When to get a server

Posted on 2011-10-31
Last Modified: 2012-05-12
Hello Experts,

I would like some input on when is the right time to move from a workgroup to a server based environment.  I need to put it in terms that a small business person can understand and get the value of why they should spend money on product and services to implement even the entry level server.

The reasons I can come up with are:
1. Central control and administration for users, data and backups
2. Better sercurity
3. Better "network" perfomrance/bandwidth (in the sense of sharing files, etc..)

Ultimately small business owners are going to look at cost.  They won't want to spend money without getting value.  If they can't see the value they will go low cost.  At least they cost they can easily identify.  Headaches, performance and bad network design are a cost because of wasted user time, etc...

I would love to get any input and ideas.

I am putting 500 points becuase this may need to be shared and I do want a lot of input.
Question by:tucktech
    LVL 33

    Assisted Solution

    Generally you want to centralize your network when a decentralized network is too expensive/time consuming to manage.

    Centralizing can give you a single point of management for things like permissions, backups, etc, which reduces the amount of time actually spent managing the network environment.

    Author Comment

    Paulmacd: I agree but under what at what point. For example, if I have a growing company that has two pcs, a server may not be a good idea, if they have 30 pcs, that is obvious...   At what point has your experience there is a good payback?
    LVL 33

    Assisted Solution

    That's too subjective to put a number on.  If there are 7 people, but they're working with a lot of shared, mission-critical data, they might benefit from a server setup.  If there are 100 people, and they're each working on their own data with their own applications, there may be no benefit to centralizing that.

    As a practical matter, workgroup networking will start to degrade when you get over 25 or so nodes.  That doesn't mean you can't consider one architecture or the other with more or fewer nodes, but if you need a hard number, it will generally be in that vicinity.
    LVL 23

    Accepted Solution


    This is a very open ended question that is very subjective as Paul pointed out and is answers will be more in the forms of opinion than a direct answer to a direct question.

    Your question also pertains to 2 different things.  One, to get a server...and two, to move from a workgroup to, I'll assume, a domain or centralized administration environment.

    Getting a "server" can be a need for a company with 2 people.  With lan based NAS appliances cheap and easy anyone can setup a file sharing server.  The need for a server really is dictated by the technology need itself, not by a number of employees.  A company may need to have a "client/server" architecture for any number of reasons, including the software they run, backup requirements, compliance, etc.

    Going from a "workgroup" model to a domain model is outside the scope of why someone needs a server.  As Paul stated, it's based not on number of people but on the need for centralized administration.  In my opinion, if you have a dedicated IT staff or someone that can devote time to IT responsibilities and the need is there to control or administer user accounts, email accounts, etc. then a domain model might be worthwhile.

    In small business environments, people are used to the "garage company" mentality.  They aren't going to adopt an enterprise environment just because a consultant says to (or at least they shouldn't).  It will be a case by case basis for each business.  The trick as a consultant is to really understand their business and what makes them succeed before trying to tell them which way they should operate in the IT world.

    In the end, for small businesses, if you make their IT world simple and work well with minimal downtime and create an environment where they can focus on making money and not on their infrastructure, then you'll be golden and they'll praise your work.
    LVL 27

    Assisted Solution

    by:Jason Watkins
    I would go for a server on the idea of backup alone. Unless the users are individually backing-up their computers, on their own (not likely, in my experience), hardware failure on their end could be very expensive.
    LVL 27

    Assisted Solution

    by:Jason Watkins
    Also, business continuity. If a desktop were to fail, for whatever reason, a user could work on another machine with the same account and resources.
    LVL 1

    Assisted Solution

    I agree with Palmmacd.  You need to consider carefully the scope of a server project.  With small office situations, I only use the server for the backup of individual Windows user data (via SyncBack by, meaning documents, spreadsheets, pictures, etc.  In a small office server situation, you rarely can afford the redundancy and high-availability options.  Therefore, you must count on a server being down almost as often as clients.

    A large office situation will require serious hardware for redundancy, fault-tolerance, and high-availability.
    LVL 77

    Assisted Solution

    by:David Johnson, CD, MVP
    more than 20 connections to a shared resource is the killer.. Less than 20 machines a workgroup is fine, 20 or more requires a server for concurrent access to shared resources.
    LVL 12

    Assisted Solution

    It also has to do with the function of the network.  I have a client, for example, who is an optometrist, and the software he runs performs much better in a server-based environment than in a standalone environment.  He only has about a dozen workstations, but allowing everyone access to the same data just works a lot better for him.  The same is true with QuickBooks, as he has a couple different people who work on things like payables and billing, and being able to give each of them access to QuickBooks from their workstation is essential.  So the answer is "it depends."

    Author Closing Comment

    As several of the contributors have stated, it depends, it is subjective and there is more than one issue, that is, did I mean a server, or active directory, etc..

    Although this is a complex issue, ideally it boils down taking care of IT so the  customer doesn't have to think about it.

    With that said, it appears the key factors are: performance, application requirements, volume, frequency, reliability, security, usability, cost.  Or in other terms what is the value proposition.  Again, these are factors that doesn't mean you need high security, in fact, I have a customer who insists that there are no passwords on their systems.  I explain the risk and move on....

    Thanks for the feedback!

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