Even the smallest of businesses these days can face large needs when it comes to storing data, sharing files and other computer-related tasks. For one thing, trying to back up files when they are spread over many computers can be a headache.
A basic question business owners face is this: Should I fill this need by getting my own computer server? Or is using cloud (Web-based) services a better choice?
The answer depends on what your business really needs. The world of small-business tech is awash in relatively low-cost, high-powered, easy-to-install computer servers designed especially for small business. For example, HP and Dell both offer several different small-business server choices that put these powerful devices within reach of many small companies. Yet costs still start at about $1,200 and go up from there, so it remains a significant investment for many businesses.
Web-based services, which operate on a monthly or annual subscription basis, can save you money upfront by eliminating the need to buy server hardware and software. They are easy to set up and use (with no special computer or IT skills required), and you never have to worry about upgrades since all that happens automatically and is handled by the service provider.
A major upside of cloud services is that they handle data protection for you. But you’ll want to go with an established, trustworthy service to be assured of adequate protection. The best type of data protection will typically offer “failover” capabilities, when means there’s always at least one real-time copy of your file kept on a separate server.
A possible downside to using cloud services, however, is their limited options for customizing the service to fit your special needs. For example, if your industry has strict rules or standards for customer data storage, not all Web-based services will meet those requirements. As cloud services grow and mature, however, they are becoming more flexible and customizable all the time.
And keep in mind that you need a reliable high-speed Internet connection to use a cloud-based service, so if your business still uses dial-up, you’ll need to switch to broadband.
Most small business will need an IT consultant to help set up and maintain a server. Nevertheless, having your own server can sometimes pay for itself over the longer term since cloud-based services can cost hundreds or more per year.