Small Business Server Solutions

Small business server solutions

Small business server solutions in the proprietary world can cost an arm and a leg. It doesn't need to be that way. Here are a few ideas that you can use, while still keeping all of your appendages.

September 28, 2011

Open source applications can provide many of small business server solutions that you might need. And it’s possible to run most of those applications on a server right on your own network. Here are a few I’ve used over the years.


File Sharing

Proprietary Method

If there’s any collaboration going on in your office, you’ve got to be able to share files. There are a few ways to do it. One I’ve seen is everyone sharing out directories from their own computers. This works, but having files scattered all over the network might be difficult to keep track of, and backups would be quite a process.

You could set up a share on just one computer, and that would cut down on having to backup things all over the place. But, as Windows licenses getting wonkier with every release, it could be tricky restricting access to certain files for certain user accounts. You might end up needing to buy and install a version of Windows Server.


With Open Source

One of the small business server solutions out there is something called SAMBA. It’s free. And it’s open source. If you’re running a small business and wanting to set up a central file server that works with Windows, this may be the answer. It runs on the same protocol (SMB) as Windows shares do, so you can set up a Linux (or Unix, whichever toots your horn) computer running SAMBA, and you’re all set.

One of the many nice things about a Linux server running SAMBA is that it can be automatically backed up without all sorts of fancy-schmancy bells and whistles.  Someone with half a clue in Linux can get backups scheduled in just a few minutes. Someone with not much of a clue might only take an hour or so.

I’ve got a simple file sharing setup in my Easy File Sharing with Linux, Samba, and a Firewall post. This baby’s wide open though, with none of the permission restrictions I just got done talking about. Those can get pretty involved, and you’ll want to talk to a SAMBA guru (or read something one fo them wrote) when you get started.


Another Option

Maybe a better idea than running a Windows protocol on a Linux fileserver is to run Linux protocols on Windows clients. The SSH protocol is something anyone who uses Linux is familiar with, but many folks don’t know you can also use this from Windows. Set up users and groups to your heart’s content on the Linux file server, then hit it from the Windows machines wtih WinSSHFS. Have a gander at my Filesharing Over SSH post to see how it’s done.

This is by far my favorite way to go.


Print Servers

Back when most printers were hooked up with either USB or parallel ports, it made sense to have a print server. The trouble with print servers is that if they break, you can’t print at all. There’s a mad scramble to re-route wires so that at least SOMEONE can print. Small business server solutions these days don’t really need to be doing much, if anything at all, in the printing department. Networked printers are the way to go. These rigs get right on the network themselves. If you do need to set up a print server, SAMBA (used to share files, remember) will work, and it’s about as easy as sharing out files.

Dell and Brother (the MFC variety) lasers have worked well for me in the “networked printer” department, but I will say that printing pdf files to the Brothers I’ve encountered takes just shy of forever.  I have no idea why, and haven’t bothered asking Brother yet. The Dells generally work fine with the old HP LaserJet 4100 driver, but I think they have Linux drivers for some of their printers now.

HPLIP is a driver application HP puts out that runs most of their printers. I’ve had good luck with the handful that I’ve tried.

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Application Servers

With one of these, the application runs on the server itself, and the computers connecting to it run some sort of client that interfaces with it. Web servers are like this. They’re serving out web pages, and you use a client (a web browser — IE, Chrome, Vivaldi, Firefox, etc) to access them.

Web based, and browser based, apps are GREAT examples of the kinds of things that run on application servers.  These are pieces of software that you use through a browser.  Facebook, while most people think of it as a website, strikes me as an application server.  All those chats and games… Apache OFBiz is another type of software like this; the server runs the java application, and all of the clients use the software in web browsers.

A server capable of running some very powerful software can be ridiculous as far as price goes.  On the other hand, I’ve run web servers on computers that should have been retired years ago. Try that with the latest version of Windows Server…


Internal Wordpress Server

Speaking of WordPress… What a great app to run in house. My latest job (IT support for a proprietary ERP vendor) had scant documentation for it’s employees. We had a SharePoint (could have been how it was implemented, but it looked fairly useless to me as far as being able to find things) area where some people put some of their stuff. I set up a WordPress site and started throwing EVERYTHING in there that I could. Yes, it was against company policy (some knucklehead thought that Desk, a half-fast trouble ticket software app, was a great idea for in-house documentation) but I subscribe to the “Make Life Easier For Customers and Coworkers” school of thought, and looked for the solution that was easiest for the end user to utilize.

By the time I left, it had become a valuable resource to my coworkers and even a few of the customers who I’d given the link to. Before I officially walked out the door, one of the managers with brains gave me a place to set the site up where the techs could get at it quickly.


Now What?

First, you’ve basically got to ask yourself first what you need done. Then start hunting for an open source application that will do it. From there it’s probably not all that difficult to get it running on a local server.

Sourceforge and Freecode are both places I’ve managed to grab most of what I need, but Github is probably the more popular repository.

There is a lot more to say about small business servers and what you can do with them, but this brief rundown should get you going in the right direction.

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