Are You Using a Custom Desktop For Your Server? If So, You Could Be Risking More Than You Realize

As an IT consultant and engineer, I routinely visit several business locations each week and I’ve seen a lot of ways that people cut-corners on their IT infrastructure because they’re trying to avoid certain costs. The truth is that this strategy always comes back to bite you when you least expect it, and sometimes the consequences can be pretty severe. One of the biggest mistakes that I see business owners make is that they are using a custom desktop computer as a centralized server.

Most small and medium-sized businesses use a server because it allows them to centralize and share important files and databases so that their enterprise can operate smoothly. Some computer savvy business owners decide to custom build a desktop computer to run as their server because they feel like the cost of implementing an actual dedicated server is just too much. Well, I’m here to tell you that the cost of not running a true server can be much worse and, the fact is, you could be actually risking more than you realize.


What’s The Risk?

  • Risk #1

    The first risk that people run into is that the hardware they use is not reliable, even if it seems to be performing well. This is because desktop hardware that may be optimized for gaming, for example, is not designed to hold up to the demands of a server function. Also, most desktops are not running redundant hard drives for fault-tolerance, the way a server-class machine would. It’s all about reliability when it comes to server-class hardware and then performance comes second. Otherwise you run the risk that your stuff is going to crash, or you’re going to lose your data off a failed hard drive, or that your server won’t even boot-up.

  • Risk #2

    In cases where businesses are using a custom server, I’ve found that people are not running a stable operating system like Windows Small Business Server 2011 or Windows Server 2012, which is specifically designed for a server. Instead, you get people that are running Windows 7 as a server, which is made for desktop use and not as reliable. When you use desktop software to run your server, you run the risk that the central computer in your business could crash at any moment, on top of which you could lose your important files and databases if you haven’t been backing up your hard drives on a regular basis.

  • Risk #3

    When you run a custom desktop computer as your server, you more than likely will not have a warranty because it’s custom-made. This means that when your hardware fails and needs to be replaced, as it eventually will, then you’re on the hook to find a part and get it fixed. Plus, if your cutting corners on your IT infrastructure, you’re probably not monitoring your server so you’d never even know when something was about to fail.

With all of these risks, who wants to support something like that? As an IT professional I can tell you that it wouldn’t make much sense for me to support a network running a custom desktop as a server because, when it fails I know I could get blamed, even though the real problem is that you were not using server-class hardware in your machine all along. So, even if you decide that you’re willing to spend a little on proactive monitoring, you may not be able to find an IT support firm that is willing to risk taking you on as a client.

What’s The Solution?

  • #1: PLAN

    Make sure you plan ahead and budget out the cost of a true dedicated server with a server class operating system.

  • #2: Buy Vendor-Supported Hardware

    Before you invest in a new server for your business, make sure that you get it from a vendor that’s well-known and well-supported. Dell offers several options in their PowerEdge line of servers, for example, Hewlett-Packard also offers a line of servers that they call ProLiant, and Lenovo offers a ThinkServer line. These are reliable servers that are well-supported. I use Dell PowerEdge servers for my customers, but the other brands are just as good.

  • #3: Use Server-Class Software

    Make sure you are running server class software (such as Windows Server 2012, for example) on your new machine. If you have those two together, server-class hardware and server-class software, then you have a reliable system. Remember, when it comes to servers, it’s all about reliability first and performance second.

Things to Consider

So far I’ve talked a lot about the hard costs of implementing a new server for your business, and that’s plenty enough when you add up the expenses of hardware, software, and technician labor. But here’s something that you maybe haven’t thought about: How much money is it costing you every time you’re dealing with a computer problem? Every time your system crashes or your staff experiences some sort of glitch, you’re wasting your time trying to fix that stuff.

Also, if your server is unreliable because you’re using desktop hardware, the likelihood that you will experience a data loss event or security breach disaster is dramatically increased. Do you necessarily feel comfortable keeping your patient records on this sort of set-up, if you’re a doctor? Or, are you comfortable risking your case files, if you have a law practice? Or, if you’re a CPA, just imagine that you lost your client’s QuickBooks files, are you comfortable taking that risk?

These are all the things that you have to look at, and they’re all important. In my opinion, this is something that any business owner should be aware of.


about the author


Ashley Smith-Jenkins

Ashley has vast experience in the information technology field relating to computer and network services, including web development. For the past 20 years, Ashley has provided computer consulting and implementation for his customers. Ashley’s educational experience includes a Bachelor’s in Business Administration at the California State University of Fresno, as well as a being a Fluke Networks Certified Cabling Test Technician (CCTT), and CompTIA A+ Certified. | LinkedIn


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