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Network servers

Network serversA network server is a powerful computer connected to your business computer network. It allows you to run centralised IT services, like a customer relationship management system that everyone in your company can access.

Do you need an office server?

Your network server can perform a number of important tasks. For instance:

  • Central file storage. Instead of saving files on individual computers, you can store them securely on your office server.
  • User control. A network server makes it easy for you to give different people access to different files, programs or data.
  • IT management. With a server, you can easily roll out new software or make changes across your company network.
  • Security control. It’s easy to back files up to a central location. And by routing internet access via the server, you can block suspect websites.
  • Information sharing. Your network server can run an intranet (a kind of private internet containing company information) and share staff diaries.

If your business has more than ten computers, the benefits of a server may well outweigh the costs.

There are, however, some alternatives to a full-blown network server. Network attached storage (NAS) provides a central store for files in your business without the complexity of a server.

Another option is to look at online, cloud computing services. Instead of storing files and running programs on your own network server, you access them over the internet. Cloud services are often provided by web hosting companies and charged by the month.

Cloud services are a particularly good option for businesses looking for some extra flexibility. There's also no large upfront cost and much of the technical work is taken care of by the cloud service provider. Learn more about cloud computing.

Choosing your network server

There are some key considerations when choosing your network server:

  • How many people will use it? A low capacity server may be suitable for up to ten people, but the more users you have, the more processing power, memory and storage you will need.
  • What will you use it for? Some tasks, like saving files centrally, put a relatively low load on the server. Others, such as manipulating a large customer database, demand much more.
  • What are your business growth plans? A server should last five years or so. It’s therefore very important your server is adequate for the long term.

Servers have special features, like high-capacity, ultra-reliable hard drives and extra network connections so they can handle many users. There are a few key features to look:

  • A powerful processor. The processor (or CPU) is the engine that drives your server. Look for a CPU with four or eight cores – these effectively deliver four or eight CPUs in one, making the server better at doing several things at once.
  • Lots of memory. The memory (or RAM) of an office server helps it handle lots of requests from different users at once. You will need at least 4 gigabytes (GB) – and probably more.
  • A fast, reliable hard disk. This is where you’ll store important business information. Make sure it’s big - look for at least 1,000GB (also called 1 terabyte (TB)).

The majority of network servers are high-performance PCs, designed specifically to be used as servers.

It’s also vital to consider the software you’ll be running on your server. Just like a standard computer, every network server needs an operating system. There are a number of choices for your business – many companies choose Microsoft Windows Server 2012, because it’s based on the same Microsoft Windows platform as their other computers.

Many companies also now use a technique called server virtualisation. This makes their server more efficient by enabling it to perform several different tasks at once. Learn more about virtualisation.

Network server costs

A simple server can cost £300, but is only likely to provide basic services to a small network of around five computers. It takes need much more power to support extra computers, run large databases and handle a large volume of email.

High-capacity servers start from around £1,000.

Your network server will become the lynchpin of your business IT systems, so consult your IT supplier and build a comprehensive set of IT requirements before you purchase.

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