Why do I need a server?

    Understand Servers Better

Is your business missing something important?
The demands of running your business may prevent you from keeping up with the technologies that could help you run your business even better.

Servers are a good example. Chances are you’ve heard enough about their benefits but haven’t found time to do any research. Are you missing something important? Could a server benefit your business? Use this primer to quickly learn what servers are all about and the value they offer businesses like yours.

Server and Server Software Basics
A server is a heavy-duty computer that contains files and resources that are “served to” or shared with other computers over a network.

If you surf the Web, you’ve had experience with servers. Each time you sit at your computer and request Web pages, you request them over a network (called the Internet) from a Web server. The Web server then “serves” the Web page files to your computer, where your browser turns them into the Web pages.

Web servers are only one type of server, but this is basically how servers operate, including the one you might add to your office.

Servers typically function as the hub of a network of connected computers where they process requests from those computers. This arrangement is commonly referred to as a “client/server network.” Client simply means any computer that can connect to a server and use the resources it controls — such as Web page or other files, a connection to a printer, Internet access or even e-mail.

Some small businesses use peer-to-peer networks instead of a client/server network because they are easy and inexpensive to set up. As the name implies, all of the computers in a peer-to-peer network are equals. Users within peer-to-peer networks control their own desktop settings and security and decide when, how and with whom to share resources contained on their computers. Where client computers in a client/server network are connected to the server by cables or wireless connections, computers within a peer-to-peer network are connected to each other by cables or wireless connections.

Why opt for a client/server network when the alternative is cheaper and easier to set up? There are a number of reasons a small business might choose to use a server, including the following:

• Important data is kept all in one place where you can better control and protect it

• Data is protected by stronger security tools, reducing the threat from hackers

• Data can be more easily backed up and restored

• You can centralise management of your entire IT system

• You can reduce costs, since resources such as printers, faxes and Internet connections can be shared

• Workplace productivity shows an overall increase

While most folks envision a machine when they talk about servers, server software is what really makes a server a server. Server software enables the server to perform the functions you need it to — such as organising and processing data, controlling access to files and resources, making your network operate efficiently, and managing backups.

Note also that you can run more than one type of server software on a single computer.

Different Types of Servers
We already mentioned Web servers. But there are a number of types of servers, classified according to the specific work they do. Examples include:

File servers: A business that handles an enormous number of documents may use a file server to house them all in a central location, creating a kind of document library. When users want a file, they basically check out the whole file from the file server, work on it locally at their desktop, and then check it back in.

Print servers: As you might guess, a print server provides access to one or more printers. Sometimes the same server functions as a file server and a print server.

Application servers: Like a file server, an application server is an information repository. It may, for example, store databases. But unlike a file server, an application server can process information to deliver only the specific data the user/client requests.

Mail servers: A mail server acts as a network post office for message handling and storage, delivering e-mail to client PCs or holding it for remote users to access at their convenience.

There are also fax servers, communications servers, backup servers and more. The challenge is identifying what you need to make your business operate more efficiently — and then identifying server software with the features and capabilities that can do the job.

A Server for Small Businesses
It used to be that servers were only associated with large enterprises, and in fact, some of the dedicated, task-specific servers mentioned above are probably most appropriate for larger operations.

But more and more small businesses — even those with five or fewer PCs — are choosing server-based networks to streamline operations and gain efficiencies. Being able to manage security and protect vital business data in a controlled manner is another key impetus for small business owners and managers to deploy a server-based network.

Microsoft has produced server software specifically for small business use — Windows Small Business Server 2003 (SBS 2003). In addition to offering reliability and security, here are some of the key features in SBS 2003 that show the benefits a server can bring to your business.

E-mail, networking and Internet connectivity: With SBS 2003, you can share access to the Internet, send and deliver e-mail based on Exchange Server and Outlook 2003 technologies (included with SBS 2003), deploy a firewall to help protect your network, and provide remote access to information on your network.

Company intranet: Co-workers can share information in a collaborative environment with the pre-configured internal Web site – or intranet site – based on Windows SharePoint Services technology (also included with SBS 2003). On these sites you can create libraries of shared documents and post announcements, events and important links.

Remote access: With the Remote Web Workplace feature, workers who are out of the office can access e-mail and their remote desktops and administrators can manage the server remotely.

Mobility: Windows Mobile-based Smartphones and Pocket PCs integrate seamlessly with SBS 2003, so users can access e-mail, calendar and task information while away from the office.

Administration and management: SBS 2003 wizards simplify common or repetitive tasks and preconfigured management consoles provide the necessary tools to manage the network. Monitoring and reporting tools help reduce downtime by enabling administrators to respond quickly when issues arise.

Backup and restore: Allows even inexperienced administrators to develop a backup strategy, prepare complete backups and restore the entire server and all of the data that was backed up on it.

Now that you understand what a server can do, maybe you know the answer to the earlier question: Is my business missing something important?

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