As your business grows and you take on more employees, the time will come where you need a server to keep your office network and business running efficiently. But with a seemingly endless array of choices and important decisions to be made, you might be wondering where to start. Luckily, setting up a server for a small business doesn’t have to be difficult.
In this guide, we’ll take you through everything you need to know including what a server is, deciding between hardware or the cloud, choosing the right operating system, and the best way to set it all up.
What is a server?
In simple terms, it’s a powerful computer that is used to serve information and software to employees, customers, and other computers. For example, if you have five employees in an office each working on a different computer, they should all be able to access the same software and documents. These are served from a central computer rather than having multiple versions of the files stored locally on each machine.
Choosing a server for small businesses
Once you have two or more computers in your business or need remote access to the company network, it’s time to invest in a server. Doing so will allow you and your employees to access software and files from anywhere and give you greater control over access rights to certain information, such as personnel files or payroll data. It will also give you the ability to protect your business information with a dedicated backup and recovery system, as well as allow for easier management of network security.
Types of server for small businesses
When it comes to choosing a server for a small business, the key question is: what do you need the server to do? In essence, you want to allow your business room to grow, but not invest so heavily that you’re overpaying for resources you don’t need.
There are many different types of server and organizations will often use a separate server for each purpose. Most commonly, small business servers are used for:
Proxy servers are worth considering for businesses of any size. By routing web traffic and access through a proxy, your network’s IP addresses are protected from public view (the proxy IP address is shown instead). This anonymity offers your business an additional layer of security.
Hardware or the cloud – choosing the right server for small business
A crucial decision you will need to make is whether to have a physical server on-premises or opt for a cloud-based solution. There are pros and cons to each approach and what you decide ultimately comes down to the individual needs of your business.
Cloud-based servers are well-suited to small businesses with limited space and IT resources. While not as fast or efficient as a dedicated server, small businesses will likely find that a cloud-based server is ‘fast enough’ and the lower upfront costs make them an attractive option. Cloud hosting also benefits from redundant power supply and network connections, meaning that if there is a power outage or server issue, your network won’t experience any downtime.
On the other hand, opting to build or buy a physical server comes with a higher upfront cost. But not paying recurring monthly fees may mean that it works out cheaper in the long run, especially as your business grows. You will also have greater control over how it is set up and integrated with your business cybersecurity solution. The downside is that you are responsible for the cost of replacement hardware and increased electricity for running and cooling the server 24/7.
Protecting your small business servers
When utilising a server within your operations, it is important to ensure it’s protected. Endpoint security is crucial when trying to keep your network safe from viruses, malware or data breaches. Your server will hold confidential information about your business and its operations, but will also store your employees’ personal data. There are several steps you can take to keep your data secure: provide cybersecurity training for any necessary members of staff, use a server antivirus, track user activity, keep your server up-to-date.
Servers for small businesses with Windows
Servers run specialized operating systems that are designed to be robust and able to support many users. The operating system you choose for your server is another important decision. If your business runs on the Microsoft ecosystem, you may already be familiar with Windows server offerings.
In particular, Windows Server Essentials (formerly Windows Small Business Server) is widely used in small businesses with fewer than 25 users. Windows server operating systems are often popular with existing Windows users as they share much of the same code and look very similar to their non-server counterparts.
However, even if you are already running Windows on your PCs, you still have a choice of server operating systems. Other popular options for small businesses:
Choosing your operating system
If you have not yet chosen an operating system, consider the following factors:
Setting up a server for a small business
Whether you build or buy your server, unless you have a dedicated IT team, you’ll need to know how everything fits together. In this section, we’ll walk you through how to build a small business server, get it all set up, and how to build the ideal server room.
Building a small business server
Servers typically come in three different forms – rackmount, tower, and blade. A tower server looks similar to a home PC but contains server components that are more robust than a consumer computer, allowing them to run 24/7 without interruption. Rackmount and blade servers are installed onto a chassis making them highly expandable and good options for saving space, though both are more expensive than tower systems.
Every server contains specific hardware that determines its resource capacity, in particular, CPU (central processing unit) size, hard disk storage, and RAM (random access memory). You may also wish to incorporate backup hardware components such as hot-swappable drive bays and a redundant power supply, as well as ECC (error correcting code) firmware that detects and corrects errors on the fly to reduce downtime.
The exact specifications of your server will depend on what you need it to do. For example, looking at some common uses:
How to set up a server for a small business
While the exact process of setting up a server for a small business will vary based on your chosen hardware and operating system, there are some common steps you will need to follow.
Building a server room
Depending on how much space you have and your hardware choices, setting up a dedicated room to house your server is a worthwhile investment. Besides isolating noisy servers away from employees, you can ensure that everything is properly organized and set up to function optimally. When building your server room, consider the following points:
Ideally, use a room with no windows and the capacity to install cooling equipment and backup power. Select a space that is big enough that you can reach the front and back of each server rack and, if possible, gives your server space to grow as your business grows.
Invest in the right equipment
While it might be tempting to use a desk or shelf to store your server, the benefits of investing in a rackmount far outweigh the costs. Racks keep your equipment secure, organized, and make it easy to rearrange server units.
You will also need a cooling system to ensure that high temperatures don’t damage your hardware. Consider installing an A/C unit that can be left on continuously, or better still, two units on separate circuit breakers to allow for a redundant supply.
Even for a small office server setup, you will need at least a lock and key to protect your expensive equipment and valuable data from theft or tampering. If your budget allows, consider installing a security camera.
A backup power supply is also highly recommended to keep your network and business running without disruption. It is good practice to install an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to protect against power surges or outages.
Keep it organized
Cable management is an important, but often overlooked, aspect of setting up a business server. Although it requires a little extra work, an RJ45 patch panel can be used to terminate Ethernet cable runs and can provide up to 24 ports. Cable ties are also an effective and inexpensive way to keep cables organized and out of the way.
Lastly, make sure that everything is properly labeled and well-documented. It is also a good idea to document important procedures or instructions relating to your hardware and have this clearly visible near the relevant equipment.
How to set up a small business network
If you are investing in a server, it makes sense to consider your whole office network at the same time. This will ensure that it meets your current needs and lays the foundation for your business to expand into the future.
Essentially, a network is a group of interconnected devices, often made up of computers, printers, scanners, and network drives. Creating a network is more efficient as it gives employees centralized access to files and data.
Choosing what's right for you
There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to setting up a small business network. Instead, think about the specific requirements of your business, such as:
A key consideration when setting up your network is whether to go wired or wireless. While a wireless setup gives you more flexibility in terms of your office layout and design, an Ethernet connection (wired) is generally more reliable, faster, and less expensive. Because of this, some businesses opt to install both a wired and wireless network.
Setting up your network
To create a network, you will need to connect the following components:
Get small business server antivirus protection
Whichever way you decide to set up your network, it will likely contain valuable data and business information so an important consideration is how you will adequately protect it. Cyberthreats evolve every day and small businesses are often an easy target for cybercriminals. A simple way to protect your business is by installing a comprehensive cybersecurity package that includes server antivirus protection. Avast also offers Antivirus for Linux servers, helping you protect your organization no matter what server you use.