Five Server Myths Debunked

At the center of most growing businesses is a network server. This computer is a central repository of the company's files, protecting valuable data from damage, theft, or mischief, and giving employees access to the latest documents whether they're in the office or on the road.

If you run a small business, you might not have considered adding a server for fear that it's too complex or costly. But in recent years, the technology has become much more affordable and easier to maintain. Overall, the advantages of adding a server to a small business -- productivity, security, cost savings -- far outweigh the cost. Note that you'll gain the benefits only with proper implementation, so if you don't have a firm grasp of the options, check with a professional IT consultant.

Let's explore the most common myths about network servers and debunk them once and for all.

1) Servers are too expensive.

In the early days of the PC revolution -- say, the late '80s -- servers cost a lot more than ordinary PCs. But that isn't true today. Servers cost only a few hundred dollars more than a standard desktop PC, and some cost less. The range of models can fit even the most modest budgets, including models from brand name PC vendors such as HP, Dell, and IBM. In fact, mainstream vendors offer entry-level units for as little as $450; add an operating system and security, and the total expense can be as low as $1,000.

2) Servers require specialized IT expertise.

This is another outmoded memory from the early days. Back then, you needed to know how to install and configure an arcane network operating system. Servers today are fairly straightforward, and take only a little basic know-how to get up and running. Some are variations on familiar Windows and Macintosh operating systems. These are easy to implement, especially for basic file and printer sharing, and graphical consoles make them effortless to learn. As for maintenance, it's fairly straightforward as along as you keep the server free of unnecessary software. Moreover, the advent of cloud computing services means that businesses don't always need to install, run, and maintain their own additional software. Experts do the hard work while you reap the benefits for a reasonable monthly or annual fee.

3) Servers take up a lot of space.

While HP, IBM and Dell make large servers that must be installed in special racks, you have other alternatives. Small business servers are significantly smaller, often no bigger than a standard desktop PC. In most cases, they can easily fit on a shelf in a (hopefully locked) closet. Consider the HP Proliant Micro Server: It's scarcely bigger or heavier than the stack of phone books you no longer keep in the office.

4) Servers require expensive backup technologies.

One of the most compelling reasons to install a server is to centralize all your business data, and this should include regular backups. But that doesn't need to cost a fortune. While it's true that EMC and others sell server backup software costing thousands of dollars to big companies, all you really need is an external hard drive and inexpensive backup software. Moreover, popular online backup tools make data archiving simple and inexpensive. These tools are easy to set up and operate automatically to protect your data.

5) Servers are hard to secure.

A server packed with business data is a bigger target than an individual PC, so security is an important matter. That said, for most small businesses, the most difficult part of securing a server is finding a location that's physically separate from your normal office space, such as in a locked closet with limited access.

As for securing the data itself, the options are better than ever. The latest server versions of the Windows and Mac operating systems include excellent security features. However, it's still necessary to track and respond to configuration errors, outdated software, and emerging viruses. For this, a third-party security solution is the answer. Look for a solution that's designed for small businesses, one that protects the server, provides centralized management, and won't slow down your server by overloading it with unnecessary features. The simplest approach is a could-based service such as Trend Micro's Worry-Free Business Security Services. This option lets someone else defend against threats while you focus on the business at hand.

If you shop for a good deal and pay attention to the basics of backup and security, a server will position your company for productivity and growth. Before long, you won't know how you ever got by without it.

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