Does my small business need a Windows Server?

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You may have been told by someone that if you run a small business that you absolutely need a Windows Server. And if you have taken the time to look into the costs of purchasing one, you have found them to be very expensive. The cost of Windows Server 2012 standard edition base operating system can range from $700 to $900 depending on where you buy it from. And that doesn’t include any hardware, that is just the Windows operating system. Then when you look at the possible costs of the hardware it only gets more expensive. Even a simple server’s hardware can cost over $5000 just to start with. Then even beyond that, Windows Server requires content access licences (CALs) to manage users and devices. You need to have a CAL for every user on your network or every device or some combination of the two. Each one of these licences are going to cost $30-$40 each depending on where you get them. So even a small office with 10 people will need to spend another $300 at least for additional licences. Using these minimalist numbers, we are already at over $6000 for just a small simple server. Larger offices with more staff and/or devices will end up spending easily over $20,000. So if you weren’t already aware, you can see now why this can be a very big decision.

Will it be worth it?

Windows Server has many tools and utilities included in it (one of the reasons it so expensive) so there are many reasons to have one. The first thing you need to consider is what do you really need the server for? Here are some starting points to consider:

  • Is security very important?
  • Is user control and/or management important?
  • Is automation important?
  • Are there a lot of shared resources to manage?
  • Do you have software that requires a server environment?

These are some of the initial reasons to utilize a Windows server environment. If the answer to one or more of these questions is yes, then you would need to consider setting up a server environment. Alternatively, if you can definitively answer no to all of these questions then you may not need a server, or there may be more cost effective options. Keep in mind these are just some initial examples, there could be many other reasons to need a server.

I think I need a server, where should I start?

So if you have made the decision to get a server, or at least look into it, the first piece of advise I can give you is don’t do it yourself. Unless you are an IT professional, you should not buy or build a server environment. Server hardware can become very complicated very quickly, and something that may seem like a small difference to the untrained eye can actually have a large impact on performance or reliability. Additionally, setting up the operating environment can be much complicated then a regular desktop environment. Before you do anything you need to consult an IT professional. A proper expert can analyse your network environment, and make sure you get exactly the server you need. Your first reaction may be, “But IT consultants are expensive, and this is already going to cost so much.” But you need to consider this; what if you spend thousands of dollars and get the wrong server? or the server you get doesn’t have enough power to run your applications? or it’s way to much and you wasted money? And if you don’t have a professional set it up to begin with, your only setting yourself up for problems down the road. This is arguably the biggest risk involved. Its one thing to have problems while your building an environment, but if you start to have problems in a production environment, they can be catastrophic. Shutting down your business or losing data. Avoiding these issues all together is well worth the investment and should be done every time.

What are some alternatives?

So maybe you don’t need a full fledged Windows Server. Maybe you have a small office with 5 or less people, or your network needs are very simple and easy to manage. There are other options the help optimize your network or help with various tasks. To start with, there is a product called Windows Server Essentials. Now don’t get confused, there is a large difference between Windows Server 2012 Standard and Windows Server Essentials 2012. Essentials has a lot of the tools and utilities removed, it’s stripped down to a some very basic functions and is specifically designed for very small deployments. As such, the cost is about half, $400 -$500 for the operating system and it includes 25 CALs (an $875 value). And the hardware it requires to run is also significantly less. But I can’t stress enough, this is a very cut down version of the Windows server operating system. It is not a cheap replacement, it is very specifically targeted to very small businesses. Additionally, there are other tools and systems designed for more focused purposes. Even in this instance, an IT professional can help you find the proper solution that will fit your budget as well as your network needs. In short, you should always consult a specialist.


Tom Patch

I'm an IT consultant with 8 years of experience. Currently supporting consumers and small businesses in King and Pierce counties in Washington state. I can help with any general technological consulting, network administration and security, web development and hosting. Email - Blog -

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