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Getting a server? Five mistakes to avoid

So you've decided to buy a server for your small business? Now comes the tricky part: putting it all together. I've dealt with many businesses over the years, some of which tried to install a Windows Server themselves. I know first-hand how challenging this can be.

There are numerous decisions to be made about hardware, software, network connections and, perhaps, most important of all, whom to entrust with setting up the server. Make the right choice, and your new server will be humming along from the get-go. Make the wrong decision, and you'll end up in server purgatory.

Here are five common mistakes small business owners make when they install a server:

  • Not having a plan.

Unless you know what you want in a server, how can you ever get it? That's the first mistake.

Focus on your business needs, not 'bells and whistles'. What sort of hardware and software should you select, and what do you want the server to do? I suggest making a wish list for your server needs. Do you want to make certain tasks easier for you and your employees? Is there something specific you want to accomplish that will impress your customers? With this list in hand, you'll be better equipped to talk to a solution provider about what best fits your needs.

  • Not hiring a pro.

You will need a professional tech partner to set up your server. There's no getting around this fact.

While it may be tempting to try this on your own, consider the value of your time. Would it be better spent running your business or learning how to become a computer tech? Screen consultants carefully. When choosing someone, be sure he has a small business focus, the experience and certifications in small business systems and the ability to meet your reliability criteria. A competent IT consultant will set you up with a server and document how the server works and how it will meet your needs. A server guru will also advise about likely future needs — and prepare you for them.

  • Not considering all of your options.

You can buy a server outright and have a tech professional set it up. Or you can lease a server to meet your needs. For example, should you host your server onsite or offsite? Leasing servers gives companies the needed security, monitoring and scalability to run their servers without the upfront equipment, infrastructure and ongoing maintenance costs of taking it in-house. What's more, an outsourced solution is scalable —meaning that you can expand quickly, if needed. There might be tax benefits of leasing as well.

  • Not playing it safe.

You are going to spend a fair amount of time deciding what kind of server to buy. But how about security to prevent hackers and viruses from infiltrating your system? Remember, your server is going to be connected to the Internet, and it will be vulnerable to hackers. Discuss firewall solutions and antivirus/Spam solutions with your consultant. Remember, safety extends to backup, too. Small business decision makers should implement a tape backup solution that automatically backs up the critical data each working day. That means assigning someone within your company the task of taking each day's backup tape home, in the event of a site disaster.

  • Not bothering with the power.

One of the first things to consider is: do you have a UPS for your server? UPS (uninterruptible power supply) will ensure that your server keeps running even when the electricity isn't. In a place like central Illinois, in which lightning strikes are not uncommon, you can't live without a UPS. A 2004 survey of small business owners found that more than 60 percent of America's nearly 23 million small businesses have no backup power supply. Don't let this be your business. According to power company statistics, the electrical power grid provides about 99.9 percent availability. That's pretty good, but it still means that on average the power is out about 8.8 hours annually —not a big deal if the downtime only occurred when your business wasn't open. Unfortunately, you can't predict when that downtime will come.

Also, consider the location of your new server. Is there proper power to this location, and proper HVAC vents? All of these things play a factor, and your consultant should discuss each one with you.

If you embark on your server adventure with a road map and all the right resources, you'll find that bringing a server online isn't so difficult. Take shortcuts, and you could end up in big trouble. Once the decision is made to install a server, it is very important that the system is designed, installed and supported by someone with the appropriate skills and experience. In other words, this is no time to go solo — even if you want to save a little money.

—Jeff Facer is president and CEO of Area-Wide Technologies in Champaign. He can be reached at 217-359-8041 or

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