Servers and Hosting – Part I
I remember when computers were new in construction offices and were considered ‘expensive paper weights’ by most owners. Then came servers, tape backups, and network gear; then the internet at every computer; then virtual servers and off-site backups. Eventually construction owners wanted remote access, so Citrix and Terminal Server sessions entered the scene. Lots of hardware changes, lots of software options.
Aging Computer Equipment— I remember a call with one client who said his server was about 7 years old, so when should he look at replacing it? I told him that every morning, when he walked into his office and that server was running, he was blessed! I don’t think his car was even that old.
The computer industry changes quickly and user demands continue to increase. The latest accounting, estimating, and CRM software and updates require new Operating Systems (OS), more memory, and faster drive speeds than ever before. You may not even be able to install that new software! Even if you don’t mind slow software responses, older software may be end-of-life meaning no security updates, as well as no new features. You may be familiar with the Windows 7 end-of-life last January 2020, as well as the Microsoft Server 2008 end-of-life at the same time. (You don’t have any of these security risks still running, do you?)
If you’ve had four or five wonderful years with your current server(s), or you have end-of-life software, you have a choice to make—make a capital purchase and replace the server(s) and OS, or move to a hosting option. Before we dig into this question, let’s look at a portion of your data.
First Steps—Most of our clients had Exchange servers for many years. These were part of the SBS Server licenses with one server for all your data and Exchange. When this product hit end-of-life, our clients had to choose whether to add servers, move to virtual servers, or move their email to hosted Exchange. Then came Microsoft 365 and now, it’s ready for email and more!
Whether you keep your server on premise or not, you definitely want to look at the Microsoft 365 solution. At a minimum, the Business packages include email up to 50GB per mailbox with Teams, OneDrive, and SharePoint. At the higher levels, you also get Office apps (Word, Excel, etc.) on up to 5 devices per person, and the next level includes remote access licensing. Be sure to add a third-party backup solution.
Not only do you have a replacement for your Exchange server/hosting, you have immediate access to Teams for Chat between your staff members and groups, as well as video meetings. Teams allows you to share documents, too. It’s a great tool and one that couldn’t have ‘matured’ at a better time now that so many of us are forced to work remotely. Do some planning and add OneDrive and SharePoint, making important job documents available to the field, too.
To Replace or Not to Replace—There are several benefits to replacing your server(s). The first ’win’ is Control. With the hardware onsite, you have control of the environment. You own the hardware, the Operating System, and the licenses. The data is in your environment, too. The trade is that you are responsible for maintenance, software compliance (ever been part of a Microsoft audit?), backups, and security. Maintaining a network and keeping it safe is not a ’one and done’ event; it’s an ongoing responsibility.
If you choose to replace your equipment and keep a local network, be sure to connect with a Managed Service Provider, one with solid knowledge of servers, networking, and security, as well as backups. If you need remote access for any part of your workforce, you’ll want to review the options and put appropriate security in place; don’t leave your network exposed to the internet. Even with local backup units, you’ll want to look at cloud backup options in addition to local. Whether it’s a natural disaster, water damage, electrical issues, employee error, or a ransomware attack, you’ll need an off-site backup.
Move to Hosting—If you decide not to replace, what’s next? There are several things to consider, and not all hosting solutions are equal. Next month we’ll cover the changes in hosting options. This entire segment of IT has matured quite a bit, and with the onslaught of cyber-attacks, it’s now an excellent option to meet the changing needs! – CMW