Should My Small Business Run A Domain Server?

Every small business owner knows how important it is to save money, especially early on while the company struggles to grow. So even though you made sure to get laptops for your team, and signed on for powerful productivity tools such as Office 365, you might wonder why you need to go to the additional expense of also operating a company domain server.

Added complexity and overhead can discourage business owners from implementing a domain server model for their company. Yet there are a number of reasons you should consider operating a server.

What Is A Domain Server Model?

A domain server model is a type of network where all of the computers in your network answer to a single server for just about everything. For instance, a user has to have a user account on the server before they can even log into this computer at all.

Once properly set up, a domain server can manage printing, share files, control user access (including preventing that employee you fired last week from ever accessing company resources again), and handle many other tasks. You can use a domain server to run certain specialized software packages which cannot be run on the internet. You can make single changes to the network that affect all users at once, such as restricting login hours or forcing users to update Windows. Finally, you can backup your data in a secure location so that it never has to be stored on the internet.

Who Needs A Server Anyway?

You’re a busy person and you’ve got only 24 hours in the day. So why would you want to go to so much extra trouble to upgrade your network now? As it happens, there are a number of reasons why you might need a domain server (as opposed to just preferring to have one).

First and foremost, if you really intend to grow your company, you might as well get started by implementing the domain solution your company will eventually need anyhow. Starting off on the right foot will save a lot of time-consuming work later as you convert your entire system over to a new model. It’s better to start that process off when you’ve got 3 employees, rather than waiting until you’ve got 30. Furthermore, once your domain is set up properly, adding new users will be a much simpler process than it had been before—you can configure default user profiles, which greatly streamline the user creation process. Now, you won’t have to configure a user’s entire new desktop and software installation package every time you bring on a new employee.

Second, you’re definitely going to have employees with different level of access needed. For instance, the Accounts Receivable department needs access to financial records that the Information Technology department has no business seeing. Which do you suppose sounds more secure and easy to manage—each user keeping a notebook with many different passwords for each service they’re allowed to access, or having user access regulated and managed automatically by the server? I think you know the answer!

Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, some software simply needs to run off of a server. If your business requires Quickbooks or Sage, you’ll have no choice but to run a domain server. This is both for security and performance, as the server needs to update complex data tables in real time. There’s no room for error when it comes to accounting, after all. Also, depending on your industry, there may be specialized software that caters to your line of business, such as for a restaurant or a hardware store, which usually requires operating from a centralized location.

There may be other reasons to run a server as well. For example, your country, state or province might legally require certain types of data (such as highly personal identifying information, or financial information) to be stored offline in a secure location. This would be a good reason to run a server and attach it to a Network Access Storage (NAS) device. You certainly don’t want to run afoul of the law to save a few quid!

How Do I Get A Server Then?

Fortunately, a server isn’t some exotic device that you’ve never heard of before. Actually, a server is just another computer running a special version of Windows.

You’ll want to make sure it’s a powerful computer, of course. It should have a lot of memory, a lot of hard drive space, and a fast CPU.

First off, since a server is all about productivity, you need to make sure that your server isn’t going to be holding your employees back by operating slowly under your actual business load. You’ll probably also be adding additional software solutions and data as time goes on. Your employees are going to be generating more and more work and you’ll need somewhere to put all of their work. And even if you don’t use your server for file storage, you’ll still want to have plenty of free space available on the server’s hard drive for swap files. (A computer’s RAM memory is just like your own short-term memory—it can only hold so much at a time! A swap file is created when the computer knows it needs to remember something later, and so it writes it to the hard drive the same way you would write a note on a Post-It and put it on your monitor to remember for later).

Second, it’s a bad idea to buy something that’s just good enough for right now if there’s a chance it won’t fit your needs a few years on down the line. You wouldn’t buy a one-bedroom apartment with your partner if you were expecting to start a big family soon, after all. It’s the same way with your server—you want to future-proof your purchase so that you can use your quality hardware for years to come. If you’re planning for long-term success, start from day one!

Finally, if the up-front cost of purchasing a server is unnerving, you can also host a server in the cloud for a monthly fee. Tech companies such as Amazon and Microsoft are breaking new ground and improving options for businesses who need flexibility in their IT planning phases. Generally the monthly fee will vary based on how much the server is actually ‘used’ (in terms of processor time used, amount of data transferred, how powerful it’s configured to be, etc.)

Among the benefits of running a server in the cloud is that it can be easily scaled up or down based on need—if you need more memory or hard drive space, or another server entirely, it’s instantly available for just a bit more money per month. Secure data backup solutions are generally included in the package and simple to set up. Finally, different availability service level options are available, including even guaranteeing that your server might go down for a maximum of no more than a few minutes per month—if something happens, the world’s biggest tech companies are going to throw all of their resources at getting you back online. (Of course, this won’t count if it’s your internet that goes out—so if you decide to use a cloud-based server, make sure you’ve got reliable internet, and perhaps a backup connection too.)

Wrapping Up

Let’s face it—your company will probably need a domain server model. If not now, then it will eventually. You’ll want to make sure you’re ready for that growth you’re planning for, and you’ll appreciate the security and ease of scaling your small system upward once it’s time. If you’re not running one now, it’s time to start thinking about it. It’s a great opportunity to secure your business and implement good practices from an early point, and you’ll thank yourself later.