To Server or Not to Server… That is the Question.

One big decision many small businesses face is whether or not to deploy a Server in the workplace. Ten years ago, this was an easier question to answer than it is today. In the early 2000’s a class of server called Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) brought many “Big Company” services within easy reach for smaller businesses. Services like Exchange email, SQL Server and Remote Web Access gave many small business the tools to compete with much larger companies on a somewhat equal technological footing.

Fast forward ten years and many of the services offered by the SBS platform are readily available through various cloud services. Everything from Hosted Exchange to Remote Access can be achieved without having an in house Server, so why would you deploy a Server in your small business today?

Well for starters there are login and security issues that can be addresses by a Server, but many other appliances can perform this task as well. Same with disk storage, there are many ways to provide vast amounts of storage on a network.

There are also costs to consider. Hosting your own server for email, Remote Access and storage costs money for licenses, hardware and ongoing maintenance. If you are currently running an SBS server you already know that this is not an appliance you just plug in and forget about. So again, why deploy a server?

At this point in time the primary reason to deploy a server in a small business is to run multi user Line of Business (LOB) or Point of Sale (POS) software.

Many LOB/POS software packages leverage the communications, database and processing power of a server to connect anywhere from 2 – 200+ clients simultaneously. Many companies use LOB software to essentially run their business on a daily basis, so having quick, reliable access to that software is essential. If you use a multi terminal POS system or Customer Scheduling/Tracking system, you may still need to have a Server in your business.

Recently, I have seen many clients do away with their servers completely by installing Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices for shared files and using a Hosted Exchange service for their email. Remote Access is handled by LogMeIn, GoToMyPC or another remote access solution, and they have all the functionality they were using in their SBS environment without the cost or headache of maintaining a Server on their premises. Granted, many of these clients did not rely on a large scale LOB software package, but in places where the LOB vendor has implemented a Cloud solution through Citrix or a web based access solution, even these customers have been able to retire their servers.

So, do you rely on a LOB or POS system to run your business? If so, how many clients/workstations do you need to support? If you are supporting less than 10 workstations, you may want to deploy a smaller server or a large workstation to handle the server side of your software. If you are supporting 10 or more workstations, then a small to medium sized server may handle your needs nicely. Your local IT Professional or LOB/POS Support team can help guide you on specific server needs for the LOB/POS application you are using.

For a new deployment or complete hardware refresh today, I would look for LOB solutions that have scalable Cloud options, investigate Hosted Exchange for email and install a NAS to handle shared files and long term file storage. Many LOB Cloud vendors license their Cloud solutions on a monthly, per user basis. Users can be added and subtracted as needed so there is also a cost advantage if you are just starting out and only need two or three workstations with the software. As your business grows you can add users as needed.

Sooner or later everyone using SBS today will have to consider these options. Microsoft SBS 2008 was the last of the SBS line of products Microsoft is deploying. Starting with Server 2012, SBS is no longer an option.

So what is it, Server or no Server. The answer lies in the Software you are using or plan to use to help manage your business, but don’t feel that you are trapped into keeping what you’ve always used just because you have always used it. Having helped many businesses switch LOB/OS platforms, and having done so in my own business I can tell you that the short term pain can definitely payoff.


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