Please can you help me select an appropriate server for my small business?

    I am looking to purchase a server for my small business and the appropriate software (OS, backup software, etc). I have a very limited budget (I would like to get something below £500, preferably less, but also will spend a bit more if necessary). It must have a Microsoft server OS on it as I am looking to run a database intensive CRM server application on it in the future.

    These are the core tasks the server needs to perform:
    - Support 3 client pcs
    - Printing
    - Storage of common company documents and files
    - Central backup location for all the client pcs
    - Remote access of company documents
    - Run a database intensive server application / CRM
    - Not sure of what is involved in running my own exchange server system for emails, but I am paying out £20 per month for 3 X 2Gb exchange email boxes from fasthosts. Would be nice to get rid of this expense

    From my research and considering my limited budget, I was thinking of going for the following setup:
    - HP Proliant server
    - Windows Small Business Server 2003 OS
    - 1 X 500Gb HDD (space for 3 extra drives) - hot swappable
    - Dual core CPU
    - 1Gb RAM
    - Use an external 1Tb USB hard drive (Lacie) for server backup

    I have spoken to a few people that have given me differing recommendations, so I wanted to come on to here to get some expert opinion. As well as your advice, answers to some of these questions would be appreciated:

    - Tape drives seem to the most common server backup solution, but the drives are so expensive? Why are tape drives the the most common solution? Is it a bad idea to do backups to a 1Tb USB Lacie external HDD? (I chose this to limit costs for now)
    - Secondly, should I be thinking of getting more than one hard drive?
    - I don't know what a RAID controller is, but people are telling me I should consider getting one?
    - Should I be getting more RAM or bigger HDD, or is this sufficient for now?
    - Windows Small Business Server 2003 sounds like it would be a bit easier to administer than Windows Server. Am I right in choosing this server OS?

    I don't want to go into overkill mode as I need every penny I can get my hands on right now, but I also don't want false economies. PLEASE can you folks help me out here. What kind of server would you recommend I go for? Please can you provide me a link to any good preconfigured systems out there (e.g. from stores like ). Lastly, please try to explain technical terms in your responses as I am not an expert at all!! Thanks


    I recently seen a server made by HP thread posted on here which could do the trick..was only £100 I think and whilst being basic it could do the job for ya.

    Sorry was on another forum but supplier has now ran out of stock

    Had a wee browse for ya...…FQU

    The HP ProLiant ML110 G5 server provides all the necessary server features in an affordable, functional package. The Intel processor provides the necessary computing power, while a mix of PCI and PCI-Express slots deliver the expandability for the future that small businesses require. Also, the ML110 G5 can be upgraded with the cost-effective HP Lights-Out 100c Remote Management card for remote sites or second offices. Like all ProLiant products, the ML110 G5 comes with proven ProLiant reliability. The ProLiant ML110 G5 is a value-packed server with appropriate technology suitable for small to medium businesses.

    * 1 x 2.33 GHz Intel Dual-Core Xeon 3065
    * 1 GB memory expandable to 8 GB
    * 250GB SATA Hard Drive
    * 3 year warranty

    Original Poster

    Cheers Gerry. That was the type of machine I was thinking of. But it doesn't have a Windows Server OS on there (was thinking of Windows Small Business Server 2003), and would need bigger HDD.

    On a side note, what software should I use to backup server onto external USB HDD (or tape drive)? Symantec backup exec looks toooooo pricey at £350. Is the windows server backup utlity any good, or are there any good cheaper alternatives out there?

    Your budget seems too tight to me for Windows Server 2003 as that on its own takes up most of your budget.

    Exchange - I'd stick with your hosted mailboxes, please don't take this is an insult but Exchange Server may be a bit of a challenge for you to setup and administer. It's a complicated piece of software and if it goes down leaving you to troubleshoot it, all that time you're potentially losing mail and causing downtime. Also it's critically reliant on you having a connection which is extremely reliable because when the connection drops, so does your mail.

    Tape drives - why are they so popular? Tapes can hold a very high capacity and you can have large tape drive arrays, including up to hundreds of tapes with a robotic arm to mount them. The latter type of array can store three months worth of backups on an 8TB array. Additionally when using tapes as backups, they are sent off site in case anything happens to the building (fire etc.), hard drives are really not suitable for this use as they are far more fragile. For a small server like you're talking about it's not too bad as hopefully if you do have a problem on your main system your external HD would be ok.

    Multiple drives/RAID - this comes under the same topic, RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, the idea is to basically have multiple disks working together to simulate the performance and reliability of a more expensive drive. In your case with budget in mind you should be looking at RAID 1 - this is where you run a pair of disks the same capacity and each time the OS writes to the drive it writes to both simulataneously, in fact it only sees one disk. If you have a disk failure you lose nothing as everything is mirrored on the other drive, you simply pull out the faulty drive, put a replacement in its place and re-sync it with no downtime. I don't know how critical your data is but I think you should be looking at RAID 1 plus your external back up HD. This may seem like doubling it up but both serve different aspects - for example if someone accidentally erases a document it will be erased on both of the RAID 1 drives so you'll need to restore from your backup HD. If you have a single drive and it fails, you're going to have to restore the entire OS configuration and data from the external drive which is likely to cost you downtime. While it seems like a lot upfront and a bit overkill, the moment you have a failure it will instantly be worth the money.

    - RAM or HD, your call on this really as I don't know how much data you're going to be using but 1GB of ram is a bit low, it's cheap these days so definitely worth considering upgrading

    Server or server - this statement doesn't make much sense, do you mean Windows Server 2003 rather than a desktop OS (such as XP Pro/Vista)? This is a difficult question and would probably need more information as it's partially based on some of your responses to above. Windows XP can do a lot of server type stuff, I have an XP machine which is running a media server, web server, ftp server, print server etc. so there's quite a bit you can do there. However this is not using it for its intended purpose, the server OS has many more useful features particularly wizards for setting up a lot of these features. The main aspect is a domain which is basically centralised security, rather than each PC having an individual login they have it all set on the server. Each person has a username and password which is the same to log in to each PC, you can then set security rights for each of these logins.

    I don't think there's anythiing much wrong with the Windows backup feature for a single server (it's not that great for multiple servers) however it's a while since I used it, primarily my experience is with Backupexec/Netbackup

    Sorry for many of the vague comments, choosing the correct hardware and software is very much dependent on your needs and also how critical it is this server is up and running. I hope it's helped a bit though.


    Original Poster

    Hi John, Thanks so much for your post and for going to the effort to explain things that must sem obvious to you. It was really helpful.

    I will definitely follow your advice on getting a RAID 1 setup with 2 hard drives. It makes complete sense to have a mirrored hard drive to minimise down time. Does this mean I would have to buy a RAID controller, and what type? Also, by mirroring drives would I have to pay for two server licenses, or is this standard practice encompassed within 1 license? I will also take your advice and increase RAM by 1 or 2 Gb, and stick with hosted exchange mailboxes (and I am presuming this means i just backup each outlook pst files on each staff client pc?) - sounds like too much hassle at this stage for me!

    Regarding server choice, I was wondering whether the Microsoft SMALL BUSINESS Windows Server 2003 option was a better option for me, as opposed to the normal windows server 2003 option? Do you think this would be better for a less experienced person like me?

    Lastly, the tape drive versus external HDD debate. Would the normal windows server backup utility allow you to backup over several tapes (i.e. to create 5 or 6 tapes that, in total, cover you entire drive)? This also does sound really slow and a lot of hassle, or am I missing a trick here? If you were in my shoes (i.e. limited budget!!) would you go for external hdd for now or is a tape drive so much better that i should bit the bullett?

    Sorry for the extra questions. Once again, thank you for your help.


    Regarding server choice, I was wondering whether the Microsoft SMALL … Regarding server choice, I was wondering whether the Microsoft SMALL BUSINESS Windows Server 2003 option was a better option for me, as opposed to the normal windows server 2003 option? Do you think this would be better for a less experienced person like me?

    Windows Small Business Server 2003 is a packaging together of a number of Microsoft products including Windows Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003, SQL Server 2005 (relational database) and others.

    So by getting SBS 2003 you are also getting Windows Server 2003.

    However, SBS 2003 includes products like Exchange and SQL Server that you MAY never need or use.

    Note also that SBS 2003 MUST run on a domain network so you would need a central server as the domain controller and each client PC must run either Windows XP Pro or Vista Business.

    Can I also point out that SBS 2003 is now getting rather old (as you can see by the date). Microsoft has brought out more recent versions of Windows Server, Exchange, and SQL Server which have NOT yet been bult into a new version of SBS. My guess is that there may be a new SBS being worked on right now.

    Have you checked the requirements for the CRM software?.

    Does this require Windows Server 2003 or can it run on XP or Vista?. You say it is database intensive, does it require a Relational Database like SQL Server or can it use another type of database?

    (If the CRM product really is data intensive then it may be better that is has its own dedicated PC. If you are running the CRM product on a "server" that is also being used for printing, backup, data storage etc it could really slow the CRM product down).

    For only 3 PCs it may be possible to just set up a peer to peer network and use a Windows XP or Vista box as a sort of "server" as Johnmcl7 says he does.

    It would not be a domain network just a peer to peer network, but the XP or Vista "server" could be used as a central repository to hold all your documents etc and could be backed up regularly.

    Can I also agree with Johnmcl7 about tape backups.

    While keeping a local backup on a hard drive is fine for a first go at a backup, if it is the ONLY backup you have then you are at risk.

    If there is a fire, or flood, or your offices are broken into and the server / backup drive stolen you are stuffed and your company could well go out of business.

    I worked at a company that had the following backup system with tapes. They would take a tape backup each night and in the morning put the tapes in a fireproof safe.

    The tapes that were ALREADY in the safe (from the previous night) were removed and taken home by employee A.

    The next day the old backup tapes from the safe were taken home by employee B. The following night employee A took them home again.

    That means that they always had 3 copies of the tapes: one in the safe, one in employee "A"s house, the other in employee "B"s house.

    So they were fairly well covered and always had at least TWO copies of the tapes off site.

    Anyway vishy01234, judging by your picture dont you seem a bit young to be worrying about this sort of thing.

    You seem so stressed you are smoking like a chimney, at your age !!!

    To be brutally honest (got to be cruel to be kind) I think your £500 budget is far too low for what say you require, the OS alone eats up half of that (…y=0). If your data is mission critical, which it sounds like it is, then you really will need tape backup along with something like backup exec to manage it. Particularly when trying to backup multiple machines over a network, as you are. Backup tapes should really be stored securely, off site, in a fireproof safe as a disaster recovery measure should anything go wrong at your site. That easily takes your whole budget without even considering the actual server hardware. The thing to ask yourself is "where would my business be if someone broke in and stole all the computers, or if the office burnt down, or....etc.", if the answer is "screwed" then you need the backup, at least then you can recover your data which is the one thing insurance can't pay for.

    For the server hardware, anything that's as "database intensive" as you say your CRM software is will need a lot of RAM to function well and minimise disk accesses (the main bottleneck for any DB is disk access), 4Gb is a good starting point for any DB server. If you're looking at the HP Proliants with hot swappable SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) bays, which from your first post it sounds like you are, then they already have RAID controllers. The one GerryG pointed out does too, but it's not hot-swappable. More than one HDD in a RAID configuration is essential for any mission critical system, RAID 1 and RAID 5 are the most popular. They both provide redundancy and fault tolerance to some degree. Wikipedia has a nice article on RAID:…sks if you want to know what the different RAID configurations actually do. If downtime is important (i.e. your business suffers if the server is not working), then the hot-swappable drives are a godsend. If a drive fails you just pop it out, slot a new one in and the server wont even flinch, although even then selecting the right RAID configuration can make the world of difference if that happens.

    I'll second what others have said about the Exchange server, they are not easy things to setup and run. Your time is money and believe me when I tell you that it will be a lot cheaper to pay an expert to do look after it for you than to learn how to do it yourself.

    The other stuff is fairly standard fare.

    Hope that helps.
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