Worried about hackers, viruses and malware? Are you concerned that your employees can’t access their data when they’re on the road?
These are common concerns among small-business owners. The average annual loss reported by United States companies more than doubled in 2007, to $350,424 from $168,000 the previous year, according to the CSI Computer Crime and Security Survey. That ended a five-year run of lower reported losses. Average losses dropped somewhat in 2008 but remained alarmingly high, at $289,000 per respondent.
And a recent survey of 400 small-business owners by Hewlett-Packard found that small businesses place mobility high on their priority list, because nearly one-third of their time is spent outside the office.
It’s possible to address both of these issues with a single solution: upgrading your company’s computers from a peer-to-peer network to one that’s managed by a server. A server is a dedicated computer that stores and manages information and acts as a hub to connect other computers and devices.
Here’s how a server can answer the concerns of your small businesses, when it comes to safety and mobility, including:
1. Creating a firewall to protect all of your personal computers.
A server can defend every one of your company’s computers by building a protective firewall to keep unwanted elements such as hackers, malware and viruses, off your network. “This firewall provides protection to servers connected directly to the Internet or to servers located behind Internet connection sharing,” says Eileen Vee Wilson, the chief marketing officer of Comnexia, an IT services company in Roswell, Ga.
2. Offering the ability to manage all of your permissions.
Servers allow you to determine who does-and doesn’t-have access to files on your network. “I think it’s the biggest security advantage to having a server,” says Robert Gaynor, president of Boca IT Solutions, a Boca Raton, Fla., consultancy “By moving to a server-based environment, we can manage users and permissions in one cohesive database. This adds a level of security and helps prevent human mistakes when assigning permissions to resources.”
3. Allowing your data to get saved.
Servers also offer a way to make sure all of your company’s data is backed up automatically, according to Ennio Carboni, director of product management for Ipswitch, a business software developer in Lexington, Mass. “Backup is also much easier in a client-server architecture, since the dedicated server is the sole point to copy, versus a peer-to-peer setup, where every laptop holds a piece of data.”
4. Requiring sensitive information stays safe.
“Having a server system also gives you the ability to better lock down sensitive data,” says Mark Wall, director of Microsoft Strategic Solutions at Optimus Solutions, an IT services company in Norcross, Ga. There’s less of a chance that a lost laptop can lead to thousands of credit-card numbers falling into the wrong hands, for example, because access to that information is managed by a server and doesn’t actually reside on the PC.
5. Allowing your employees access to their work from anywhere.
Accessing information on a peer-to-peer network can be difficult-and sometimes impossible-when you’re out of the office. Not so with a server, says Richard Lyons, president of Lyons Consulting Group, an IT consulting firm based in Chicago. “Mobile workers can gain access remotely to files stored on a server,” he says. “In addition, an Intranet [managed by a server] can insure that every employee has the most recent presentation and sell sheets.”
6. Affording better collaboration-even outside the office.
If you’ve ever tried to get all the members of your sales team in the room for a meeting, you know how difficult, or impossible, it can be. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could collaborate from afar? A server allows them to do that, says David Eisner, president of Dataprise, a Rockville, Md., network support services company. “Using a centralized file server better supports team collaboration and thus can improve overall staff productivity and efficiency,” he says.
7. Make e-mail easier.
Today’s servers allow your employees to access your e-mail from the road, says Paul Banco, a vice president of CiBan, an IT consulting firm in Marlboro, N.J. And unlike the POP3 accounts that you’re likely to use on a peer-to-peer network, the server-managed e-mail accounts are easier to use for remote employees. Accounts are automatically synched and your workers can access their messages from a PC, laptop or mobile device, like a PDA.
8. Stay productive with calendaring and other features.
Having a server means putting applications that were once only available on your desktop, like a calendar, on other mobile devices, according to Russell Frost, a principal at Dataccount Inc., a technology service provider to small businesses based in New York. “Calendaring functionality is available not only in-house, but also one the road,” he says.
So do you need a server? If any of these features seem appealing to you, maybe it’s time to look at making an upgrade from your peer-to-peer network. Experts say servers make sense if you have more than two employees and spend some of the time out of the office.
In the end, though, it comes down to cost. “And it is to the point now,” says Michael Proper, chief executive of DirectPointe, a Lindon, Utah, provider of IT outsourcing solutions, “where there are server solutions with all of the basic services that can be affordable for a small business.”