You've decided to purchase a new personal computer (PC) or server for your office. Perhaps you've hired a new employee who needs a workstation, or you've decided it's time to get a server so you can have one central location for your data. Whatever the case, one question haunts you: Where do you start?
There are so many choices, it can be a full-time job to sift through all of the information and determine what you need. Whether purchasing a PC or server, there are two main options: Buy a "white box" (also known as a clone, or a "generic version") or buy a brand name.
While each has pros and cons, it is widely known that clone computers are harder to support and require more time to repair than brand name computers. Its one thing if you like to tinker and have all the time in the world to configure a computer, but it is another thing to run one's business on someone else's hobby.
Of course, determining which brand name computer to purchase is another matter. Some helpful guides to check out are Consumer Reports and Computer Shopper magazine at your local newsstand for reviews on various brand names.
In this article, we discuss the benefits of servers, and finally, we will address some specific hardware and software information about PCs and servers. Since every business' specific requirements are different, what this article will not do is tell you what to get for your office. For specific recommendations regarding what hardware and software you might need, seek advice from a professional IT consulting firm.
Important Considerations for PC and Server Purchases
- Find a reputable brand name which uses reputable hardware manufacturers.
Most brand name manufacturers come with great warranties, online support resources and service agreements. While you hope you won't need them, it's nice to know there are provisions for service and replacement parts if necessary.
As your company grows, you will likely need to expand your network and capabilities. Find out how flexible the products are and if they will be able to grow with you and your business.
How will your new PC or server integrate with existing hardware, software, etc? You may discover you need to invest more than you thought you would initially. Don't be afraid of this conclusion. It is better to know now what you need to grow your business than to find out later that what you hoped to be able to do is stunted because of insufficient hardware.
When do I need a server?
Knowing when it's time to buy a new PC is fairly cut and dry. Knowing when/if you need a server can be harder to determine. Mike Carpenter, Director of IT Services, at Corporate Computer Services points out some indicators that suggest you may need a server:
- Do you have more than five workstations?
- Are your backup's dependent upon daily intervention?
- Are your critical Operating System and antivirus updates dependant upon daily intervention?
- Are your critical files located in different locations of your network?
- When you make network changes do you need to do this at each workstation?
- Do you want your files/data to be secure and only accessible to those whom you specifiy?
According to Kim Komando, host of the largest talk-radio show about computers and the Internet, it's time for a server when you answer "yes" to any of the following questions:
- Are there snags in your workflow?
- Do two or more people use the same database?
- Would operations slow down or stop, even for a small amount of time, if one computer were to crash?
- Do you or your employees need access to email and files on the road?
As for the advantages of a server, she highlights the following:
- Disaster Recovery, Antivirus, Email, User Administration, Data and Network Security can all be centrally managed. This makes network administration easier and thereby less expensive to maintain.
- The server can be the primary backup point. Instead of burning data files on disks, you can quickly move them across the network.
- You can host your own e-mail. This allows you to have your own domain and unique e-mail addresses. An e-mail address of email@example.com is more professional than firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, most e-mail software allows you to maintain network-wide address books, mailing lists and calendars.
- You gain more control over all that annoying spam. An employee who opens an infected attachment could easily infect all of your computers. But when hosting your own e-mail, you can filter it so that the good stuff comes in and most of the bad stays out.
- You gain a higher level of security. By requiring computer users to log in and authenticate on a domain, the server dictates who has access to what.
- You can deploy new software applications more easily through a network. You also can standardize your applications and versions, and make better use of the software you have.
Now that you know whether you need a PC, server, or both, it's time to address hardware and software considerations for each. It is important to understand what functions you need your computer or server to perform in order to determine which hardware and software you need.
Hardware and Software Considerations for PCs
You may see a brand name PC advertised on TV or in the mail with a price that seems too good to be true. It probably is. Most likely, the price does not include necessary hardware and software configured for a networked office environment.
Below is a list of some basic things to consider when purchasing a workstation (PC):
- Is this for home or the office?
- What role will this workstation (PC) serve?
- Are the tasks to be completed by the workstation (PC) basic or complicated?
- What operating system do you need?
- Depending on its role and purpose you will need to select the appropriate hard drive size, ram, video card and monitor size.
- If your computer is to be part of a network, you will need to make sure it has a network card.
- What tasks do you need to perform: word processing, spreadsheet calculations, photo editing?
- At what level do you need to do the above tasks, basic or advanced? This might determine the specific application you need.
- There are many other accessories and peripherals that require some consideration such as:
- Do you need to burn/view CD's or DVD's?
- Do you need to be able to scan or print from this workstation(PC)?
- Do you need to connect to a financial institute? You may need a modem.
- Do you need to connect more than one monitor to this workstation (PC)?
For clarification of some of the terms listed above, please check out www.whatis.com.
The definitions you will read in the following sections are credited to this website which is described as a "self-education tool about information technology, especially about the Internet and computers. It contains over 4,500 individual encyclopedic definition/topics, a number of "Fast Reference" pages and learning tools."
Consider the following with regard to components, peripherals and speed:
- Processor and Speed: Essentially the brain of a computer, a processor is the logic circuitry that responds to and processes the basic instructions that drive a computer. Instructions are the orders given to a processor by a computer program. The term processor has generally replaced the term central processing unit (CPU).
- Hard Drive Memory: In a personal computer, a hard disk drive (HDD) is the mechanism that controls the positioning, reading, and writing of the hard disk, which furnishes the largest amount of data storage for the PC. Although the hard disk drive (often shortened to "hard drive") and the hard disk are not the same thing, they are packaged as a unit and so either term is sometimes used to refer to the whole unit. Are you storing information primarily on this machine or your server? How many programs do you have and what hardware and RAM requirements do they demand?
- RAM memory: RAM (random access memory) is the place in a computer where the operating system, application programs, and data in current use are kept so that they can be quickly reached by the computer's processor. RAM is much faster to read from and write to than the other kinds of storage in a computer, the hard disk, floppy disk, and CD-ROM. However, the data in RAM stays there only as long as your computer is running. When you turn the computer off, RAM loses its data. When you turn your computer on again, your operating system and other files are once again loaded into RAM, usually from your hard disk.
RAM can be compared to a person's short-term memory and the hard disk to the long-term memory. The short-term memory focuses on work at hand, but can only keep so many facts in view at one time. If short-term memory fills up, your brain sometimes is able to refresh it from facts stored in long-term memory. A computer also works this way. If RAM fills up, the processor needs to continually go to the hard disk to overlay old data in RAM with new, slowing down the computer's operation. Unlike the hard disk which can become completely full of data so that it won't accept any more, RAM never runs out of memory. It keeps operating, but much more slowly than you may want it to.
- Monitor: Does your job require you to have a screen that has a high resolution or will a lower resolution suffice? For word processing or spreadsheets and lower screen quality is adequate, while the highest resolution is preferred for graphics work.
- Video Card: An integrated circuit card in a computer or, in some cases, a monitor that provides digital-to-analog conversion, video RAM, and a video controller so that data can be sent to a computer's display.
- Speakers and Sound: If audio editing, music and production is your computer's primary purpose, choose speakers that assist you in doing your job best.
- Printers and Scanners: Printers vary in size, speed, sophistication, and cost. In general, more expensive printers are used for higher-resolution color printing. An inkjet printer sprays ink from an ink cartridge at very close range to the paper as it rolls by. A laser printer uses a laser beam reflected from a mirror to attract ink (called toner) to selected paper areas as a sheet rolls over a drum.
Printer resolution (the sharpness of text and images on paper) is usually measured in dots per inch (dpi). Most inexpensive printers provide sufficient resolution for most purposes at 600 dpi.
Having more than the minimum amount of memory is helpful and faster when printing out pages with large images or tables with lines around them (which the printer treats as a large image).
- CD Writers: A CD-ROM (Compact Disc, read-only-memory) drive is the mechanism that reads and writes computer data to CD-ROMs. A CD-ROM is an adaptation of the CD that is designed to store computer data in the form of text and graphics, as well as hi-fi stereo sound. Because of the larger programs most computers use, most pc's now come with a CD-ROM drive as opposed to a floppy disk. Most computers now have the option of coming with a CD-R drive, a recordable version of the CD drive. Though you need a CD-R to record to. You can store up to 600MB on one of these CD's.
- Modem: "Modem" is an acronym for MOdulate-DEModulate. A modem is a device or program that enables a computer to transmit data over telephone lines. Computer information is stored digitally, whereas information transmitted over telephone lines is transmitted in the form of analog waves. A modem converts data from analog to digital and vice versa (modulating and demodulating), thus enabling two computers to communicate with each other over a phone line.
- Network Card: A network interface card (NIC) is a computer circuit board or card that is installed in a computer so that it can be connected to a network. Personal computers and workstations on a local area network (LAN) typically contain a network interface card specifically designed for the LAN transmission technology. Network interface cards provide a dedicated, full-time connection to a network. Most home and portable computers connect to the Internet through as-needed dial-up connection. The modem provides the connection interface to the Internet service provider. Will this computer be part of a network, or will it stand alone?
- Operating System: An operating system (sometimes abbreviated as "OS") is the program that manages all the other programs in a computer. The other programs are called applications or application programs. The application programs make use of the operating system by making requests for services.
Check your software requirements to see what they recommend as optimum to run the programs you need to run your business. Is that the one you want/need? Will it be compatible with the other operating systems in your office?
- Application Programs: Examples of application programs include word processors; database programs; Web browsers; development tools; drawing, paint, and image editing programs; and communication programs. Application programs use the services of the computer's operating system and other supporting programs. Making sure your application programs are compatible with the operating system of the operating system and existing or planned hardware must be considered at the same time.
Hardware and Software Considerations for Servers
Much like the brand name PC advertised on TV or in the mail, if a server has a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Unfortunately advertised prices do not include necessary hardware and software configurations required for most servers.
Below is a list of some basic things to consider when purchasing a server:
- What processor and speed should you have?
- How many processors should you have?How many network cards do you need?
- What server Operating System do you need?
- What level of redundancy do you need, RAID1, RAID5?
- Should your hard drives be SCSI, IDE, SATA?
- Do you need redundant power supplies?
- Do you need an uninterruptible power supply (UPS)?
- How much storage space do you need?
- What backup hardware and software should you use?
- How many users are on your network?
- What is the role of this server, file and print, database, application?
- How many employees do you need licenses for (assuming each employee has a workstation)?
- What software packages will you need in addition as complements to your operating system?
- RAM: Having more RAM for a server is of the essence. Skimping here will cause frustration as all the people in your office use the server for retrieving or storing information simultaneously.
- RAID: RAID (redundant array of independent disks; originally redundant array of inexpensive disks) is a way of storing the same data in different places (thus, redundantly) on multiple hard disks. By placing data on multiple disks, operations can overlap in a balanced way, improving performance. How critical is the data that you are storing on your server? Do you want to ensure that it will not be lost?
- Backup Hardware: Backup is the activity of copying files or databases so that they will be preserved in case of equipment failure or other catastrophe. Backup is usually a routine part of the operation of large businesses with mainframes as well as the administrators of smaller business computers. For personal computer users, backup is also necessary but often neglected. The retrieval of files you backed up is called restoring them. How are you backing up your data in the event of a hardware failure?
Please note: Most servers do not come with an operating system or other necessary software components.
"Business owners often suffer from 'sticker shock' when a PC or server is configured for them," says Mike Carpenter, Director of IT Services at Corporate Computer Services. "Unfortunately, they are used to seeing advertised prices for bare bones systems that will not accomplish their goals. The systems advertised are not realistic examples of what is necessary for business today, and part of our job is to help clients understand the investment they are making for the long term when they purchase the equipment they need."
In the end, it is better to do your research than end up with a computer or server that does not satisfy your business requirements.
About Corporate Computer Services, Inc.
Corporate Computer Services, Inc. is a professional outsourced computer service company serving small businesses in Orange County, California. Our specialties are network planning (network consulting), network projects, and ongoing network/computer maintenance. We pride ourselves on not only delivering the results you expect, but also being knowledgeable, systematic, accountable, trustworthy and easy to work with. To speak with a Support Advisor about the the computer support provided by Corporate Computer Services please call us at (949) 855-1553 x 113.