If you want to improve the connectivity, efficiency, and effectiveness of your small business, then you could benefit from a small business server. In fact, you might already be using servers in your business whether you realize it or not.
What is a server?
A server is a centralized computer for your business. It runs specialized software that manages a host of core IT functions like running applications, email platforms, conducting security updates and permissions, managing printers, and more.
There are three main types of servers utilized across most businesses: on-premise, off-premise, and fully cloud-based. Oftentimes, companies will use a combination of the three depending on the operational needs of the business.
- On-premise servers, sometimes called dedicated servers, are physical devices located inside your office. For businesses with multiple office locations, you might have an on-premise server at each location or one at a primary location, and the other offices connect to it remotely.
- Off-premise servers are typically located in a shared data center off-site from your main office location. You own (or rent) hardware inside of these data centers, which is managed by the data center staff or your company’s IT team. Off-premise servers tend to be a better option for businesses that need higher-grade physical security and more availability and uptime guarantee.
- Fully cloud-based servers are hosted by a third-party company and function similarly to a timeshare. In other words, you rent virtual server space through a platform like Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS) that you then access remotely. Just like on- and off-premise servers, you’ll have control over the particulars of your server configurations, with the added benefits of scalability, and in some cases, cost savings.
With on-premise and off-premise servers, you can create your own virtual servers similar to what you can get with cloud-based server platforms. Server virtualization is the process of taking a physical server and dividing it into multiple virtual servers.
Using Hyper-V or VMware, you can segment your server’s resources (computing power, memory, storage space) into discrete parts that at the Operating System and Application-level, function as if they’re distinct physical computers. This can be a useful way to increase inter-application security or better utilize your existing IT infrastructure by creating firmer boundaries for how much of given physical resources certain applications can use.
Common uses for small business servers
Dedicating a server to running software applications is a common way to reduce the need for more expensive, higher-powered workstations.
It doesn’t mean you have to run all your applications exclusively off the server, but it does make running shared software programs and databases across your network easier (i.e. QuickBooks). Application servers can be an on-premise server, located off-premise, cloud-based, or a combination of the three.
In addition to cost savings on higher-power workstations, applications also run on servers to allow broader access and simplified control. For example, instead of keeping Quickbooks on each person’s workstation in the accounting department, a server-based configuration can be maintained more easily and prevent data from being siloed with individual people.
While some applications may be available through a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, which offers similar management and access benefits, your company might take an application server approach for software that must be run more locally (i.e. warehouse machinery programs).
Consult with an IT services provider to determine the best setup for your business.
A database server is used to store data and databases for the various programs and applications installed on your network.
Database servers respond to “structured query language” (SQL) in order to retrieve information and utilize some form of database management software. Some of the more popular ones include MySQL, PostgreSQL, Microsoft SQL, or SQLite.
If your business has a lot of data to process on a regular basis, a database server can increase your efficiency by making it easier for applications to recall and process data. For example, a marketing team might use a database server with a client-facing application to quickly retrieve information in order to display key campaign insights.
A file server is a central server on a network dedicated to storing files and file systems.
For many small businesses, it’s a common practice to dedicate servers exclusively to storing and sharing files, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, photos, videos, and more.
Like application servers, file servers can be located on-premise, off-premise, on the cloud, or a combination of the three. And not only can users access these files locally but, depending on permissions, they can also access them remotely as well.
File servers are useful for businesses that need to easily share information internally between employees. In some cases, you can connect a file server to your own web offering to make it easier for clients to access information.
And of course, centralizing information onto a file server makes backing it up much easier.
While hosting a dedicated on-premise or co-located email server is not a common practice anymore, a lot of legacy environments still maintain email servers. These types of environments run email on a server, such as Microsoft Exchange, but on the surface appear to operate like most cloud-based email servers.
If your business has a lot of privacy and security concerns, you may consider using a private email server. However, due to the ease of setup with cloud-based options, it’s no longer an important consideration for most businesses.
Microsoft365 and G-Suite are two of the more popular, secure, web-based email hosting options for businesses.
If you decide a local email server is in your best interest, consult with an IT service provider to determine the ideal setup for your business.
If your SMB utilizes multiple shared printers, a print server can help you manage all of the printers across your network.
By centralizing all of your hardware onto a print server, you can manage print jobs, permissions, apply updates, and more.
Print servers are common in office environments, like those of accountants, lawyers, and schools, and are often used in tandem with print management software like Equitrac, Papercut, or Uniflow.
Authentication & Security
Addressing authentication and security concerns is a common reason to employ a server setup.
Using a group policy (see below), you can limit access to varying functions of your servers (applications, files, printers, etc.) to specific users or workstations on the network.
This is possible for on-premise servers and cloud-based servers using cloud server services like Microsoft Azure.
A server is an effective way to simplify information access control and management for your business. Whether you’re trying to increase data and network security, make it easier to share files and applications amongst personnel, or transition your dependency into a more virtual environment, implementing a small business server into your IT infrastructure can help you do that.
An on-premise server, data center, cloud-based server, or combination thereof may be more beneficial depending on the needs of your business. An IT services provider can help you determine a solution that best fits your needs.
Commprise is here to help you gain clarity on this matter. With our Managed IT Services, we’ll help you find out which solutions and servers are best suited to serve your company.