers they require plenty of active cooling, however Blade servers are even more space-efficient and scalable than Rack Servers. If you need more servers than will fit in a rack, you’ll be happier with a blade ecosystem. However they do have their drawbacks. Typically they provide fewer expansion opportunities because they aren’t equipped with as many PCIe slots and drive bays as well as the price usually being considerably higher than rack servers.

Micro Servers

A completely new catagory in it’s own right, Microservers as the name implies are very small.  HP do one that is only about a foot square.  They are designed for the typical small business that doesn’t have a dedicated server room or cabinet.  Small, quiet, but still powerfull with the same features and functionality of their bigger cousins they can be perfect for as a starter server for a small business.  They usually the come loaded with Windows 2012 R2 Essentials server creating the perfect partnership.

What Software Should i use?

Most NAS boxes will come with custom software to control the hardware.  It will be some varient of linux but will be locked down by the supplier.

If you buy a Tower, Rack, Blade of Micro Server you will most likely get a copy of Microsoft Windows Server with it.  The current version is Windows Server 2012 R2 which comes in several editions.  For a small business with under 25 staff, “Essentails” is the obvious choice.  If you have 25 – 200 staff, one or two “Standard” edition servers with the Essentials Role are the ones to go for, and over 200 staff you will be looking at two or more Windows Standard servers running various roles such as ADDS, DHCP, DNS, Remote Access, NPS and File and Storage.

Windows 2012 R2 Essentials Server

Aimed primarily at the businesses with under 25 staff to offer the “essentials” server services as the name suggests this can be a great server for small businesses. Features are basic including file sharing, client backup, and remote-access capabilities. However it’s also designed to integrate with Office 365 Cloud Services including Exchange Online, and also gives you password sync, so the password you use to log into your server is the same password you use to log into Office 365!

Windows 2012 R2 Essentials Server won’t be capable of virtualization, but it is a very inexpensive file-sharing and backup option.

With basic Windows Essentials Servers at just a few hundred pounds these are a good starting server system for a small business.

For expert advice or to order a small business server thats right for you, please contact one of our team for more information by emailing or calling 08003317668.