There are several reasons why small and medium businesses (SMBs) opt for on-site servers. However, the numbers are decreasing dramatically. In 2023, it was estimated that 55% of small businesses were implementing servers, down from 98% in 2019. While the reasons to do so are important, businesses must understand the responsibilities and risks of choosing to have small business servers. Let’s explore why some do — and how to do it well.

Benefits of Servers for SMBs

There are many benefits to using SMB servers. Increased security, data centralization, application sharing, and enabling remote work environments are just a few.

File and network security

Integrating servers into your business is an effective way to increase file and network security by allowing you to limit access to files across your enterprise. 

For example, entry-level employees don’t need access to the same files as managers or supervisors. Similarly, the marketing department doesn’t likely need access to financial records or employee files in the human resource department. 

Properly configured on-site servers provide you with this flexibility by offering tools for access restriction to your various IT resources, thereby increasing security on your network.

Workstation security

Like file and network security, implementing a server solution into your business also assists with workstation security by managing user access. 

For example, if you want to restrict a user so they can no longer log onto a device, visit specific websites, download certain applications, or again, only access certain files, a server setup allows you to manage this more effectively. 

Workstation security runs hand-in-hand with group policy (see below), which is managed through a server infrastructure.

Centralized data/resources

Another benefit of using on-site servers in your small business is the centralization of storage across your network. Instead of storing data and resources on individual workstations, you can store it on a shared server. Not only does this make it easier to manage storage and data resources, but it also provides a certain level of control and security.

Centralizing data on servers for SMBs also makes it easier to share customer management tools, accounting software, multiple records, and other resources with select people and departments. 

Additionally, many businesses in the financial services industry utilize centralized data storage as the security and management control this configuration allows, which makes meeting compliance standards much simpler.

Shared applications

In addition to centralizing data and resources, providing access to shared applications is another benefit of SMB servers. 

By installing server-based versions of your most used software programs, you can easily enable access to certain users across your network, thereby reducing the need for more powerful workstations and decreasing the likelihood that vital information will get siloed on one particular person’s computer

If you need to run a CRM application, for example, you can install it on your server with relevant data and then provide access to your sales department. 

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

The ability to utilize virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is another benefit of incorporating servers into your small business’ IT infrastructure. This is especially beneficial to companies operating in partial or fully remote environments where employees might need to access their applications and files off-site.  

Using the right software and following our Cybersecurity Checklist for Remote Work you can create virtual desktop environments on your server to replace some or all of your employee’s individually configured and managed physical workstations. 

With a strong setup, an employee can then access their specific desktop from within your office or remotely via a secure VPN connection. This not only enables remote work effectively but can also save on IT costs by allowing your company to invest in lower-powered “thin clients” instead of more expensive traditional desktop computers. And that’s on top of the management efficiency centralization provides.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Managing Small Business Server Policies

If your small business decides to use on-site servers as part of your IT infrastructure, it is important to plan and implement access policies that fit your particular business needs. This involves setting up a domain controller, active directory, and group policy.

Domain Controller

A domain controller (DC) runs Active Directory (see below), responds to authentication requests, and is used to verify users on your network.

In the server security and policy configuration hierarchy, the DC is at the top and is an easy way to organize your servers under the same network. The DC simplifies user management and makes it easier to: 

For example, your business may set up a domain to which all of your servers and workstations would connect to. This then allows for the ease of managing users’ access to resources connected to the domain such as applications. databases, and printing. 

Further, it allows for a uniform security policy to be applied to member workstations and to users themselves via Group Policy.

Active directory/authentication

The active directory works in tandem with the domain controller, authenticating and managing users, and other devices on the network. So while a domain controller might respond to authentication requests, the active directory is how system administrators manage permissions, determine who can access what files, use certain applications, and more.

A problem occurs when non-Windows or cloud-based applications come into play, though. It can be difficult for the AD to authenticate users. This is where a single sign-on (SSO) can be used. 

SSO is an authentication method that provides one login for multiple services. SSO works in concert with the AD with the purpose of easing user access and management across your network. When using various web applications, users need only use one set of login credentials. 

Group policy

If a domain controller is used to structure your network, and an Active Directory is how you authenticate users, then group policy is how you configure the computers and users across your domain. 

In a sense, group policy is the rulebook for how you effectively manage both the users and workstations across your entire network.

For example, you could establish a group policy that determines password complexity for user accounts or automatically maps network drives. You can also set up a group policy to automatically redirect file storage onto a server, adjust internet settings to enable VPN access, keep workstations from powering off, or automatically install printer and virus software updates.

The bigger your business, the more useful group policies become. On-site servers can be an effective way to simplify information access control and management for your business.

Don’t Take Chances with Your Small Business Server

While many SMBs are migrating away from managing their own servers, there are plenty of valid reasons to do so. 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 may be the answer. 

If this is the best route for your business, it’s important to ensure your on-site servers are configured and managed correctly. Let Commprise be your trusted partner in this journey. With our Managed IT Services, we’ll help you navigate the complexities of server management, ensuring that your systems are optimized for performance, security, and scalability. Contact us today to discuss how we can tailor solutions to meet your unique business needs.

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