Setting Up a Small Business Server

Setting up a server can seem like a hard task for your company. Read through how your server could be set up properly and serving your business quickly.

The first step to setting up the right small business server is to use the proper server.  Although almost any computer with decent hardware can be used as a server, planning out the need and using the right hardware makes a huge difference in the long term.  While this isn’t a guide for buying the right small business server, a few key points are:

  • Look at the reasons a server is being considered.  If there’s a business application that everyone needs to access, look at the recommended specifications.  These would be a minimal starting point.
  • Or, if it’s to be used as file storage, evaluate the current files needed to be stored, then double or triple the amount.  File storage is very easy to set up initially and can be much more time and cost-intensive to add to later on. Also, consider any redundancy that would be needed as this can reduce file storage capacity significantly.  
  • Especially if it’s a critical resource - and most servers are - consider hardware that makes the server as robust as possible.  Dual power supplies and redundant hard drives can make the server stay up, even with significant hardware failures.  It’s very easy to not spend the upfront money to purchase this level of hardware, only to be disappointed if the server crashes at a key moment. 
  • Ensure your business has a backup plan.  Even if the server has redundant hardware, ensure it’s being backed up off-site, and that those backups are being monitored.  Although unlikely, imagine something happened to the entire physical server - say a fire, or power surge - and it was unrecoverable.  The business must be able to continue to function, or at least not lose key files. 
  • Lastly, consider cloud services.  If the business doesn’t need a physical server, there may be significant advantages to not using one.  Typically these advantages include less maintenance, cheaper upfront cost, and greater accessibility while out of the office. 

Once the proper server has been picked out, it’s time to get it set up.  Unbox the server and physically set it up, making sure it’s near power and networking so that the other workplace computers can connect to it.  Make sure it’s plugged into an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) before turning it on.  Connect it to the network, monitor, and other peripherals, then power it up.  Follow any instructions provided, depending on the model and operating system, and the initial setup should be almost done.  Before moving on, record the serial number or service tag of the system, the warranty information, and support information.  This information is likely easy to find now and will save stress later if it’s needed in an emergency. 

The next steps are important for any server and include: protecting the system, backups, security, and organization.  Ensure that the server either comes with an antivirus software, or purchase and install one.  Servers should always have antivirus software and ideally should have an endpoint protection solution installed to prevent ransomware as well.  Backups are a key related point and should be configured now as it’s easy to overlook this step once the setup is almost complete.  Ideally, multiple backup copies should be made - one could be stored on-site, saved to an external drive, and another saved off-site or to a cloud backup solution.  It’s absolutely essential that these are checked often.  Too many organizations enable backups and assume they’re still working, only to need them and find they’re out of date or useless.  

Next, all servers should be installed in a secure environment - after all, no one should just be able to walk into an unlocked room and damage or take the server.  Additionally, it’s important to review the location it’s to be installed in - avoiding areas with moisture, or that might have leaks are important.  As an example, installing a server directly underneath an air conditioning unit is not recommended.  Finally, just before finishing up the basic setup, take the time to organize the server area.  Use zip ties or velcro and tie up loose cords, label the server, important cables, and any peripherals in the overall area.  Pay special attention to how the server connects to the network and the internet and label these in an easy-to-spot manner.  Taking the time to tend to these items can save considerable time and frustration the next time the server needs to be worked on.  

The last setup step is the most complicated one and depends on the roles the server needs to fill.  First, make sure all users are created on the server with only the access rights they need.  For this example, the server will need to host a specific piece of software, store files, and provide printing services.  

When setting up the file shares, set them up according to what will be stored in them or who would be required to access them.  For example, setting up a share for sensitive HR documents and another for general purpose files allows for each to be shared to different groups, preventing non-HR staff from seeing HR documents. Once these are generally set up, it’s always safe to test this to ensure that a general user can’t access files or shares they shouldn’t be able to access.

As a general rule, the application provider will have installation steps and these should generally be followed.  This may need to be installed onto a previously set up file share.  Once the software is installed, test that it works from the server, then install it on the workstations and confirm functionality there, too.  If there are issues, reaching out to the software provider typically provides the most knowledgeable response. 

Print services will again depend on the operating system that’s being used, but generally, the printers would first be installed on the server and tested.  Then, share the printers out with groups of users, and test that they can then print, as well.  Taking the time to document the various printers and how to connect them for end users can save considerable time and headache later as staff may replace their computers or need to have printers reinstalled.  Consider the variety of devices that the team might use to try and print - solutions for Windows devices may not work as well for mobile clients like iPads or cell phones.  

Once all the roles for the server are installed and tested, there needs to be a plan discussed and approved for what happens if the server is ever offline.  It’s much easier to come up with this plan and ensure everyone is in agreement before it’s a stressful situation.  For instance, if there’s a key software that’s required for day-to-day operations, what happens when it’s not available?  Ensuring the business can continue or at least having a plan in place to keep key operations running as much as possible, is essential.  If items are found during this discussion that aren’t acceptable, at least it gives key staff a chance to plan for contingencies even if the solution is unaffordable currently.  

Setting up a small business server can be challenging and the process has many steps.  However, the most important of these steps is in the planning - determining the need that the server will fill, and purchasing the right hardware solution to be successful.  After setting up each of the roles the server will fill, it’s key to ensure the server and its files are secure and backed up, with plans in place in case it’s suddenly unavailable.  

If you have any questions or want help to set up a server for you, do not hesitate to reach out to us anytime. We would be happy to help! 


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