Do I need a server?

We’ve had a few new customers ask this question lately and the answer really is, “It depends”.

In most cases we like to see a proper server go in, usually loaded with SBS, because we like the control provided by having a proper Windows domain along with a properly configured server (or servers, as the case may be).  From our point of view it’s pretty much a slamdunk if there are applications involved that are server-based or require a SQLserver backend.  And if the customer wants a customised SharePoint site then there really is no other option.  But there are cases where a Windows domain and server (and all the other “goodies” that go along with a server) just doesn’t fit the customer’s requirements.

Case in point:  I just finished setting up a new customer with two QNAP TS-459 NAS devices that are being used in place of a Windows server.  The devices and the customer’s PC’s are all part of the same workgroup and one QNAP serves up a number of shares to the users on the network.  Nothing particularly fancy here.  Where the “goodness” comes in is how the second QNAP is used.

QNAP provides tools to sync data between two similar QNAP devices or out to various cloud-hosted backup services.  When sync’ing to another QNAP you can choose to use a scheduled RSYNC type of copy or you can use their RTRR (Real Time Remote Replication). In this particular instance we have RTRR sync set up between the primary QNAP and the secondary QNAP and as soon as a file is added or modified on the primary it is immediately copied to the same folder on the secondary.  Both QNAP’s are 4-drive devices with RAID5 raidsets created on each device so there is a level of hardware redundancy built-in to each device.  The RTRR sync provides a level of data redundancy that helps the customer sleep at night.  And backup tools allow the customer to copy data off the secondary device to removable storage for safekeeping offsite.

Yes, it is probably a bit “overkill” for most shops but the configuration meets the requirements of the customer.  Better still, they did not need to invest in Windows licensing or upgrade a number of PC’s to a “Pro” version of Windows in order to enjoy the advantages of a centrally managed “file server”.  Is this a solution that I would recommend to most of my customers?  No, but it did meet the unique requirements of this particular customer and it serves as a reminder that there is usually more than one solution to a given IT problem.

So, to answer the question, it really does depend on your requirements!