Here’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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