A Q and A about this vexing question

Q: What is a server again?proliant

A server is a computer or cluster of computers that essentially control your computer network. Their most common roles are

  • A central storage location for your company data
  • Control security such as who can access what files and folders
  • A central backup location
  • Maintain network integrity between other computers, printers, scanners etc.

In IT parlance, server has a more complex meaning. A server is really a program installed on a powerful computer, that serves up data or information to users on their own computers. A simple example would be MYOB. The company files containing all your financial and payroll data lives on the server computer. The program MYOB is installed on client computers that your accounts people use to access the company file. In a situation like this, you would not require a powerful computer to deliver the MYOB data. Other examples though such as SAP, SharePoint, Exchange for email are driven by complex databases and require robust and powerful computers with special operating systems to drive them.

Q: Define the ‘Cloud’ for me again?

Historically business programs like these were installed on powerful server computers located somewhere in the building. They were expensive to purchase, maintain and upgrade.  Then along came fast Internet. With advanced technology, Internet speeds and data capacity have increased exponentially over past few years. This has allowed software vendors to install and host such programs into large data centres where they are managed and maintained daily by system engineers. Organisations then pay a fee, typically a monthly subscription, to access and use these programs. To the user, both visual and operational, there is little or no difference between the local programs or the externally hosted programs.

These is collectively known as Cloud Services, Cloud being the pseudonym for services offered externally over the Internet. Software vendors refer to their hosted offerings as Software as a Service or SAAS. Nearly all the main players in software delivery from Reckon to Microsoft to Oracle now offer SAAS alternatives.

Q: Ok, great, so I don’t need a server then. Looks like SAAS will do the job for me, right?

In most cases for small to medium operations yes, if there is a SAAS alternative for your type of business you should investigate it. This is especially so for industry specific database driven programs and financial platforms such as Reckon and MYOB. Xero accounting was one of the first accounting packages that is SAAS cloud based only and has never offered a locally installed desktop program.

Even if you are managing simple files and folders, there is a cloud service available as an alternative with popular platforms including Dropbox, SharePoint and OneDrive. To summarise cloud advantages:

  • The software is managed and backed up in secure data centres with full time engineers 24/7. Costly upfront software and hardware purchases are avoided along with regular maintenance and servicing and upgrades.
  • The services can be accessed from anywhere, not just in the office – provided you have an Internet connection.
  • Local backups are generally no longer required, though they are an option
  • SAAS is generally more cost effective to operate. Most are subscription based on monthly instalments.

Microsoft Exchange for email is and has always been offered as a local based program. Now it is firmly based in the cloud as an SAAS alternative. Which brings us to the next question:

Q; When would I not consider SAAS?

Internet reliability

SAAS and all Cloud services rely on the Internet. No Internet, no cloud service in most cases.  And because they becoming popular, heavier demands are being placed on both data centre services and Internet provision. There are parts of Brisbane and Queensland whose Internet services are poor and unreliable. Depending on the type of SAAS your operations require, you may not yet be ready for cloud services. Even with reasonable connectivity, cloud services can be problematic. If you a graphics house for example and move large files around regularly, storage to the cloud may take time and clog you Internet connection. Here a local server may be beneficial, with cloud storage used only to deliver to your clients.

Network security

Though vendors siren about their data center security and privacy protection, this can never be absolutely guaranteed. Once it leaves your private network, it’s out there in one form or another. We certainly do not want to overstate this; it’s in the interest of SAAS vendors to maintain vigilant security protocols as their reputation depends on them. Consider the angst banks experienced as they moved into the online age.
But if your organisation handles what you consider commercial confident and/or sensitive information a SAAS service may not be for you at least in some of your operations. Here a server with security management governing access and control along with well-defined network firewalls may be better suited.

Costs

Accordingly, the larger your organisation grows, the number of users SAAS subscriptions can begin to become quite noticeable in the P&L‘s. SAAS vendors are starting to become cheeky in the subscription pricing. For example, if you have 50 employees all requiring and email account, the monthly subscription cost (at the time of writing) to Office 365 Exchange online is $5.50 per user. That’s $275.00 per month or $3300 per year. Server hardware manufactured by industry leaders such as Dell and HP are both far more reliable and much cheaper than they were a few short years ago. So too are Windows server operating systems with their stability being as such maintenance costs have been reduced.  As such you can install a functioning server with Exchange for email for around $6000, which give you unlimited email accounts. A server may have a five-year lifespan before replacement or upgrade, it would be more cost-effective to do this than host your mail in the cloud. But in that five years you would be spending over $16000 in subscriptions on email alone.

Scenarios for Servers

If one or more of the above reasons for operating a server appeal to you, then what else can servers do? There are several built in technologies with Windows 2016 that can be great features for you to deploy in your business or operation. Many of these are to do with remote access and how employees can access data and company resources quickly and securely. Others include advance information rights and protecting data form being emailed to and/or opened by unauthorised persons. These features are covered more in detail here under Enterprise Solutions which is coming soon!


Well that draws the article to a close. We hope you have a better idea on the merits of cloud and locally hosted servers and what they can do for your business. Of course we are happy to visit, evaluate and discuss options for your organisation. Please contact us here for more information on how we can help