Small Business Server Computer: Four Reasons To Have One
Hard Drive Parking Lot:
When I get a phone call of the "My computer no worky" variety, I find that it's fastest to just wipe the computer in question and start over. With a Linux box on the premises, I find that it's pretty easy to shut it down, crack it open, plug in the hard drive containing the toasted OS, and copy all the important stuff over. After a fresh Windows install, I throw it in again and copy things back over. I used to do the same thing when I ran all Windows, but I've noticed it's a little easier when the parking lot is a Linux box. I could be just prejudiced though…
On of the most important things a server can do for a small business is allow folks to share files. It's trivial (or used to be anyway — I've not used Vista or 7 much) to share files out from a Windows box than anyone can access. It was also fairly easy to only allow certain people to access particular files. It is NOT easy, as far as I know, to back these directories of files up automatically using tools that come with Windows.
This is possible with Linux and Samba. Linux is the open source operating system that I won't shut up about, and Samba is an open source implementation of Microsoft's SMB (Windows file sharing) protocol. You can have some pretty complicated sets of rules as far as who accesses what files if you like, or run it wide open. With cdrecord and cron, automatic nightly backups are easy.
Not only is it handy to have a development box (if your website is created in house) but a complete web server is also handy for running all sorts of applications on the inside of your firewall. The one I've set is a LAMP box (Linux operating system, Apache web server, MySQL database, PHP server side scripting language) running all sorts of things.
One use for the server, and this is the whole reason I set the box up in the first place, is hosting a working development version of the website. I've gradually added other things to the box though. One is a little app that takes a price (per thousand board feet) that we get from our suppliers, and converts it into lineal footage or per piece cost. Another app inserts signatures into pdf documents (purchase orders) so that we can stop faxing or sending them back and forth in hard copy form. Yet another app hits our ERP's database and runs queries via Apache and PHP that don't exist when using the regular Java interface provided with the ERP.
Web Conferencing Server:
This is one I'm currently working on. I've got BigBlueButton running on a Linux box, and will write a post about it when everything is up and running properly. Suffice to say though that I think I can avoid the ridiculous amounts of money charged by Adobe and Cisco in licensing fees for their web conferencing software. If you've got some kind of presentation to give, this might be the ticket if everyone can not be in the same room.
Again, I'm working on something at the moment so that I can write a whole post about it, but suffice to say that it looks like I can sync up several instances of Thunderbird running Lightning to a central calendar, and have everyone be on the same page. If you were running something like dyndns it might work even if you don't have a static ip where the server lives.
I did get a calendar server running finally — read about it in Open Source Calendar Software Tutorial – Radicale