How to Choose a Server for Your Business
Congratulations!! Acquiring a server is a big decision, so some nervousness is understandable. At Stellar Phoenix we understand your concerns and this guide will explain the basic principles of the technology, help you decide which class of server will best fit your needs, and give you some ballpark pricing, so you don’t overspend or acquire a product that’s insufficient for your needs.
You’ll find this guide useful even if you ultimately decide to hire an IT consultant to analyze your requirements and make a purchase recommendation.
Although a small server might look no different from a high-end desktop PC, the machines are designed for very different tasks. A desktop computer is designed for one person who needs a user-friendly operating system to run desktop applications. A server runs a specialized operating system designed to support many users. It’s engineered to run multiuser applications such as email, messaging, and print servers; shared calendar programs; databases; and enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management software etc.
A server also makes it easy for your employees to share data and collaborate, since it operates as a central repository for all of your documents, images, contacts, and other important files. It can host a company intranet, for sharing information with your employees quickly and economically. If you operate a small to medium-size business, the question isn’t “Do I need a server?” but “Which type of server do I need?”
Let’s examine the various server options on today’s market, starting with the most basic.
Windows Home Server 2011
It’s designed for ease of use and has strong media-handling capabilities, including real-time transcoding and integration with Windows Media Center. But the operating system is built on the same code base as Microsoft’s very strong business-oriented server OS, Windows Server 2008 R2, and it could be good for your business if you don’t need to support more than ten PC clients.
Windows Home Server machines are designed to operate “headless,” meaning you don’t need a monitor, mouse, or keyboard to manage them. Instead you use the Remote Desktop Connection feature in Windows to connect to the server over your network.
it is a very inexpensive file-sharing and backup option, and it does support secure remote access. LaCie’s 5big Office is one good example of a Windows Home Server machine tailored for small business. It costs just $599 and includes a single 2TB drive, 2GB of RAM, and a gigabit ethernet interface. It offers four additional drive bays for expansion, and it supports RAID 0, 1, 5, and 5+spare.
Network-Attached Storage (NAS)
A hardware device, commonly referred to as a NAS box, acts as the interface between storage and clients on the network. The NAS box requires no mouse, keyboard, or monitor, and is controlled by a remote client over the network. A bare-bones embedded operating system–typically Linux-based–runs on the NAS, although the latest devices also provide a front-end interface that makes setup and administration over your network easier (again, similar to Windows Home Server).
NAS is a simple and inexpensive server infrastructure; in that respect, it’s similar to Windows Home Server. But NAS can deliver plenty of bang for the buck to businesses with modest server requirements. A NAS arrangement can be as simple as plugging a USB hard drive into a USB-equipped router, but most small businesses will need something more robust. A high-end NAS can rival a full-blown server, including support for virtualization.
You can purchase a simple NAS box with a single 1TB drive, such as Seagate’s BlackArmor NAS 110, for less than $200, with prices rising rapidly as you add capacity, expandability, and other features. At the other end of the scale, you’ll find devices such as Synology’s RS3412xs ($4000 plus, not including the drives), a rack-mount NAS device that can host up to ten hard drives and even supports virtualization.
Tower servers are the first step up from a NAS. Tower servers cost more than NAS products, but they’re much less expensive than rack-mount systems. They can operate on the floor or on top of a desk, but you can also retrofit them to sit in a rack. Tower servers are generally quiet, because they don’t require a lot of cooling fans.
A high-end tower server with a fast CPU, lots of RAM, and a plethora of hard drives can pack a punch, especially when you take virtualization into account. On the downside, you’ll need a keyboard, monitor, and mouse to manage each tower server, or you can invest in a KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) option that enables one set of peripherals to control several machines. More important, a tower server provides limited scalability once you’ve maxed out its capabilities.
Tower servers come with the same operating system choices as rack and blade servers do, including various flavors of Windows Server and Linux. Prices range from $350 for an HP ProLiant MicroServer with 2GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive (expandable to four 2TB drives) running Windows Server 2008 R2 Foundation to $2500 for a Dell PowerEdge T710 tower server with an Intel Xeon CPU, 4GB of memory, and a single 500GB hard drive. Be aware that not all tower servers include the price of an operating system.
If you anticipate the need to run several servers, either right away or in short order, consider moving up to rack-mount models. A rack permits you to fit many servers into a relatively small footprint, and typically it includes a cable-management system to keep your installation neat.
Most rack servers are highly expandable, with sockets for multiple CPUs, copious amounts of memory, and lots of storage. Rack-server systems are highly scalable, too; once you have the rack in place, you won’t need floor space for additional servers until the rack is full. Although they typically cost more than tower servers, they’re cheaper than blades.
Since rack servers operate in very close proximity to one another, they require more active cooling than tower servers do. For those reasons, most businesses isolate their rack servers in a dedicated room. Rack servers can be more difficult to maintain, because they must be physically pulled from the rack for servicing. And like a tower server, rack servers require a KVM arrangement for setup and management.
An entry-level rack server in Lenovo’s ThinkServer RD230 line includes a dual-core Intel Xeon E5503 CPU; four 3.5-inch hard-drive bays, with support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 (no drives are included); and 2GB of memory (with seven additional slots for expansion) in a 1U enclosure. It sells for about $1000.Prices escalate quickly as you add CPUs (or CPU cores), memory, hard-drive bays, virtualization capabilities, and other features. You should also consider the price of the rack and the mounting rails you’ll need to install the server.
The primary distinction between a rack server and a blade server is that several blade servers operate inside a chassis. Blades are neater and can pack more computer power into a given space than any other server ecosystem, yet their upfront cost is higher because you must also purchase the enclosure.
Adding a new server is as simple as sliding a new blade into the chassis. You can install other network components, such as ethernet switches, firewalls, and load balancers, alongside the servers in the same enclosure, and you can install the whole assembly in a rack. Since the chassis provides the power, cooling, input-output, and connectivity for all the devices inside it, you don’t have to deal with new cables when you add something.
Blade servers do have their drawbacks. Typically they provide fewer expansion opportunities because they aren’t equipped with as many PCIe slots and drive bays as tower or rack servers are. Blade systems, like rack servers, require plenty of active cooling (usually augmented by fans mounted inside the chassis).
An entry-level IBM BladeCenter S chassis, which can accommodate up to six one- or two-processor blade servers (or up to three four-processor models) and provides two disk modules and four switch modules, costs about $2700. An IBM BladeCenter HX5 server equipped with an Intel Xeon CPU, 16GB of memory, and two hot-swap disk bays (drives not included) is priced at $6227.
The Bottom Line: Choose the Right Server for Your Needs
Choosing the right server depends in large measure on the applications you intend to run on it. The big names in the server market are Dell, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Lenovo, and Oracle. First you need to identify how is the use of this server for you?
If all you need is file sharing, automated client backup, and light-duty remote access for PCs (typically ten or fewer), consider a NAS or even a Windows Home Server machine; HP, Netgear, QNAP, Seagate, and Synology are the major players in this arena.
If your business has more than ten employees using computers, if you need to operate an email or print server, manage a complex database, or run sophisticated server-based applications (such as ERP or CRM), if you have very large storage requirements, or if you require large-scale virtualization capabilities, you’ll want a more robust option such as a tower, rack, or blade server.
Source: PC World, Tech World
- Blades vs. standard racked servers for virtualization (zdnet.com)
- Windows Home Server is no more (neowin.net)
- Closer Look: Facebook’s New Server, Storage Designs (datacenterknowledge.com)