Open Source Computer Server For Small Business
What Are Servers?
Technically, any computer is a server if it performs the function of providing data to other computers (or phones — any clients) over a network. When you "enable file sharing" in Windows, you've essentially turned your computer into a file server. There are other services you can run from a regular Windows computer, but you may find yourself outgrowing it quickly…
Why a Small Business Computer Server is Necessary
If you've got one computer at your small business, things are pretty straight forward. If you need a file, you know where you're going to find it, or at least which chair to sit in while searching. But once you add another computer, or several, and employees, things start to get a little screwy.
If files get lost (you know they're there, but on whose computer and where?), or someone tends to squirrel their stuff away (I've seen people do it with hard copies — I think they feel important when ONLY THEY know where something is) then you've got a problem. And what about when the dry erase board is no longer enough to keep track of where everyone is, and people's monitors are filling up with Post Its messages from coworkers? Add in things like authentication (so that not just anyone can get on the network and access your files) and it might be a real headache running your small business without a dedicated computer server.
Most of the things you'll need to address with a server fall into two categories:
Your server should enable anyone to communicate with whoever is necessary. This means that employees should be able to get messages and data to and from each other as quickly as possible.
Along these lines, you might also consider customers and vendors while embarking on a new computer server. How connected you want people to be will determine what applications you set up on a server.
If the right people can't get hold of the right data when they need it, there's not much sense in having the data in the first place; just go back to Morse Code and carrier pigeons. Otherwise salespeople, back office employees, and perhaps even cashiers (if there's a retail store involved) ought to all have access to data that will help them perform their job duties. In the end, this will enable them to make the small business more money, and that's kind of the whole idea, right?
Problems and Solutions — An Example of a Server In Motion
Let's say you own a cycle shop. A customer calls complaining to a cashier about a bike he bought recently. The typical response (not just in cycle shops, but in all kinds of retail situations) is "Bring it in and we'll have a look at it." The customer has flown to Africa to race cheetahs on his other bike or something, so he can't bring it in. He can, however, take a picture of the problem and email it to you.
Now you have the picture, and you've saved it not to your own computer, but to a shared directory so anyone in the shop can have a look at it without needing to sit at your computer. Not only did you dump it on the share (the file sharing server), but you sent a message over your private IM network (jabber is fairly easy to set up I hear) telling the lead tech about the problem and where he can find the picture.
He has a gander and decides it's probably going to be a warranty job. The tech uploads the picture to your website (another server, but just not in the office) in a spot where your Brand X rep can have a look at it, and he forwarded the email you sent along to that rep, adding a link to the picture of the problem.
The rep emails saying (I know this part is far fetched, but bear with me for a second) it's all the manufacturer's fault and that the new part is on the way. You're running Radicale on your server (see how in this Radicale tutorial if you like), with the shop tech's repair schedule, so you know pretty much which days this can get done. The customer gets this info in an email, gets back to you with when he'll be in, and you're done. Well, except for actually fixing the bike, but that's a bit beyond the scope of a blog post about servers…
So you see how a computer server for small business can help. This little scenario could have been a real cluster, with many opportunities for someone to drop the ball along the way.