Small Biz Server Systems for Under $1K

By SmallBusinessComputing.com Staff | Posted October 28, 2003

Microsoft launched its new effort to capture opportunities in the small- and medium-sized business (SMB) market early this month with the release of Small Business Server 2003. The Standard Edition of Windows Small Business Server 2003 software is priced at $599 for a five-user license. Additional client access licenses (CALs) are $99 each. But this price is Microsoft's estimate for retail outlets — the actual price is lower to vendors like Dell, Gateway and HP, which means major manufacturers are now offering the new operating system preinstalled on a server for less than $1,000.

The server software can connect up to 50 PCs or users, but small businesses with as few as 10 PCs have much to gain from setting up a server. For example, setting up a basic network connecting PCs could allow your small business to dump multiple dial-up connections and share high-speed Internet access.

Additionally, with a server system in place, small businesses can readily set up new computers, add users, and deploy new applications. And if you expect your small business to grow, managing data from a central location could save you not only time, but money. It's actually easier to manage firewalls and monitor security threats to your data, since virus protection systems can be deployed at one gateway to the Internet, rather than 10 possible points of entry.

Setting up a server system also lets you make the most of processing power. A server can supercharge your network, storing large chunks of data, freeing up memory and enabling individual PCs to perform better. Small business today need that additional processing power to run Web services, manage websites, do e-mail newsletters, and such. This is the type of scenario the Standard Edition of Windows Small Business Server 2003 was designed for.

Where The Deals Are
We went shopping to see who is currently offering the best deals for the Standard Edition of Windows Small Business Server 2003. We wanted the software preinstalled, to save a little time during our initial network setup and maybe save a little money along the way. We found three exceptional values for small businesses shopping around for their first server system.

Of course, looking for a "bare bones" small business server comes with its caveats. In order to keep our shoppers comparing apples-to-apples, we looked only at tower-based starter systems that can handle the basics — application and file sharing, e-mail serving and hosting a small website. The servers we found are all single-processor, single-hard drive server systems that can readily be upgraded. We simplified our shopping list in order to find the "most affordable" server solutions available direct from manufacturers that features the Standard Edition of Microsoft's Windows Small Business Server 2003.

While HP and Dell have very solid sub-$1,000 small business server offerings, this time around Gateway has one of the best deals online with a sub-$900 system — plus double the memory of the two other offerings. Gateway has made it clear in the past that it intends to be "disruptive" with its pricing strategy. True to its word, and with little fanfare, Gateway came to market with this particular server configuration late last week.

Ted Ladd, a Gateway spokesperson, said he wasn't surprised Gateway is offering one of the best values for SMB customers. He also said Gateway intends to sweeten the pot a bit.

"With Gateway's tower 920 system and preinstalled Windows Small Business Sever 2003 - Standard Edition, SMB customers can get a complete solution starting at $898," Ladd said. "SMB customers seeking to fully realize the capabilities of the Standard Edition operating system (MS Exchange 2003, for instance) will be able to benefit from our new 960x SMB promotion starting on October 30th through December 31st valued at over $2000 in savings. This includes, among other items, discounted Symantec AntiVirus software (5 CALs), Tapeware backup software, and one year of operating system support."

There are some add-ons you should consider before you buy your first server; these include extended warranties, financing options, online training, and even onsite setup. Extended warranties that provide next business day turnaround on verified service issues for three years will add a couple of hundred dollars to your purchase price. Financing options vary, so you'll want to study the small print to make certain you're getting the greatest bang for your buck. For example, the Dell PowerEdge 400SC system we found is available for as little as $26 a month over 46-months. Of course, this means our actual purchase price is $1,196 rather than $948.

Online training courses are available, too. But the Windows Small Business Server 2003 system comes with straightforward wizards and industry-standard presets designed to get you up and running in about 15-minutes. So who needs training? If you're that intimidated by technology, it may be best to pay a couple of hundred bucks to have a certified Microsoft partner setup your first server system. But all these add-ons could easily double your purchase price, so make sure you know what want — determine what business goals your want to fulfill — before you contact a reseller.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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