Newsletter – April 2015
What is the best server for your small business?
In the past, just about every business with more than a handful of employees had at least one server – a computer dedicated to centralised tasks, such as storing business documents so the files could be accessed by others on the office network.
These days it’s becoming increasingly feasible to use cloud services instead of servers – although that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Servers can do numerous tasks, including:
- storing and backing up files
- running email server software such as Microsoft Exchange
- sharing printers and other devices
- running centralised applications such as databases to keep track of orders, customers and other business information
- managing users and controlling which network folders and applications they can access.
In this article, we’ll provide a guide to the options available to small businesses.
Towers are similar to standard computers, except they’re even more flexible, with plenty of space for multiple hard drives and features like dual power supplies for redundancy. Multiple hard drives can be set up in a RAID (redundant array of independent disks), so a faulty drive can be replaced without losing data.
This flexibility makes towers ideal multi-purpose servers – say, for storing files, sharing printers and managing users. A tower would be a good first step for a growing small business, although you might need to add additional servers for heavily used applications such as Exchange.
Just about any modern operating system (OS), such as Windows 10, is suitable for basic file and printer sharing. However, for advanced tasks such as user management and access control, you’ll likely need a specialised server OS like Windows Server.
Businesses that need more than a handful of servers should consider rack-mount servers or blade servers. These are multi-purpose servers like towers, but with a different form factor. They’re designed to be neatly stacked in purpose-built racks to save space and make it easier for technicians to work on them.
Rack-mount servers are ideal for virtualisation, a technique that allows you to pool the computing resources of multiple servers to maximise your hardware’s efficiency.
Unlike multi-purpose tower and rack-mount servers, appliances are dedicated to one task – such as firewall appliances that beef up network security.
Appliances are designed to be easy to set up and manage. They’re also generally cheaper to buy than multi-purpose servers, although they often can’t be used for virtualisation.
Network-attached storage (NAS) devices are among the most popular appliances. They’re available in many varieties from very basic to high-end models with advanced security features. An entry-level NAS device might be all a very small business needs to share and back up files. But in larger organisations, they’re mostly used to add a lot storage cost-effectively.
What about the cloud?
Why bother with servers when cloud services can replace just about any on-site system or application? The cloud certainly has its attractions, but it also has potential pitfalls, as we revealed in our cloud versus servers article.
Don’t get caught up in the hype. Get the right advice and choose the right solutions for your business needs, whether they be on-site servers, cloud services or a combination of both.
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Tips and Traps for the Office 365 Buyer
Office 365 has a number of advantages over the standard desktop edition. Like other software as a service offerings, it allows you to replace a large up-front payment for software licences with smaller, regular subscription fees – and you’ll always have access to the latest applications. In addition, Office 365 offers a number of extra cloud-based business applications and features that you don’t get with the standard desktop suite.
However, you’ll need to do your homework before signing up because Microsoft offers nine different plans.
The cheapest option is Office Online, Microsoft’s free cloud-based suite. Anyone can sign up at office.com to gain instant access to webmail and calendar (Outlook.com) and online versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, along with 15GB of cloud storage (OneDrive) that allows you to synchronise files between computers.
The standard desktop suite, Office 2013, integrates with OneDrive and Outlook.com so that you can access your documents and email from anywhere.
Office 365 ups the OneDrive storage to 1TB per user, but beyond that it gets more complicated. The personal plans start at $9 per month and include desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote for Windows or Mac. Microsoft also offers iOS, Android and Windows Phone mobile versions of its applications, which are free for personal use but require a licence for business use.
The Office 365 business plans offer a number of additional cloud applications, including:
- Business-class email that supports a custom domain name and includes a 50GB inbox per user
- Collaboration tools, including Lync (web conferencing and instant messaging), Yammer (social networking for business) and Team sites (intranet).
However, the business plans vary significantly in what they include.
How the business plans compare
|Office 365 Business Essentials||Office 365 Business Office||365 Business Premium|
|Price per user per month (12-month contract)||$5.61||$12||$13.86|
|Office applications||Cloud versions only||Cloud, mobile and desktop versions||Cloud, mobile and desktop versions|
|Business-class cloud email||Yes||No||Yes|
|Lync web conferencing, Yammer and Team sites||Yes||No||Yes|
For larger organisations, Office 365’s Enterprise plans offer additional high-end features such as enterprise application management, business intelligence, unified messaging and data compliance tools. Again, there are three Enterprise editions that offer a different mix of features. See for a full comparison of business and enterprise plans.
Cloud versus desktop apps
Given that not every Office 365 plan includes the desktop applications, can you make do with just the cloud versions? Perhaps – if you don’t have demanding needs.
The cloud and mobile apps have many basic features of the desktop versions and they’re generally fine for simple documents, but they lack a number of advanced features. For example, Word Online lacks track changes and mail merge, and PowerPoint Online has fewer animations and transitions. The big problem with the cloud versions – particularly for commuters and travellers – is needing to be online to access your documents.
So, while Office 365 has a lot to offer businesses, many will want a plan that includes the desktop suite.
Want to know more?
Need advice on new IT projects, please feel free to contact us for IT services and support in Melbourne.