Most small business owners that have a server (or more than one) onsite understand the costs of this, and often internally ask themselves: Do I really need a server at my office?
It isn’t just the physical cost of purchasing a new server every 3-5 years, there’s the ongoing maintenance, updates and patching, potential hardware failures, and more.
It’s 2020 – do you really still need to have a server onsite?
The easy answer to this question is yes, and no. Or if you like, another answer could be it depends.
Because it really does depend on your company’s IT needs. It gets more complicated than this, as if you decide you want to get rid of your server/s, you need to decide if you can go completely server-less, or instead have your servers hosted offsite somewhere, or a hybrid approach.
Let’s start at the beginning: what do you need a server for?
Keep in mind this could mean one or more servers.
Servers are used for a variety of ‘roles’. A very basic role is security of your network. A server with this role would make everyone sign in with a username and password. That’s pretty essential stuff.
Another role would be a ‘file and print’ server. As the name suggests, this server role would manage your file system – or your ‘network shares’, like your P drive, or H drive, or S drive – wherever you and your staff save their files. This role often doubles as a printer management server.
There’s also database servers, which are commonly used for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programs.
Then we get into other server roles, like ones that supply remote access capability.
To throw some more confusion at you, virtual servers have become very popular in the last decade and a half. Previously, each server would have one role, so you might have 3, 4, 6 or even 10 (or more) physical servers, all needing patching, replacement cycles and extra disks when they run out of space.
With server virtualisation, you have one or two (sometimes more) ‘host’ servers, that have one or more virtual servers running on them. As you can imagine, this reduces hardware costs hugely, over time. The host server will need extra capability (storage and memory, for example) to be able to cope with the extra demands, but it’s still a lot cheaper overall.
For a smaller organisation, it’s much easier to go server-less, as you’d have less servers to have to contend with. But then, that brings up to another crunch point: are you wanting to go server-less, or simply move your servers to the cloud?
I’m not trying to confuse you here, and likely these sorts of decisions are made with your IT service provider, IT manager, or a third party like Icon IT. But knowledge is power, so the more you know what you are talking about, the easier it is to make the decision, safely.
Some companies that have very simple needs (security/files/CRM) have the opportunity to go to the cloud, but not have any servers at all. There are products out there that you can use like Platform as a Service (PaaS) and/or Software as a Service (SaaS) and never have to actually have anything to do with servers ever again. This is a best-case scenario, as you and your company can focus on doing what you do – whether that’s providing a service, or selling widgets – instead of worrying about servers.
An example of PaaS is Microsoft’s Azure, a cloud-based service that can sell you servers hosted offsite, but also has other PaaS offerings like a database service (i.e. not a database server).
Dropbox and Google’s Gmail are examples of SaaS. You have no knowledge of any ‘backend’ infrastructure, you simply login to the service and start using it. Microsoft 365 is another example of SaaS.
What about Hybrid?
Of course, you can go hybrid, and many companies do. So they might use Azure for a database service for their CRM, and Microsoft 365 for email. If you wanted to go full SaaS, you could move your CRM to Microsoft Dynamics CRM or SalesForce. Both are SaaS – you login to their respective website, and start using the service.
Another hybrid possibility is having your servers offsite (for example, in Azure) and other services as SaaS. An example of this would be perhaps having your file server in Azure, while using Microsoft 365 for company email. In this scenario, having your file server offsite gives you excellent business continuity. I think if 2020 has taught us anything re COVID, it’s that business continuity is paramount for your company to survive.
In fact, having as many servers or services (SaaS or PaaS) offsite gives you the best redundancy in case of an earthquake or other disaster. As long as your staff have access to the internet, then they can carry on as if nothing happened.
Do I really need a server at my office? There is a catch…
Of course, having servers and services offsite comes at a cost. Running a server 24/7 in Microsoft’s Azure, or Amazon Web Services (AWS) costs money. In the long run however, it’s still cheaper when you factor in the reliability of that service, and the redundancy capability, as well as other factors.
Where to from here?
If you find yourself thinking “Do I really need a server at my office?” then talk to someone who can help you. It might be Icon IT, or it might be your existing IT service provider. It doesn’t hurt to find out if you can move all/any of your IT services offsite, and when the time comes to tell the board that you have BCP covered, you can answer, ‘yes’.