Dropping hardware costs have made server technology available to even the smallest businesses, offering centralized data storage and the ability to run complex business applications. The question these days is not whether businesses should buy it, it’s what kind of software do they need to run on it?
The first and perhaps most important decision is whether you want proprietary software from makers such as Microsoft and Sun Microsystems or open source software such as Linux. A lot depends on which applications you want to run on the server, your budget, and whether you have a technical expert on staff that can set up and maintain the software.
Many companies using Microsoft desktop operating systems and standard business applications such as Outlook choose to go with Windows Server products because of their built-in integration and support options. For instance, Windows Server 2008 offers a prehardened system for security, Web capabilities, and virtualization that allows you to consolidate several server roles on one machine. The Standard edition starts at around $1,000 while the Enterprise edition is priced at around $4,000.
This can be a good solution for companies that want to stick within the Microsoft family of products and not fiddle too much with their server software. For businesses that like to run a variety of open source applications, Sun Microsystems has some compelling products.
Sun’s Solaris 10 operating system offers built-in security features and virtualization as well as maintenance tools, interoperability with hundreds of different hardware and platform systems, and data management capabilities.
Solaris is free to download and support costs $720 a year. Companies that use Solaris typically run other Sun products such as OpenOffice.org (a business productivity application designed to compete with Microsoft Office) and Java applications.
Aside from those options there is still a big groundswell of support for the open source Linux operating system, which is offered for enterprise use from companies such as Red Hat and Novell. The advantage of Linux is that its underlying code can be modified and it can be used on a wide variety of hardware. Linux is generally preferred for those who want to customize their systems, typically developers and people with a lot of technical know-how.
If selecting and maintaining the right server and server software is overwhelming to you, another route you may choose would be to sign up for a remote server service. Your technical advisor can set up a remote server on their premises, load the necessary software and maintaining the system. You can access and connect to the remote server from your desktop. The advantage is that you don’t have to maintain the server yourself and most services offer redundant storage, meaning that your data is saved in multiple locations in case there is a hardware failure.
The best thing to do when shopping around for server software is to consider your needs and the time and involvement you’re willing to put into setting up and maintaining your system. Be sure to talk with your technical advisor about the various options to find a solution that’s right for you.