Or can the cloud do it all instead?
Computers, an internet connection, phones, cyber security – these are all things businesses need. They also need to able to share files, send emails and make backups. But do small businesses need servers to get these things done, or can the cloud provide a realistic alternative?
Naturally, it depends on the demands and preferences of each individual business, but there are some key areas they need to weigh up.
Cloud-based services like SharePoint and OneDrive make file sharing easy and convenient. Instead of attaching individual files in an email, you can send out links to those files or even entire folders. You can also set up shared file repositories, so everyone in your business can access the same data, no matter where they are; all they need is a computer or mobile device with an internet connection.
An on-site server, meanwhile, will enable everyone on your network to access shared files, and it will be faster and more secure than doing so over the internet. With a bit of extra work, you can also make those shared locations available over the internet.
Whether small businesses need servers for email depends on whether they want emails to be stored on site and what their security requirements are. With a cloud email exchange, your company’s emails will have to pass through at least one third party. If you deal in highly sensitive data (things pertaining to national security, perhaps), then it makes sense to use your own servers. Indeed, it may be a legal requirement.
For everyone else, cloud email offers so many business advantages, it’s pretty much essential. Being able to pick up messages from anywhere is invaluable to remote workers and anyone who’s on the road a lot.
If your on-site server stops working for whatever reason, depending on what you use it for, you may be unable to access email, vital application data and shared folders. Of course, with cloud solutions, you’re still relying on servers; they’re just someone else’s servers, located somewhere else. But companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Google have vast datacentres with huge numbers of servers and (you would hope) backups of backups of backups. Expected uptime is usually around 99%.
But, of course, cloud services don’t work without an internet connection. So if your ISP has a problem and you can’t get online, then you also can't access anything you have in the cloud. You wouldn’t have that problem with an on-site server.
The success of cloud computing hinges entirely on trust – it has to. If you use a cloud storage service, for example, you’re handing your data over to the provider of that service. Unless they have their own datacentres, they’re probably using something like Microsoft Azure or Amazon AWS – another third party and someone else you’re placing your trust in.
In all likelihood, you will have little control over where or how your data is stored. You may not be able to customise a cloud server, for example, or access advanced configuration options. In other words, if you need total control, then you need an on-site server; otherwise the cloud is still a good way to go.
When asking whether businesses need servers, it’s inevitable that security will come up at some point. With an on-site server, you don’t need to send any of your data over a public network (i.e. the internet), so in that sense it’s more secure than the cloud.
But cloud services are often run by companies with deep pockets, who invest huge amounts of money into cyber security, and where they can be particularly useful is in defending against malware.
Let’s say someone in your business opens a dodgy email attachment that installs ransomware. With a local server, that could easily spread throughout your whole organisation – although an email scanning solution like Microsoft ATP could stop it in its tracks.
Of course, there’s nothing to say malware couldn’t launch from a cloud server, but it may be less likely due to tougher security. It might also act as a kind of barrier between the malware and your business.
Adding to your on-premise infrastructure will mean upgrading your existing server or buying a new one. Not so with the cloud: all you need to do is inform your cloud service provider, and they’ll make the necessary changes for you. If your business is growing, this is fast and easy, and it requires much less planning than making changes to your own physical equipment.
The large up-front costs associated with buying and setting up a server can be difficult for small businesses. Cloud computing eliminates this large expense, enabling firms to pay regular, but much lower, monthly fees.
This is an ongoing advantage too, servers have to be replaced as time goes on, and they’ll need to have up-to-date software on them. Taking your computing into the cloud, that’s all taken care of for you.
If your budget is tight, then, it makes sense to use the cloud.
Do Small Businesses Need Servers And The Cloud?
Both on-site servers and the cloud offer some convincing advantages. So why choose one at all? Increasingly, businesses are turning to hybrid solutions instead. You can have all your emails stored on premise and still access them on the move. You get the speed and the convenience.
Hybrid solutions also increase redundancy. TMB’s backup and disaster recovery service, for example, backs up to an on-site server, but customers have the option of a secondary cloud backup location as well. If one goes wrong, the customer has another to fall back on.
Many small businesses can get on just fine without an on-site server, but ultimately, it's less about the size of your organisation and more about the type of work you do and your priorities.
Either way, it's not a decision that should be taken lightly, so if you’re in any doubt, please contact us to book a consultation session. We’ll assess your needs and help you decide which approach brings the most value to your business.