Why Do You Need A Computer Server?
(And Why Does A Server Cost So Much?)

Sooner or later, a small business that has been getting by just fine on two or three computers discovers that it is going to need a server. It may be because it has added staff or an additional location. Perhaps it has moved to more capable line-of-business software. Maybe the business wants to add enterprise features like Active Directory, Microsoft Exchange or SharePoint. Or the difficulties of controlling network security or providing user access to specific machines or individual folders and files in a simple workgroup or even a ‘Homegroup’ has become a tedious or impossible task. Whatever the reason, most small businesses will eventually evolve to a size or complexity where concerns about network administration, network security, user access, or centralization of important company files will make the need for a server inevitable.

Many business owners contemplating their first server tend to think of it as just a more robust workstation. This leads them into thinking that a server will probably cost around $2000, which would be in the ballpark for an expensive workstation. When presented with an actual server quote, the business owner’s likely first reaction will be “I didn’t think adding a server would cost so much!” This is not an uncommon reaction, but the rest of this paper is intended to help put the costs and benefits of a server into perspective.

It is easy to assume that adding a server involves just the cost of the server itself and that sets an expectation that the cost will be somewhere in the $2000 - $4000 dollar range… done and done. That is likely to be a significant underestimation for many reasons. First of all, a server costs more than even a very robust workstation because servers are designed to sit at the head and heart of a network and operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for design lifetimes of three to five years. Desktop computers, even expensive ones like CAD workstations, are not designed for that type of duty cycle.

Second, servers have many people and network components connected to them at the same time, all placing demands upon the server. All of those people and components need to have some response or another. Servers also typically provide backup services and administer network-wide anti-virus protection. And all the while the server must ensure that the network, the server itself, and all of the individual files and folders are only accessible to authorized personnel. Serving all of those demands simultaneously and promptly is what servers are designed to do. Again, desktop computers or workstations are not designed for that type of service functionality.

Finally, but perhaps most significantly, the server is what brings stability and robustness to your network in a way that simply cannot be achieved in a peer-to-peer network or workgroup. The end result is an expensive and complicated piece of equipment with many and unique component parts and software requirements, most of which are very different from the components and software used in a simple desktop computer or laptop.

And then there is the knowledge required for the proper installation, setup, configuration, and ongoing maintenance of a server compared to desktop or laptop computers. Although there are some similarities between simple workstations and servers, there are vastly more differences than the average person would suspect. Servers utilize different operating systems than desktop or laptop workstations so that they can perform their functions of regulating access to the network and to files and system components. They must respond to the demands of both local and remote users, and act as the host of multiple programs and databases that need to be accessed by multiple users – all the while keeping those users and the various programs from interfering with one another.


Many people who are comfortable with their home or business computer feel that they have what it takes to properly maintain and administer their server, only to call for help in a panic when something they have not encountered before happens to their server. It is not a job for the inexperienced, and even what may seem to be familiar tasks like installing updates often require more knowledge than the average casual user brings to the task. And casual users soon find that the cost of having regular professional support ends up being far less expensive than calling for professional help after inadequate attention leads to a botched update or a component failure. Such occurrences can lead to days of downtime and costly emergency support to repair the damage and restore the server to proper operation.

Although the people, equipment, and tools you use may be the backbone and the hands and feet of your business, your network is certainly the central nervous system with the server as the brain. It ties the pieces together, ensures and enforces the security of your network, provides information for estimates and invoices, allows for proper accounting, provides a repository for important business information and records, and helps avoid duplication or contradiction of effort among many of these important functions of your business.

I didn’t start my business to provide cheap but inadequate solutions for my customers. Cheap equipment and break-fix support may cost less in the beginning, but cheap solutions will invariably cost more over time and make it more likely that an unexpected failure will disrupt your business at the most inopportune time. Benjamin Franklin is credited with an observation that I have found true more often than I can count: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.” So true, so true.

There’s no denying that adding a server to your network makes your IT infrastructure more sophisticated, complicated, demanding, and costly. But what do you gain? You gain security, stability, robustness, flexibility, and the ability to grow as your business grows. You gain the ability to focus on improving your business without every step you take hindered by the need to solve some problem or overcome some limitation of an entry level infrastructure or an inadequately maintained server. What would all of that be worth to you?

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