23 Mar 2011

Does todays SME really need a server?

Due to their size and admin requirement many small businesses cannot financially justify a fully dedicated I.T department (or employee), as such their computer systems usually evolve (in)organically over a number of years from one or two computers into a disparate mixture of self-installed desktops running an insecure and unmanaged mixed platform.

Everything is OK for a while, systems are joined to the local network (LAN) with POP eMail accounts added here and there as required, however before you know it a workgroup has developed, data is all over the place, users are treating their computers like home media centres and strange things begin to happen, then there’s the backup routine (or lack of).
So, in comes the contracted third party company with big ideas and an array of confusing concepts which in most cases revolve around installing an extra server on site, obviously running software of the Microsoft flavour, i.e “Small Business Server”.
Now, don't get us wrong, Cirronix are long time supporters of Microsoft server products, Active Directory and MS Exchange are excellent enterprise solutions and we deliver a desktop Linux integration workshop teaching integration method, however, at SME level their viable functionality and required admin incurred for the small amount of users is questionable when evaluated against combinations of network attached storage (NAS) and coupled cloud service hosting on offer these days.
Let’s take a look at NAS. A dedicated server can cost anything from a few £1000’s (entry level) to upwards of 10x that, and comes with a consideration for necessary (and expensive) server class licence programmes, the costs add up quite substantially. For basic data sharing you can, however, simply source a decent NAS box, which will take care of all your needs equally as securely and with noticeably less requirement for admin, configuration and maintenance.

NAS boxes start from around £200 (1TB) and plug into any existing network to instantly offer simple management through a browser interface. A NAS will function as an office print server and when configured for RAID-1 (Disk mirroring) provides a base level of in-built redundancy at hardware level, which although does not “officially” remove the need for extra backup is certainly a most welcome safety net. The range of NAS boxes from sector leaders Q-NAP run a Linux shell with comprehensive user & group authentication plus an in-built web server offering MySQL & PHP functionality. 
You could admittedly create a simple folder share from one of your existing user PC’s, however you then need to make sure that it's backed up and powered up for continued access, both of which are problem areas when applied as required services from a desktop PC. Windows XP Pro for example has a 10 client connection limit (XP Home is 5) and of course neither the desktop hardware nor the operating system is designed for 24/7/365 up-time.
Combined cloud messaging and group collaboration are another rapid growth area, both of which totally negate a need for expensive on-site hardware and supporting resource, in fact many large organisations are junking their expansive MS Exchange platforms entirely in favour of the Google Apps for Business hosted service, it really is that good.
Take a look at that dust sucking old server unit sat in the corner of your office draining electricity and taking up much needed space, did you even change the backup tape last night? And what does that error message mean?
Cirronix provide a comprehensive platform and infrastructure evaluation service. Give us a call, we would be more than happy to help you tidy and secure your systems. We’re confident we’ll save you money, time and effort and we will never, ever install or sell you anything you won’t need.
Life can be complicated enough, your I.T doesn’t have to be.

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