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Small Network... do I need a full-blown server?

chandldj asked
We are a small business that currently has 1 parttime and 4 fulltime users on a network. We are currently using one of the user's computer as a server. We are looking at purchasing a computer to be dedicated as a server.

Do you think it is necessary for us to go out and purchase a full-blown server such as a Dell PowerEdge server? Would we need a RAID system?

Finally can I just go with Windows XP Pro or should I get a copy of Windows Server? If so Pro or Standard?

We are looking for an economical solution and I was looking at just a Dell Optiplex with a good motherboard and fast hard-drive.

We will also have a good network backup system in place.


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You will find about 15 differing opinions on this discussion.

You have discovered what is most important, and that is the system should be dedicated and not a shared workstation.  In most companies, it would be short-sighted to attempt to use XP as a server.  But, you really need to assess your own situation.  Servers are multi-user, provide role-based security, perform reliably, and have more flexibility for future requirements.

In terms of the system hardware, I'd be sure that it was not over-powered and therefore overly expensive.  But, do leave room for expansion so that you can add memory, disk and other options over time.  Windows Server 2003 should do you well, assuming you want a Windows Server...
Dean ChafeeIT/InfoSec Manager
Hey Dean,
If the "server" will be doing light duty, like simple file share, then you will do just fine with a desktop class machine with XP Pro. Keep in mind that XP Pro does have limitations like max 10 user connections.
For the same money, you can buy a Dell PowerEdge 840 (or similar) with no OS, then install XP Pro.  However, Dell may not support this config, at least they used to say that it would not be supported without server class OS.
RAID... OH YES. Even for a small "server" like this IMHO it is essential. Go with SATA Raid1 with 300 or 400 gig drives.


Thank you... I should also point out that we are doing simple file sharing on this server plus hosting a small database (150 MB max) on FileMaker, which is our CRM system. Emails are handled on the individual computers. We will not be hosting any websites although we will put the FileMaker on a dedicated IP so that it can be accessed from the server remotely.

Is the harddrive speed important? I was looking at a 80GB SATA, 10,000 RPM, 3.0 Gb/s Hard Drive with Data Burst Cache... but I couldn't find it in higher capacity... currently our shared data is a total of about 10 GB.

Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013
You need to look at your system requirements.

In general, I STRONGLY recommend purchasing a server.  Further, I do NOT recommend purchasing Windows Server for a business your size.  That would be a huge waste of money.  Rather, purchase a server from a reputable vendor, such as Dell, and get it with Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 R2 (SBS).  SBS is priced to be cheaper than server AND include Exchange server - typically these products would run you $1800+... you get them with SBS for $600.  In addition SBS is designed to be setup and managed by the guy (gal) who works there and tends to fix computer problems because they know the most (but are not necessarily experts).  It's heavily wizard driven and designed to be relatively easy to manage and install).  This will provide you the ability to do many things that a workstation "acting" like a server simply cannot do effectively.

Benefits of a Small Business Server:
1.  Centralized logon (you do not need to create user names on each computer and maintain passwords).
2.  You can setup a VPN for remote access
3.  Volume Shadow Copy (a form of backup that can be configured to make automatic backup copies of your documents periodically)
4.  Exchange Server - backing up e-mail can be VERY difficult if you are not using a centralized storage location.
5.  Acting as a file server, you will have a centralized storage location which will facilitate easier backups.
6.  The ability to update your workstations with Windows Update automatically.
7.  Easy expansion.

It should be noted that many businesses like to think they don't need security or accountability.  Unfortunately, this can be a huge mistake.  I'd love to trust all my friends and employees, but each user should their own user accounts and should not know other users passwords.  One pissed off user can create havoc in your business... avoid that and do things friendly but appropriately.

Note: your workstations will all need Windows XP Pro or Windows Vista Business or Ultimate.

Note: your file maker software may not run as desired unless you upgrade it to a server version that will run as a service on a server.


Thanks Leew... awesome info for me I appreciate it...

One more thing... I was looking at the following System...

Dell PowerEdge 840
Dual Core Xeon 3050, 2MB Cache, 2.13 GHz, 1066MHz FSB <<< Is this good enough?
MS-SBS includes 5 CALs <<< What is a CAL and is 5 enough?
2GB DDR2, 667MHz RAM <<< is this enough RAM?
Onboard SATA Controller - No RAID <<< Do I need RAID?
250GB SATA, 7.2K RPM Drive <<< Is this fine or should I go for SAS? Do I need multiple drives if I don't need RAID?

Technology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013
When it comes to buying server hardware I tend to recommend you NOT go overboard right away.  I used to run 35 servers that handled roughly 1000 users.  Get what you can afford, but keep things in perspective.

For 5 users, get a MINIMUM Of 1 GB of RAM.  If your budget allows, get 2 GB or more... but for 5 users, I wouldn't be worried too much (I have one client that has 15 users and one server with a Pentium 4 2.8GHz CPU and 1 GB of RAM.  I'd like to increase the RAM, but there's no pressing need for it right now.

If your data is important you need RAID.  RAID is NOT backup - it is redundancy and protection against disk failure.  A simple mirror - even software mirror (not my first choice but if you can't afford $50-$100 for the RAID card, then do it) - can be all that's needed.  I'd get RAID before I'd get the extra GB of RAM.

More than likely a Dual core system will be WAY more than needed.  For 5 users, I might even suggest a Celeron CPU if you really needed to save money.  It is better to avoid them if possible, but again, I'd get RAID before I got a Xeon CPU for 5 users.

CALs = Client Access Licenses - each workstation that will access the server OR each user that will access the server needs an appropriate license (licensing can be tough to figure out, but if you've only got 5 users, you should be fine - in most if not all cases, if you purchase and an OEM or retail license for Server or Small Business Server, you get 5 CALs.  If you expect to hire people in the coming months, you might want to buy more (they are sold in 5 packs and can be purchased at any time).  

For tons more information on What SBS is, offers, how it's setup, and more, you can review my page of links on it:

Some other notes:
A properly setup network should require little in the way of significant management and administration.  I have servers setup at several companies and don't have to do much for them.  Once client in particular (of 3 users) I visit once every 3 months for an our or two and really that's just to check on a few things and answer questions and make sure they don't forget me.

In a properly setup network you want all your data run from the server.  Then you backup JUST the server.  If a workstation fails, who cares?  buy a new one, reinstall Windows, and your data is all on the server, so nothing is lost.  Because you are, to some extent, putting all your eggs in one basket, you don't want to JUST have one paper towel at the bottom of the basket (aka a single, NON-RAID hard drive).  You want it so that if the hard drive dies, you do not lose all your work for the day (or longer) and don't necessarily have to spend hours or days recovering things.  This is why RAID is important.  Further, this server will be, in a sense, running your business.  I strongly recommend looking into getting a 4 hour response 7x24 support contract for 3 years.  If something on the server dies (hard drive, motherboard, CPU, RAM, CD drive, power supply), you can have a replacement - and a technician to replace it - in 4 hours... if you go cheap, you might be spending a lot more later - and/or losing a lot more in terms of revenues lost as the server is down.

Lastly, for any server, you want a UPS - doesn't have to be big and fancy, but a 600 Va or greater UPS with Automatic Voltage Regulation (thus, forget the ES series of APC products; Belkins are pretty good).  If the power fails or the building gets struck by lightning, this can help protect the server and your data.  One of the causes of data loss is unexpected shut downs and one of the causes of hardware failure is spikes in voltage from the power company and other sources.  A UPS can protect against both possibilities.

As for backup, You might also want to review my backup comment.  I don't generally recommend tape, but you read the comment and make your own decision - or ask more about it.



Thanks to all especially leew... i really appreciate the detail and explanation in your advice! take care