Small Business Servers: Making the Best Choice (+Options)

By: Ernest Sampera on December 17, 2019

Many small business owners dread the prospect of purchasing new servers. Whether they’re upgrading from older equipment or purchasing hardware for the first time to enable new services, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to find the right balance between value and potential. Fortunately, there are a number of simple factors to take into consideration when evaluating an organization’s technology needs and selecting the best server for a small business.

Things to Consider When Buying a Small Business Server

If your business falls into that category, you need to ask a few foundational questions when identifying the right network servers for your small business. Although the refresh cycle of today’s servers is shorter than ever, making the right choice the first time can help ensure that you get the most value out of your investment before it’s time to upgrade.

Can You Tolerate Downtime?

Cheaper servers will generally prove less reliable and are more likely to be offline for longer periods of time. That may not be a problem for some companies, especially if their network isn’t central to their core services. A few minutes of downtime for your Windows small business server might bring an office to a halt, but it probably won’t be much more than an annoyance.

In some industries, however, even the slightest gap in service can be costly, both in terms of lost revenue and missed opportunities. If your business needs its servers to be stable and available 24x7x365 and incorporate the latest redundancy features, it’s probably better to invest in a more expensive, higher-quality server that can meet those uptime performance standards.

How Complex Are Your Workloads?

If your server workload consists of low-power applications and won’t be used as a front-end for mission-critical traffic, then a cheaper, less powerful server may be suitable for your needs. While it may sound like a good idea to get the most power possible, high-performance servers generally have higher operating costs in terms of cooling and power consumption. If you’re not making the most of their capacity, that excess power is going to end up costing you a lot of money. Answering this question is also crucial when assessing how to set up a server for a small business.

However, if your business’s workloads consist of intensive applications like production databases or big data analytics, you’ll likely need a more powerful and efficient server. If the server is also powering the front-end of a network that handles high volumes of customer traffic (such as e-commerce), you will need a newer unit capable of handling those demands without difficulty.

How Fast Are You Scaling?

When it comes to the world of IT, buying hardware for today’s needs is sometimes a shortsighted decision. While an inexpensive small business server might be able to meet current business demands, will it be able to keep up as your organization scales? Failing to account for future capacity needs creates two problems: first, there’s the expense of purchasing an additional server to meet those needs, but secondly, doing so also creates the potential for costly, inefficient server sprawl. Spending more money on a better server may seem like a luxury, but if it could be worthwhile if it means avoiding buying another one or migrating to a different solution within the next year.

On the other hand, overestimating capacity needs can leave a company paying to maintain infrastructure that’s largely going to waste. While it may sound appealing to only need to use 10 percent of a server’s capacity and have the rest available, you’re still paying to run the equipment at full power. Having a cheaper, less power-intensive machine running at 80 percent capacity might not seem to give you as much flexibility, but it also isn’t forcing you to pay for that unused potential.

Where Is the Server Going?

Servers come in a variety of casing styles. Depending upon the way you intend to deploy the small business server, your purchasing options may be limited. While the same components (and the resulting performance) may be available in every style, it’s important to evaluate those characteristics before making a decision.

  • Tower Servers: These servers resemble ordinary desktop computers, but they contain specialized components inside to facilitate greater processing workloads. They take up a lot of space, but are often the natural choice for on-premise small business server solutions that don’t have much additional equipment to consider or incorporate.
  • Rackmount Servers: These servers must be installed into a specialized cabinet designed to hold multiple racks of servers. A typical rackmount server takes up a single “rack unit” (RU), which 1 ¾ high and 19 to 23 inches wide. Server cabinets are available in a variety of formats, offering tremendous advantages in terms of keeping your infrastructure organized. They are a good choice when an organization needs multiple servers.
  • Blade Servers: A specialized form of rack-mounted server, blade servers are installed vertically into a specialized cabinet and take up even less space. They are used for high-density deployments that pack more processing power into a cabinet. The cooling demands of these high-performance servers often makes them impractical for anything other than an energy-efficient data center.

Do You Even Need a Server?

For many years, organizations had little choice when it came to setting up their IT environments and networks. They purchased servers and set up them up on-premises through a private network environment. While this small business server solution had the benefit of providing total control and turned hardware costs into a one-time capital expense, it brought quite a lot of disadvantages along with it. Power and cooling costs could escalate quickly, and much of the IT department’s time was taken up with simply maintaining that infrastructure.

Today, many businesses opt to colocate their servers in a carrier-neutral data center, which allows them to leverage a third-party facility’s infrastructure, connectivity, and services to greatly expand their networking capabilities. This option is especially attractive for companies that don’t possess the resources to build a comparable on-premises solution.

Cloud-Based Servers

Other companies have opted to forego the matter of small business servers altogether and take their infrastructure directly to the cloud. Whether they’re using a public cloud service or setting up a virtual private network through a cloud hosting provider, they can get access to the computing, storage, and networking resources they need to deliver their products and services to customers without the burden of having to manage the physical infrastructure that supports it.

Cloud-based solutions aren’t without their drawbacks, however. Pricing plans can sometimes lack transparency, and many organizations simply can’t afford to relinquish control over their data and applications by placing workloads in a cloud environment. While hybrid clouds allow them to combine the best of both worlds, there are some cases in which a company simply has to have its own servers.

Selecting the right small business server for your needs doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process. By taking the time to consider what you’re expecting out of your IT equipment, you can strike the right balance between cost and performance. Partnering with a colocation data center can make the process even easier, as the facility will be able to provide advice on what servers are the easiest to migrate, install, and maintain. Making the transition into a data center environment is often the best time to make a server upgrade because it provides a relatively clean slate for the technology migration.

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