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Any Suggestions For Buying Our First Server?



2:06 pm on Aug 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

We run a small business (currently under 100 employees) and would like to purchase a central computer to a) route an internet connection to other workstations, and b) to centralize and share our documents and graphical files.

What specs should we look for in a solid server? Something that's not too over the top and fairly easy to get up and going.



4:49 pm on Aug 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

You probably don't need anything too hardcore for (what sounds like) such a light workload. Good fast disks, and plenty of RAM will go far. I personally like Dell's inexpensive but solid SC line for this sort of server. Rugged, and super-simple upgrade paths for RAID, redundant power, etc. if and when you need it.

If you're open to the idea, you might also consider an open source software/hardware server package. There are quite a few firms providing these. Usually you get a solid server to put in your office, and the company pre-loads and pre-configures all sorts of goodies- Windows-compatible file sharing, email, virus scanning, Intranet, etc. There's usually a web-based interface to setup accounts and customize things. And with open source software, there's no per-user licensing costs...


5:21 pm on Aug 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I would have just gone out and bought another $600 Dell workstation and dubbed it "The Server", but there seem to be so many things that real servers have that this wouldn't.

What the hell is RAID - and do I need it?

Do I need two hardrives if I have a CD burner for backups (we're not dealing with humongo-sized database files here)?

What's the difference between a server tower and a basic workstation tower that's used as a server?

What does the "Small Business Server 2003" offer that Windows XP Professional doesn't?


5:22 pm on Aug 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Cheapest solution would be some Intel- or AMD-based PC-servers. You then have to decide if you want to run Windows or Linux on the servers.

For security reasons, I would set up at least 2 different servers: one for the internet connection, and another one to hold your internal files and documents.
Don't forget separate firewalls between your internet-server and the internet and your intra-net.

For availability reasons, you should also think about backup servers in case one of the boxes will die in case of hardware faults. "What will it cost when the central file server dies and 100 people can't do their work anymore?"



6:17 pm on Aug 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member


A couple of things.
Why not just use a router to share internet connections?

As to a server, are you planning to run software from the server, IE- work stations will not have the software installed, they will actually use it from the server, or are you just planning to use the server as a central depository for files to be shared?


7:02 pm on Aug 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

a) route an internet connection to other workstations

What do you mean, route your internet connection to other workstations? Do you mean VPN?

If it's just for a normal internet connection, buy a Linksys router, and leave it at that. There's no point in exposing the server where all your corporate documents are located on to the Internet.

What the hell is RAID - and do I need it?

All you need to do is search:
[en.wikipedia.org ]

Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks.
Basically, It's a way of ensuring your data remains obtainable and usable even though a disk (or many disks, depending on the type of RAID) has died. The three most basic and common forms of RAID are:
RAID0: Striping: You take two hard drives, and you split up the data among the two drives. Speeds things up, but is NOT REDUNDANT. Say you have File "A", the system will split up that file into chunks. So, it'll write 1/2 of "A" onto disk 1, and the other 1/2 onto disk 2. This scenario is not recommended for anything other than a system you don't care about, since if you lose one of your disks, you'll lose the whole file. Minimum of 2 disks required

RAID1: Mirroring. Two disks, mirror images of themselves. Write times are a little slower that a single disk, but read times are faster. You can lose a whole disk, and have an exact usable replica that's available all the time. Minimum of 2 disks.

RAID5: Striping with parity. The most commong of the "higher level RAIDs". It's similar to RAID0, except with a 3rd disk, and there's a "parity" set that's used. That means that say you're writing file "A", it'll split it up between disks 1 and 2 (like RAID0), except it will write a parity to those two chunks on the 3rd disk, that will let you recover your data. You can lose a maximum of 1 disk at a time with a 3-disk setup. Minimum of 3 disks.

Do I need two hardrives if I have a CD burner for backups (we're not dealing with humongo-sized database files here)?

You should have the two hard drives installed with RAID1 at least if it's critical information. If you'd be using CDs to make backups, you'll be limited to backing up user data only, since you can't backup the whole system onto CD. If you didn't have a RAID system, how long would it take to get new drives, reinstall the OS, re-create the user accounts, IP addresses, trusts, domain computer accounts and so on? Hours? Days? Most likely days, and your systems are unusable by your users for this period of time. Buy another disk and use RAID1. It will save you headaches and lots of pain.

What's the difference between a server tower and a basic workstation tower that's used as a server?

Most likely, the components will be of somewhat higher quality, a bit more rugged, and things like your power supply will likely have a longer lifetime.

What does the "Small Business Server 2003" offer that Windows XP Professional doesn't?

You windows Server component will allow you to create domain users so that you can have domain-level authentication, and file sharing. For example, if you were not part of a domain, and you had an accounting group that wanted to share files only to the accounting group, and no-one else, they would not have the ability to do that. As soon as they share files, the files are essentialyl shared to everyone.

Server also allows you to set domain-wide policies for printers, logon times, password policies, IP addressing (DHCP etc), Access Controls, etc etc etc. It will save you a lifetime of trouble to be on a domain system rather than a workgroup.


8:30 pm on Aug 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

most stuff I've been taught and read suggests that 10 users or so is about the highest you want to run as a workgroup, after that a server is recommended, it's easier to join users to a domain than manually adding each user to the group on the non-server server.

However, running a server is a pain, it's a lot more complicated than running a simple shared file box on a workgroup, things break, network stuff breaks, configurations break, you have to set up network based time for all the machines to keep them synchronized, ad nauseum. But it's a bullet you might have to bite, just don't assume that the local geek can fix your problems as easily any more, you might need to get a real network admin if you don't have one, at least a part time one.


8:39 pm on Aug 9, 2004 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

HyperGeek, I'd recommend talking to a few network companies in your area to have them scope out your situation and make recommendations. Don't think in terms of buying a piece of hardware - think of your network as a business solution. It will make you either more or less efficient depending on the choices you make and its reliability.

You need to be thinking in terms of centralizing your data, implementing a rigorous backup schedule (including offsite storage of some backups), etc. Get some professional advice, but be sure you talk to several people to find someone with whom you are comfortable.


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