When to consider a server - Understand it

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When to consider a server

When to consider a server

Understand it

You read business technology articles and you talk with savvy IT professionals. The message from both is that key business systems are built on servers, but what exactly does that mean? "Server" is a broad term that may quickly bring a host of questions immediately to mind:
How is a server different from a desktop system and can you use a high-end desktop in place of a server?
What are storage area networks?
How do you know when you need a server?
Do you need more than one server?
How much memory and disk space will it need?
Will you have to replace it in six months?
And of course, how much will it all cost?

How is a server different from a desktop?

The answer to this key question is more straightforward than you might imagine. A server is a system specifically designed to hold, manage, send and process data. The technology behind servers:
Makes them more reliable than desktop systems
Helps them process data faster and more efficiently
Can be extended to support data backup and security
Reduces data bottlenecks so information flows more freely and quickly
Is designed to scale as your needs scale
In short, a server is much more than a supercharged desktop system and can't be replaced by one. Desktop systems are optimized to run user-friendly operating systems, desktop applications and facilitate other "desktop" tasks. Even if a desktop sports the same processor speed, memory and hard disk space as a server, they aren't the same because the technologies behind them are engineered for different usage.

Do you need a server?

Server technology and benefits notwithstanding, you don't want to make technology purchases that won't benefit your bottom line, facilitate key business processes or otherwise make your life easier. While there is no single litmus test that you can use to determine if you need a server, some general guidelines do apply.
If your office only has three or four staff members who share files across networked computers, surf the Web or send email, you may not need a server at all. However, once you have five or more employees working together on a network, a server can provide a central location for your important files, shared applications and other resources you regularly use, like project documents and even an image library. In addition, if you want to implement any of the following systems or applications you'll need a server:
File and print server
Microsoft Exchange system or other e-mail server
Firewall or other security system
Website or company intranet
ERP or CRM solution
E-commerce solution
And these are just the tip of the iceberg. In general, if you need to put a computer system in place that processes, shares or otherwise manages data, you'll need a server.

The right server for you

The questions of how a server differs from a desktop and when a server is the right hardware solution are easy to answer. But the answers to the remaining questions — how much server you need to buy, what kind of configuration you need and of course, how much it will all cost you in the end — are based entirely on what you plan to use the server for. One of the significant benefits of servers is that you can customize their configurations to meet your very specific needs, so you can concentrate your money in those areas where you need it most.
It probably won't surprise you to find out that a server typically costs more than a desktop, but then again, a server is designed to do more than a desktop. It might, however, surprise you to find out a solid entry-level server doesn't cost that much more than a high-end desktop and may fit more comfortably into your technology budget than you might have imagined. As you'll see in the Do it section, many file/print and Web servers (two of the most common uses for servers in small and medium businesses) come well equipped for a reasonable price.
The most important thing you can do to ensure that your server meets your needs and fits your budget is to devote a bit of time and energy to assessing those needs. Until you have a good understanding of exactly what you want to use your server for, you run the risk of not buying enough server power or spending too much of your valuable budget on features you simply don't need. A little planning in the beginning can make for significant savings and proper equipment sizing in the end.
Next: Plan it ›

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