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The Death of the Small Business Server

By Eric Spellmann

I bet the title got your attention. And yes, that is a bold statement to make. However, if you can get past “tradition” and status quo, you will see that small businesses are on the threshold of some pretty amazing technological changes.

But, before I start blasting away at the small business server model, let me give some background: When someone starts a business, they typically have one PC. This machine does everything: balance the books, handle email, provide web research, build brochures, etc. However, once this business starts to grow and more people are hired, the need for more PCs increases.

As these PCs are added, the need for a true network is created. To save money, all of these PCs will need to share the same Internet connection…. AND (this is the important part), they will need to share files.

In the beginning, users can simply share certain folders on the PCs with each other. However, as the business grows, this model becomes clunky. SO, most businesses go out and buy a machine dedicated to providing a central location for all files to be located: the SERVER.

Typically, no one sits down and types at this machine. It sits quietly in a closet somewhere, serving out files as people request them. At night, a backup program copies all of your company’s key documents in case of catastrophe. Users may work on any of the files and have access to them on their PCs, but in the end, all of the files reside on the server.

The problem with servers is that they break down. After all, they are just souped-up PCs with special software. Everything breaks. And when your server goes down, NO ONE works. In addition, servers must be replaced every three or four years. Its not that they stop working in three years. It’s typically because they can’t run software developed three or four years after they were built.

So, every company starts budgeting to spend quite a few thousand dollars every four years for a new server.

However, a new model has emerged that has challenged this entire premise: Cloud Storage. Basically, instead of you buying equipment and paying some tech guy to configure it, you “rent” space on a secure server in a data farm. You access it over the Internet. All of your files are backed up automatically, and (this is a big one), you can access these files EVERYWHERE on ANY device.

The largest players in this market are Google and Dropbox. Google Apps and Docs allows storage of typical office documents (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDFs, etc.). Dropbox takes it a step forward by keeping a local “copy” of the files on your system. Using both of these tools, most small businesses can eliminate their servers altogether.

Dropbox is a combination program and service. You download the free program (Dropbox) onto your PC. You then create an account with dropbox. A folder appears on your computer. Copy any files you want into that folder. Now, go to another computer in the office, or even at home. Download the dropbox program again, and this time, login to your existing account. A folder will be created on THAT computer and will automatically start populating with the files from the first computer! Whenever you save an updated file in that folder, it is automatically copied to all of the other dropboxes on the account. Voila! Instant server! You can even download apps for your iPhone, Android, iPads, and other devices and access your files ANYWHERE.

With dropbox, you get 2 gigabytes of space free. For 50 gig, it runs $9.99 per month. 100 gigabytes is $19.99/month. But if you compare that cost against the price of a new server, server software, backup system, and an IT guy to set it up and maintain it….

While “Dropbox” has been my favorite, they are not the only player in this game. A quick Google search on “cloud storage” will yield a number of other competitors.

I welcome your comments below!

Eric Spellmann continues to be one of the highest rated speakers at our national America’s SBDC conferences. His unique view that small business websites should “do” something pushes against the standard “online pamphlet” view of most web design companies. He believes your customer’s websites should be driving qualified leads and sales on a weekly basis. Eric speaks at a number of other national and state conferences nationwide, but enjoys running one of the most successful web design companies in the country. He truly believes in the SBDC mission as it helped him start his own company many years ago. To contact him, visit his website at

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