What server should we buy?

Servers are part of the core business toolkit of nearly all small businesses these days (and all larger ones). Most businesses intuitively know when they need one, and know what they need it for. The server is like a hub, helping them share files, do backup, manage their internet connection, and provide email. The good news is that it’s pretty hard to buy yourself a server that doesn’t offer these basic functionalities.

Like any piece of technical equipment, it’s the specifications that can be confusing. Do you really need that extra hard disk, power supply or CPU? If you’ve got an IT provider you can trust, they should be able to help you navigate which options you need for your business. Here’s three things you should think about:

  • Think about growth. We design our servers to be replaced after three years, which is good practice to lower your malfunction risks. How many staff will you have in three years time? How many files will you need to store? How many desks will you need to serve? What volume of email? What volume of network/internet traffic?
  • Think about backup & recovery. There’s backup and then there’s backup. Unfortunately, not all backups are created equal. More worryingly, a lot of backup systems simply don’t work. At the basic level, a good backup solution will have RAID and be monitored. Your IT provider should be able to discuss the pros and cons of the various types of RAID & storage systems available (hardware vs software, magnetic vs SSD, write-safe vs non-write-safe caches, battery backup, etc). You should also be sure that your backup solution scales with your growing requirements. For example, an offsite backup solution over the internet isn’t going to work if your daily changes exceed your daily upload bandwidth (which is very easy to do in Australia.)
  • Think about maintenance & monitoring. IT departments in large companies help keep servers in tip-top operating condition, doing scheduled maintenance, monitoring the health of key hardware, checking systems aren’t compromised, and other vital caretaking work. This proactive approach ensures maximum uptime and minimum risk. In the small business environment, unmaintained servers pose a real threat to data and productivity. We see small businesses out there all the time with ticking time bombs of data unreliability. This maintenance and monitoring should be very detailed when it comes to your storage stack – physical drives, controllers, RAID volumes, logical volumes and backup. This is detail-oriented work and you need someone who sweats these details looking after your precious data. Your IT provider should offer you a maintenance and monitoring program to ensure your most vital piece of hardware is performing at its best. We think this is so important that we never sell a CoreServer without the peace of mind of a management program.

On top of all that, you should ask what’s not included with your server quote. Do you need a separate router? A separate VPN server? A separate terminal server? Are these things properly specified or afterthoughts? (e.g. We see many great servers sitting behind totally inadequate consumer-grade ADSL router/modem/wifi devices). Separate licenses? Is installation included – if so, to what extent? Will you get training? Or will the provider move on to their next client after they’ve finished with you? There are no right answers to these – it all depends on your business objectives and desired commercial relationship. But you will almost certainly be up for a shock in the future if you or your provider don’t raise these things upfront.

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