The place for nonprofits, charities, and libraries

How do you know when it's time for a server?

  • What are some of the signs that indicate it may be time to adopt a server at your nonprofit? What factors should you weigh when making that decision?

    If you're considering using a server at your organization, TechSoup's article Do I Need a Server? can help you get started on evaluating your needs.

    Have additional tips for those making the transition? Share your feedback here.
    senior editor, TechSoup
  • When more than one person need to access the same file. When backing up 100 workstation everynight is all you do.
    If you have more than 5 users, buy a server, or build one yourself.
  • The big issue is not so much if a server is needed... it is the issues around the support/maintenance of the server... and the information management aspects.

    Too many organisations have not thought through the aspects of how they manage their technology platforms. This often results in moving from crisis to crisis... and if working with volunteers as technical support it can create some relationship tensions.

    Establishing a strategic IT plan and thinking through all the aspects of function requirements, implementation (including training), and operational processes is critical - especially if a group is thinking about putting in a server.

  • With the amount of hosted applications and collaboration tools now available on the Internet, one has to consider the need for file sharing when applications like Google apps are available.

    We have a turn key solution for our data base and core applications, so a file server would be for management, file and print sharing. I've gotten by for 5 years with out a server environment, and now considering the external world like Google apps to meet the file sharing needs.

    I'm then planning a NAS server with a PC application like Acronis true image or CMS bounce back to back up the individual PCs.

  • Dave, for backup, couldn't you save costs by just scheduling the PCs to backup with the built-in windows backup software to the NAS? I'm not sure about the CMS product, but I was under the impression that Acronis products, while excellent, cost a bit. I suppose it depends on if you're looking at total disaster backup recovery or just data recovery.

    Chris Shipley
    Nutmeg Consulting

  • There are a couple of things I am trying to accomplish:

    1. Gold PC image to rebuild the pc in case of hard drive failure or malware infestation. This means a static image not an image from last week that may have the infection in it.

    2. Internal access to particular parts of the PC's My Documents folder on the NAS. So Sally's on vacation and we need to get to this document on her PC.

    3. Secure private backup of the full My Documents space in the event of workstation failure. Stored on the public NAS.

    I can accomplish the same things with open source, scripts and windows backup or copy, but for the price of the software (which can be hidden in the cost of a replacement PC) it's done stable supported and works well.

    I just saw that clone zilla is supporting NTFS imaging and can be set up for a 1 to 1 clone to a network drive, so there is improvement in that area, but the last time I tried open source cloning it just wasn't as clean as the commercial product from Acronis.

    In my testing of the CMS product it was very chatty with the NAS when it builds the backup list as it does a single file request for every file it wants to back up, so if you have 30,000 files on your PC there are 30,000 network requests for the file names and it's only building the list to backup.

    That's the plan at this point, I'm planning a post once I have it running and working.


  • entheos, that's a great point about the planning around a server and IT infrastructure in general. That would be a good bit to add to any decision-point article, such as this.

    And, Dwelp, thanks for the Clonezilla tip. I did not know about it until you mentioned it.
  • I'm actively researching server options right now - I have created a spreadsheet with all of the hard and soft costs involved over the next 5 years. One of the shockers for us was the high annual cost. For an externally hosted solution (that includes maintenance, back-up support and monitoring) and some light tech support in the office, we are looking at 10k per year. The cost of software and hardware are not too bad - especially with most of the purchases coming from techsoup, but the maintenance and monitoring are quite expensive. Is this consistent with what other groups are paying? We have 8 full-time staff - 2 are working off-site and many more individuals that need some level of access to our files.
  • abertner,

    You may want to look at other types of external hosting. Such as durpal or google apps. Or buying application and space on some one else's server.

    It sounds from your description that you are pricing a managed co-location where you actually own the server and software in the closet at the external host site, but they backup and manage the server for you.

    The 10k is much less than hiring an IT person to monitor and run the backups, but it still is a chunk of change.

    With an external document management system you get revision control and check in check out procedures, and the possibility to link public documents to your web site. Some of this type of hosting is paid per user per month which may cost less than the The google apps is available for free and can support over 100 users.

  • I think, that such offers as Google Apps can be also very useful for small companies - 99,9% availiability and a couple of nice applications
  • Disclaimer: I run a IT consulting firm in Raleigh, NC and provide paid support to non-profits. Connected NC

    I don't know if NPs need to implement onsite servers... a lot of services are provided at low or no cost to NPs.

    If you need a server for data backup - try an online service like ($5/month for unlimited backups)

    If you need a server to host a particular application, such as the development program Exceed (available in TechSoup Stock) - then you can find a application provider. For example, I provide this service to my clients & then can simply RDP (remote desktop) in. I manage accounts, security, updates, patches, backups, etc. The NP just needs to worry about paying the bill! :)

    If you need a server for web, calendar, or email hosting - try looking @ Google Apps for this service. It's easy to administer, powerful and free!

    My 2 cents.

  • Just a reminder - when you are putting your data on the web (e.g. Google Apps) you are trusting the host and to protect it.
  • I would say that Google is a much more reliable server than most, though, right?

    Susan Tenby, Parernships, Online Community and Social Media Director, Caravan Studios, a division of

  • I don't know how reliable Google is for applications, and I do not believe they are free.

    I keep raising this issue, and nobody responds: by using Google Services, you give Google a permanent and irrevocable right to use any content you let them host.

    Read article 11 of the Terms of Service:

    ".... By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services...."

    Now Google's motto is do no evil, but the evil Microsoft has better Terms of Use for Windows Live/MSN/Hotmail:

    8. Your Materials.

    You may be able to submit materials for use in connection with the service. Except for material that we license to you, we do not claim ownership of the materials you post or otherwise provide to us related to the service (called a “submission”). However, by posting or otherwise providing your submission, you are granting to the public free permission to:

    * use, copy, distribute, display, publish and modify your submission, each in connection with the service;
    * publish your name in connection with your submission; and
    * grant these permissions to other persons.

    This section only applies to legally permissible content and only to the extent that use and publishing of the legally permissible content does not breach the law. We will not pay you for your submission. We may refuse to publish, and may remove your submission from the service at any time. For every submission you make, you must have all rights necessary for you to grant the permissions in this section.
  • So I Googled the terms, and found an interesting rant along the same lines (original article here) also mentioning Picasa Web Albums and Photobucket with similarly abysmal terms of service.

    And here's another article from Feb. 2004.

    For a comparison of more reasonable terms, see this article briefly comparing YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Wordpress and Blogger.