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Getting Friendly With Technology: Server Myths Debunked

A server is the key to protecting vital business data. It can also improve the productivity, efficiency, and profitability of your business.

Introduction

Is your business growing? Do you lose productivity when your employees can’t find information or when they are out of the office? Could you serve customers better or work with your suppliers and sub-contractors more efficiently if your employees had instant access to all of their contact and account information? Do you ever worry about viruses, hacker attacks or other mishaps that could damage your data and bring your business to a halt? If the answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” maybe it’s time for you to consider buying a server for your business. First and foremost, a server is the key to protecting your vital business data. And once you have a server in place, you can use that computing power and reliability to improve the productivity, efficiency and profitability of your business.

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Many small businesses have not considered or have avoided buying business servers because of misconceptions about capability, complexity, and cost. The reality is that servers help protect your business in ways that other computers can’t, they can give your business a big boost and they can be affordable and easy to own and operate. The first step in gaining these advantages is to overcome the common misconceptions about servers, so let’s look at the facts.

Myth 1: Only Large Companies Need Servers

In today’s business environment, companies of any size depend on digital data – customer lists, project schedules and product designs, accounts payable and receivable – and companies, large or small, need to compete in their local or global markets. With competitive and budget pressures, it is critical that you protect your operations from interruption or loss and that you get the maximum value and return from the resources that you have. Huge companies may have some slack in their budgets, but for most businesses, there isn’t much room for waste or error.

If virtually everything about your business has been digitized, doesn’t it make sense to invest in the hardware that manages, connects, and protects it? A business server is a very cost-effective way to protect your business and to achieve greater efficiency and competitive advantage. The first reason for buying a server is the security and safety of your business data. When data is scattered around on various desktop computers that connect directly to each other and/or to the Internet, the data is very vulnerable to Internet viruses, hacker attacks, and system failure. To effectively protect your data, you need to route Internet access through a “firewall” that protects all the computers on your network from unauthorized traffic, and you need to centralize stored data on a server with special security and reliability features that help prevent attacks and data loss. (Figure 1 shows a network of PCs with a server protected by a firewall.)

Corporate Network diagram

Figure 1: Protecting Your Business

In this figure, a network of PCs and laptops plus a server are protected behind a firewall running on a network router (a device like a smart phone switchboard). The firewall provides a first line of defense against data piracy and attacks, while the server provides additional data protection and stability.

There are many other reasons to buy a server, and they’re all about increasing the efficiency and revenue potential of your business. It’s hard to share information from desktop to desktop. When data is centralized on a server, you and your staff are able to share information, and even access it remotely when they are out of the office, helping everyone to be more productive. The computing power of the server also enables you to use more powerful business applications: Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to serve customers better, electronic marketing and e-commerce to market to more people at a lower cost, and resource management and business analysis applications to monitor and manage your business more efficiently.

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Myth 2: A High-End Desktop Computer is No Different from a Server

A server is much different from a PC. A server is a computer that is designed specifically to store, manage, distribute, and process data. A PC being used as a server is vulnerable in three key areas: data integrity, system reliability, and data bandwidth. Server computers generally have more computing power than desktop PCs, but some are also designed with features that make them more resistant to Internet attacks and data corruption or loss, system or disk failure, power spikes and other problems. In addition to providing better data protection and reliability, servers have the ability to process and distribute more data faster (more data bandwidth), so your business processes are not slowed or limited by people having to wait for information. Also, vendors of server-based business applications make extra efforts to ensure the reliability of their software, because more people will be using it simultaneously, often for more critical business tasks.

Myth 3: Servers are Expensive

Many business owners don’t investigate the advantages of servers because they assume that servers are expensive to buy. In fact, servers cost a fraction of what most people would expect, and the computing capability and security benefits make them well worth the investment. For example, for about twice the cost of a large PC, you can buy a 2-processor server that offers enhanced reliability and security features plus several times the computing capacity.

When you buy a server for a specific task such as sales order processing, you don’t want to pay for features you don’t need. Don’t worry. Servers based on proven Intel technology are available in many configurations, so whether you buy direct online, from an office supply, from a local reseller or have a custom system built for you by a system integrator, you can purchase a server with the features you need.

When you consider the cost of having a server, the most important thing to consider is the cost of not having one. When your financial/accounting, customer data, inventory information and other data is stored on individual desktop computers around your company, your business may be at great risk from computer viruses, and data loss or theft. What would happen to your business if you lost your accounts receivable data or your customer information? According to DTI Research, 70% of businesses that experience a major data loss go out of business in the next 24 months. The right server can help protect your business data and operations with special security and reliability features in addition to automated backups of your whole network. When you consider the risk to your business of data loss or interrupted operations, a server is cheap insurance.

Myth 4: Adding a Server Will Disrupt My Business

You may think that adding a server will disrupt your business process. In fact, it is fairly simple to add a server into your computing infrastructure, and the business benefits will be well worth the time investment. The effort required depends in part on how you will use the server. For instance, if you’re adding a server mainly for data backup, it’s just a matter of adding the server to the network and setting up backup software with pointers to all the desktop computers that will be backed up. Using a server for internal e-mail, shared calendars, a database, or shared applications is not much more complex. The necessary software is installed on the server, and the desktop computers are given pointers to the server to run those applications. (This frees up the power of each desktop PC to do specialized work.)

Careful planning can ensure a smooth transition as you add a server into your operations, and your local reseller, systems integrator or a friendly computer enthusiast in your family or neighborhood can help. Bottom line: adding a server needn’t be difficult, and the added security and business advantage will be worth the effort.

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Myth 5: If I Buy a Server, I’ll Need IT Staff

Chances are that you’re already running multiple PCs on an office network and doing at least manual data backups without an IT staff. Managing a server needn’t be more complex than what you’re doing now. In fact, owning a server is like owning a car: either you pay a professional to do occasional maintenance such as changing the oil, or you learn the few simple steps necessary to do it yourself. A staff member, most likely your office manager, can handle routine maintenance tasks such as backups or restarting after a power outage. (In fact, some servers have the ability to automatically restart themselves after a power outage.)

If you choose a server with advanced diagnostic and manageability features, you can outsource server maintenance to a third-party provider, just as you might outsource payroll or accounting functions. These special features enable a service provider to monitor the health of your server remotely, so that they can identify any potential hardware problems and correct them before they affect your business.

Myth 6: We’ll Spend a Lot of Money Maintaining and Upgrading a Server

No business owner wants to spend money on assets that will quickly become outdated or obsolete, and nowhere is that concern more clear than when buying computer equipment. But this is precisely where a server can provide excellent value, if you buy carefully.

You’ll save money and have a better long-term investment if you buy a server built on industry standards from an established vendor with a large “eco-system” of compatible hardware and software products. Wide industry support means that you’ll have hundreds of compatible software products to choose from as your needs change and your business grows, and you can choose from a wide range of compatible hardware – PCs, monitors, printers, scanners, etc. – that meets your needs and your budget.

Another issue to consider in choosing a server is that the computing industry is moving to 64-bit technology – a standard that enables computers to process more data faster. You don’t need to delay buying a server because of this change. You can buy 64-bit servers now that will support both current 32-bit applications and future applications written for 64-bit technology. Just be sure that the server you buy today is designed to support both, so that you’ll have a smooth migration path in future.

Summary

Servers are not a luxury: they are a necessity to protect your business. The good news is that a server can help you build a better business, helping you gain new insights into your customers and operations, increase your efficiency and productivity, and act more quickly on new business opportunities. Servers can support information sharing, faster communication and remote information access that help your employees become more productive. They can support more powerful business applications and provide a business-wide view of information that helps you more closely manage your operations and financials. They can save money and increase customer satisfaction and sales with automated customer relationship management and e-marketing and e-commerce capability.

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The key is to find the right server, the server that gives you room to grow, is easy and cost-effective to own and operate, and will hold its value over time. If you choose wisely, a business server can be one of the best investments you’ve ever made.

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