If you’re the owner or manager of a small- or medium-sized business that still uses peer-to-peer networking, it’s time to consider upgrading your network by installing a dedicated business server.
Due to recent technology advances, particularly the availability of Microsoft Small Business Server and Windows Sharepoint Portal Services, the pros definitely outweigh the cons. In fact, the upgrade may result in some benefits you hadn’t counted on.
How do you know when it’s time to upgrade to a server-based network? Here’s a simple checklist you can use to assess your needs, followed by a more detailed discussion.
It might be time to upgrade if:
- Your staff is moving to laptop PCs.
- Your staff is specializing and you need to start to segregate data.
- You want critical data backed up securely and automatically.
- Your office needs to use collaboration software, such as shared calendars.
- Your staff requires remote access to shared data
- Moving to Laptops
One characteristic of a peer-to-peer network is that individual member PCs share resources, such as files, printers, and fax modems, with each other.
Unfortunately, several recent technology trends are making peer-to-peer networks difficult to use and manage.
For example, many of today’s knowledge workers are switching to highly mobile laptop computers which may or may not be in the office at any given time.
When a PC is disconnected from the network, its resources aren’t available other users in the office.
One of the most compelling reasons to upgrade your basic network to a server-based configuration is data security.
Even small companies have a legal responsibility to protect payroll, human resources, and other sensitive information from misuse, but the file sharing schemes used in peer-to-peer networks don’t provide the high level of control offered by server operating systems.
Automatic, Secure Backups
Along with access, backup is also an important part of any data security scheme. Regular and dependable backups are difficult to manage when data is stored on multiple desktop PCs because even the most sophisticated backup software can’t back up a PC that’s been turned off.
Once you move your critical data to a file server, regular automated backups can be scheduled to take place during off hours. Since the office staff doesn’t typically have access to the server’s operating system, it’s unlikely that anything will “interfere” with backup, and even if the network is down, a file server can faithfully back itself up to tape as long as it has power.
Although shared calendars and other collaboration tools are available from a number of Internet-based sources (Yahoo, Google, and others), your data is much more secure when it’s stored on your own file server.
You’ll also find that the selection of privately hosted collaboration software is broader and the applications are more customizable than those apps available online.
The increased use of laptop computers mentioned above eventually results in the need for remote access to company data. While this can be accomplished with products such as Symantec’s pcAnywhere, Citrix’s GoToMyPC, and even Windows XP’s built-in Remote Desktop Connection, secure remote access is built into most file server operating systems and remote users are subject to the same access restrictions and privileges as locally connected users.
In the past, one of the main deterrents to server-based networking has been the complexity of server operating systems, but this is rapidly changing. Once installed and properly configured, Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 requires about the same day-to-day technical expertise as Windows XP or Windows Vista.
And later this year Microsoft will release a “server appliance” product called Windows Home Server (WHS) that will provide many file server features with almost no human interaction. In fact, the device won’t even require a keyboard, mouse, or monitor — just plug it in and you’ll have an instant file server!
Another traditional objection has been the cost of dedicated file servers, which often out-weighed the budget – and the benefits for many small offices. Fortunately, technology advances are making low-cost, easy-to-operate servers available to offices that wouldn’t have considered them just a few months ago. Server equipment from IBM and HP, combined with Microsoft’s Small Business Server software, is now more affordable than ever for small companies.
In summary, if you’re still using a basic peer to peer network, you’ve probably outgrown it! Consider adding a dedicated file server to your suite of office tools to improve data access, security, and usability.