When operating a business or any sort of organization, there are two kinds of computer networks to consider: peer-to-peer and client/server. A peer-to-peer (P2P) network is a network in which two or more PCs are connected and share resources without going through a separate server computer. A client/server network is a network in which one centralized, powerful computer (the server) is a hub to which many less powerful PCs (the clients) are connected.

Unsurprisingly, most small businesses start out using a simple P2P network. Small businesses have to consider the bottom line, and investing in an enterprise quality client/server network may seem unnecessary or even impossible for what may be only a one-man operation. A little more surprising, however, is that as these businesses grow, they never bother to implement a server-based network. Instead, they just continue adding more workstations to their existing P2P network. Many small business owners worry that a client/server network with be overly complex and not worth the price tag, but (as this blog post will demonstrate) that is certainly not the case. In today’s market, client/server networks can be adapted to fit your business and your budget, cutting complexity and costs. So what are the benefits of investing in a server, and how do you know when to make the switch?

What Exactly is a Server?

It is a common misconception that a server is no different from a normal PC. This is certainly not the case. While technically almost any PC is equipped to run a server operating system, a desktop system does not have the technology to operate as a true server. If you are using a normal PC as a server, you should consider investing in a true server to gain all the benefits of a client/server network. A server is a computer engineered to manage, store, send and process data, and it is powerful enough to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

The Benefits of a Server

There are several key benefits to implementing a server-based network into your business:

  • Security: A server greatly improves network security. Using a server, you can create individual and group accounts, preventing unauthorized users from accessing files they should not access. Users can also store their documents within a personal folder on the server, which only they can view. With a server, file access is managed on one system, simplifying that process. Furthermore, a user can access all the same files on any workstation, should one workstation fail.
  • Reliability: Many servers are equipped with redundant power supplies so that they can run at all times, even in the event of a hardware failure. This prevents the loss of important data without disrupting normal system operations and allowing business to continue as usual. A server will also be equipped with multiple hard drives to prevent data loss because of a storage system failure. Servers can also utilize hot swappable hard drives and power supplies, allowing you to replace faulty hardware without stemming workflow.
  • Centralized Data Storage and Resources: A network server allows all users access to network resources from their desk, increasing efficiency.
  • Virus Management: Infection from viruses, spyware and spam can take down your entire network system and stall your business. In a P2P network with a very small number of workstations, anti-virus software can be maintained individually within those workstations. However, as your network grows these individual measures become a burden, and the network becomes more and more susceptible to infection. A client/server system utilizes a single solution: an anti-virus package that combines workstation and server virus protection. This allows a single network administrator to manage all anti-virus software from a centralized location. Many of these anti-virus packages are designed specifically for small business needs, minimizing the strain on resources while increasing protection.
  • Centralized Backup: Because servers store all company data in one centralized location, backups can be performed simply and reliably. You will not have to worry about individually backing up multiple workstations storing various data. With a client/server network you can easily schedule a daily backup.

When and Why Should I Make the Change?

As a small business owner, you are constantly working to grow your business. You need to adjust your network to accommodate that growth. If your current P2P network has ten or more workstations, it is susceptible to potentially serious security, storage and resource sharing problems. Implementing a client/server network reduces those problems and allows you to focus on your business without constant interruptions. Servers offer security, reliability and flexibility; a client/server network can grow with your business in ways that your peer-to-peer network cannot. If you and your business are invested in growth, consider investing in a server.

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