Feb 182012

Things to ConsiderHere’s an expanded list of questions that I recently asked a friend to help him select a server for his new small business office:

1. What is the most probable number of computers (AND users if the number differs) that will need to connect to the server?

Numbers under 5 simplify things and lower your cost significantly, particularly if you want to use a higher end Microsoft, Apple or other “old-fashioned” server software instead of free Linux or similar (see my post about my small office file server of choice).

2. If you are using QuickBooks for accounting like so many other businesses, what is the expected number of QuickBooks users? Disregard this question if you’re going with the online option, or if you’re not using QuickBooks. This question was more important for cost comparison than for server sizing because a server we selected should be able to reasonably well handle either one or five users.

3. Do you need to install one or more networked printers with the server and how many?

As always, if money is the limit, emphasize on need vs want, but also have in mind that having a properly sized network printer can save in the long run on toner, paper, and increase your control of user printing. If you have existing printers, you don’t have to change much, however, nowadays it is much easier to install pocket print servers to convert a standalone printer into a networked one. You don’t even have to do it if the computer that the printer is connected to is always on – the computer itself can be configured to share the printer with other users on the same network.

4. Do you want to use the server only for file sharing and secure document depository, or do you expect any other usage of it, such as the previously mentioned print server and/or email server and SharePoint collaboration? More complexity can considerably increase hardware requirements and cost. On the other hand, you can also achieve print sharing and simple file sharing without a server and with peer-to-peer networking between your PCs, or with a good WiFi router, such as Asus Black Diamond, but more about that in another post.

5. How critical are your backups? How big are your files, how many of them do you have, how much and how often do they change and how fast do you expect your storage requirements (based on file size and numbers trends) to grow? Depending on that you may need or want to schedule backups daily or weekly. If you already have a system and have no backup strategy, this is a disaster waiting to happen. Although robust backups will increase the cost, they can’t be neglected. There are some simple and cheap alternatives to tape or online backups, such as large external hard disk(s) or NAS units, but someone will have to be very disciplined and routinely back up the data at least once a week and take the media out of the office.

I’m posting this here only as a sample and note to self, but I hope that from this you can get the idea of things to consider when sizing a server for small business.

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  2 Responses to “Sizing a Small Business Server”

  1. Can you expand on this with examples.  Great list of questions to think about but what does it actually mean in needs of hardware if I have 5 or 10 users?  Thanks for the post.

    • Thanks for the question.  Cases can vary a lot so I don’t want to mislead anybody.  It really depends on which software and which features you will run, how many users you will have and how active they will be as well.

      But here’s one hypothetical situation that shows how your cost can jump in a blink of an eye based on your requirements and desires: let’s say that instead of one of my small business solutions of choice (HP Microserver from my other post http://deputycio.com/5631/small-business-server  running Microsoft Small Business Server Essentials and just a file sharing environment which allows for up to 25 users without extra cost) I have ten people in my office and I want to run MS SBS Standard (with extra licenses needed for more than 5 users).  Now we’re talking about server software cost increasing from less than $500 to about a $1000-$1,500 more (my educated guess without further research).   

      Now, if I also want to fully utilize the Exchange email and SharePoint collaboration software on the SBS Standard version (not an option on the Essentials), and I now want to host my website on this server as well, we’re talking about increased hardware (and uptime) demands and in that case I’d want to buy a full blown server box instead of the Microserver.  On that server I’d probably want to have a RAID (redundant, failure-safe disk array) so I’d need at least two large or three or more smaller hard disks and server HDDs are not cheap.  In addition, since SBS Standard doesn’t have the desktops backup option like the Essentials version I’d have to buy or devise that solution separately.  Now we’re suddently  talking about several thousand more. 

      On the other hand, if I had help from good expert(s) on my hands and wanted to run Linux and other freeware and open source solutions, I may be able to lower (eliminate) the software cost, but then I may need to spend time and money in educating my users and making them more technical if that’s possible. 

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