Buyers' Guide: How to Buy a Small Business Server

By Drew Robb | Posted June 15, 2010

According to research firm Gartner, approximately one million servers in North America should have been replaced in the past year or two but weren’t due to economic concerns.  The likelihood, therefore, is that many small business servers need to be changed out for newer, more powerful models.

Obviously, if your existing small business servers are chugging along and doing everything you ask of them, leave them alone. No matter how enticing the sale pitch, if there is no sound business reason involved, don’t buy. But if any of the following conditions apply, it is time to get a better one:

  • Performance is so slow that it takes an eternity to open a document or serve up a Web page
  • Employees complain constantly about the system over many months
  • No amount of IT fixes seems to resolve your small business server issues
  • Customers complain that your system is too slow
  • You're losing income due to slow servers
  • Business is expanding so much that it's overloading your current servers
  • It's time for your first server for an efficient way of sharing files and other resources

If one or more of these conditions apply, get out the check book. The question is, which servers best fits your needs? Here's what you need to know to ease the selection process.

Small Business Server Advice

For SMBs with little to no experience with servers, McLeod Glass, director of product marketing at HP, recommends working with a knowledgeable and certified reseller -- what he calls a channel partner.


“A certified channel partner will work with you to set up systems and help ensure a smooth transition to new systems or a whole new infrastructure,” he said.

He also suggests HP Financial Services as a resource to soften the financial outlay. It offers leasing as well as trade-in programs for aging machines.  Other large vendors offer similar programs.

You Might Need a Server if You ...

• Want to run business-critical applications on more than one PC
• Want to centralize all your documents in one location or need to share printers
• Have lots of data to store
• Want to host your own email system
• Want to share broadband access
• Want to host your own website
• Want to simplify the backup process
• Have too much data stored on individual PCs and performance is suffering
• Waste time installing applications or patches one-by-one on individual PCs
• Have mobile or remote workers who need access to information at the home office

How about the SMB that has yet to add its first server? There are plenty of firms out there that attempt to get by with a bunch of computers using individual Internet connections and by transferring files via USB drive or email.

One of the big reasons to add at least one server, said Brook Lester, senior product marketing manager for Dell tower servers, is file management. A server lets you store files in one central location where employees can access them as they need.

Another reason is application management. It can take days to upgrade or install new software on every individual computer in an office. A server significantly reduces the amount of time involved with the upgrade process. Further, most applications run better when a server is in control.

"If you want your business to speed up, you've got to ensure that the engines aren’t overloaded," said Lester. "Storing files centrally and moving commonly used applications away from individual desktops, helps your business run faster."

It's more efficient, both in terms of time and cost, to share computer resources among your employees. Case in point: consolidating file storage and management or printing for multiple users.

"An inexpensive server is a much more reliable shared platform than a standard PC -- and it will perform much better as a shared resource," said Richard McCormack, senior vice president of server and solutions at Fujitsu America.

He draws attention to another factor that many SMBs fail to take into account -- the noise level of a server running under someone’s desk in a space shared by many people. Make sure that the model you buy doesn’t sound like a lawn mower.



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