Information security is a big deal, these days: even major corporations struggle to keep hackers at bay, and according to recent statistics, roughly half of American adults are hacked in some form or fashion every six months. And if your company handles sensitive data– or even just a lot of it– you might want to steer clear of relying on third-party service providers for hosting and other information storage needs, and rely on on-premises options instead.
Understanding how this helps your business be more secure is most helpful if you have at least a little technical knowledge; but if you don’t, the principles are relatively simple. The information and data that makes up everything from emails to websites actually has a physical element: it’s all hosted on servers. Even when you move things “into the cloud“, they still exist in a physical form, somewhere. Internet and hosting companies like Google and Godaddy all have access to this physical data, usually in massive datacenters spread across the country… or the world.
When any data you use (whether it’s your database of clients, your emails, or files on the cloud) is held by a third party, they ultimately get to decide what happens to it. Their security policies can be lax or stringent; they can be prompted by authorities to give the information up; and more people than you alone generally have access to it.
Most of these companies will usually notify you if your data is ever given (or taken by) another individual, but in general you’re held to the terms of their service agreements: whatever they happen to be. But in general, it means that there’s no guarantee of the privacy of your data.
When all of your own data is held on servers owned and operated by you, there’s no third-party individuals or risk to worry about. And while you’re responsible for the burdens of security, straightforward security systems generally aren’t labor-intensive to create or maintain, and the fact that your business information is run on non-shared servers generally affords you (and your data) more protection.
Now that you understand why having your own servers is a good idea, here are the general steps to setting them up for your small business!
Standalone server or rack
It’s important to consider infrastructure before buying equipment, so begin on assessing if you’ll be needing a standalone server or a rack of equipment. Servers themselves can dramatically range in size, so make certain to scour the field and determine the best fit for you. If all you need is a standalone server, you probably won’t have trouble finding a place for it to live in your office. If you need enough to begin a rack, it’s advisable to invest in a rack at the outset rather than work with exposed equipment.
Racks are generally indicated at 1U-10U, in which the number indicates the amount of units the rack holds. Lower numbers usually indicate good sizes for network switches, middling numbers good sizes for standard servers, and numbers at 5+ are usually for blade servers.
Most racks have noise-canceling options which can be invaluable if you aren’t going to have your server(s) in a separate room. And you should also be conscious about thermal load: anything more than a 4U stack is going to be putting off some significant heat, and racks with cooling components built-in or other AC concerns should all be taken into account.
Many dedicated IT equipment companies like Twin Cities Digital advocate for sensible wire management policies which reduce clutter, redundancy, and mess. For larger stacks, patch panels can be used which act as ethernet splitters, usually offering 24 ports. And since intra-rack wiring can get complicated, it’s always advisable to use zip-ties to neaten up excess wire.
Pick your server OS
Servers have (approximately) as many OS options as computers do, and just as with a computer, you’ll want to pick your server OS with care! If you’re reasonably techy, you probably already know exactly what you need… but if you aren’t, and are hiring a professional to take care of the details, ensure that they understand all aspects of what you’re intending your server to do and how active a part you intend to play in managing your server. If you’re not very technically proficient, you may ask that they be certain to set up a GUI (graphical user interface) for you.
Setting up servers for your small business can do a lot to minimize certain kinds of risk and afford your data more protections. But before you take the plunge, do all your research, ensuring that you know what kind of server to get and what OS to install. Pick a stack which accounts for all your needs, reduces noise, offers appropriate cooling, and helps you gain control of the potential mess a full or half stack can create.