All types of businesses, from startups to Fortune 500 companies, require a good team effort to become successful.
Which is where a server can come in handy as it can:
- Interconnect individual computing devices
- Provide remote access management
- Data backups
- File sharing
- Data protection
In this article, we take a look at the top five affordable servers for small businesses, which will fulfill a company’s requirements and save on costs.
Our SMB Pick: The Synology DiskStation 412+
Understanding Different Types of Servers
Network Attached Storage (NAS) servers are an ideal choice for businesses on a budget, due to their low prices.
I found a Seagate NAS 2-bay 4TB NAS for as little as $370. NAS servers are also very user-friendly and can be used by non-technical people.
In general, NAS servers are specialized devices that provide shared access to business files, folders, and network resources like printers.
Application servers also offer similar shared access but are more capable of running programs, as they use a fully-fledged server operating system software.
Also, they offer better hardware features, and thus it’s no surprise that application servers are relatively expensive.
Since we are looking at the most affordable servers for a small business, we’ll be covering more NAS servers in this article, as they are cheaper and offer the most basic features required by a business.
Benefits Offered by Servers for Businesses
Data Loss Protection and Higher Storage Capacity
Most servers contain at least two hard drives that are configured via RAID, which helps to provide protection against data loss. However, the greater the number of drives a server is setup for, the higher its storage capacity will be.
An unusual feature offered by several servers is the ability to protect against data loss, by automatically making network backups of a PC.
For example, QNAP’s NAS servers are known to provide reliable data backups — via specific tools or apps. So, even if you lose data or accidentally delete some files, this feature will help to recover data quickly from the backup storage.
Also, some servers may offer remote access, a feature that enables a workforce to access data, even from outside their office premises.
By providing support for mobile devices, individual servers always hold the edge if any time, and anywhere access is of prime importance to a business.
Support for Network Hardware
Moreover, any business is right to expect that a server will provide support to shared printers across its network so that the workforce can make optimal use of such devices.
Also, by supporting IP cameras, an affordable web server can even serve as a high-utility surveillance system for businesses.
How to Choose the Right Server for a Small Business?
There’s no need to buy an expensive server, just because it may provide advanced features that your business does not require at the moment.
Every penny saved in the selection of an ideal and cheap server that fulfills one’s exact requirements — will add to the business’s profits.
But, window shopping for servers is no easy task, considering that every business owner needs to invest money in hard drives as well, to get the best value out of their server.
Before rushing in to read the features and services offered by different servers, it is important to understand your personal business requirements first and then match them to the servers’ features.
Ask yourself the following questions to better understand your server requirements:
- Is the server only required to share files?
- Is it needed for data backups?
- Will an on-premises server with remote access suffice?
- Is a cloud server needed?
An organization needs to go for an affordable server that provides certain key features, which are required by the firm immediately or shortly, according to the learning experience I’ve had while working for different businesses.
At the same time, a company needs to have a vision of its future requirements and choose a server that will suffice for a considerable period.
Which is why servers that offer expandable storage capacity are great, as they’ll come in handy when storage requirements will rise along with a business’s growth.
Ideally, a business server needs to use at least two hard drives which are configured via RAID levels 1, 5 and 10, to ensure data loss protection and maintain support for sufficient storage capacity.
In fact, at the rate at which data storage requirements grow for businesses, it makes sense to go with servers that offer 4 to 6 drive bay slots.
Why do you ask? Well, if there are four drives supported, each being 4TB (maximum), then the maximum overall storage capacity will be around 16TB.
Unfortunately, the truth is that you can’t utilize full storage capabilities with a RAID setup, except for RAID 0 level drives, which are not feasible to use because they lack redundancy.
Different RAID levels are more suitable for servers containing a certain minimum number of drives as indicated below:
- RAID 1 level – for two-drive servers
- RAID 5 level – for three-drive servers
- RAID 10 level – for four- drive servers
And with each tier, a significant percentage of actual usable storage capacity is lost, here’s the breakdown:
- 50% of raw storage capacity for RAID 1
- 33% to 25% of raw storage capacity for RAID 5
- 50% of raw storage capacity for RAID 10
Also, if downtime due to the failure of individual drives is unacceptable, it makes sense to get a server that supports hot-plugging / hot-swapping of hard drives.
In such servers, you can remove and replace a hard disk without switching off the server.
Even if one of the hard drives fails, in a multi-bay server containing around four hard drives, the server will continue to perform due to the support from the other drives.
Instead of looking for an entirely onsite server, you can also choose to go for a server that allows a hybrid approach. Thus, you can choose one that offers on-premise storage, coupled with cloud storage and syncing capabilities.
Comparison Table: Five Best Affordable Servers for Small Businesses
|Servers:||Server Type:||Approximate Price:|
|Synology DiskStation DS412+||NAS||$1,050|
|HP ProLiant Micro Server Gen8||Application Server||$500 to $700|
|QNAP TVS-1271U-RP||NAS||$2,200 to $3,800|
|Lenovo ThinkServer TS140||Application Server||$675|
|Synology DiskStation DS1513+||NAS||$1,600|
Top 5 Affordable Servers for Small Businesses
Now, let’s move onto the main event and take a look at the top five servers that are suitable for small businesses. The below list is not extensive; however, it contains my favorite server picks, considering the combination of features and low prices on offer here.
This NAS server has an excellent drive bay design that enables intermediate and advanced users to execute the server’s functionalities with ease. I liked the DS412+ because of its four-drive bay, and the fact that each tray can be pulled out without difficulty.
Our SMB Pick: The Synology DiskStation 412+
As a consultant for small businesses, I’ve often worked with the Synology Diskstation server, and so far, it’s always delivered along expected lines.
I often suggest the DS412+ to companies who have shared-user requirements of around six people and average storage needs (no more than 16TB).
The Synology DS412+ has support for laptop hard drives (2.5 inches) and desktop hard drives (3.5 inches), allowing it to store up to 16TB — with a maximum of 4TB hard drives in the four bays.
The server’s Hybrid RAID setup allows it to mix and match different hard drives, without using ones with lower capacities for the existing RAID. If a business requires less storage at the moment, it’s possible to start with only two or three hard drives, and then add the remainder.
Synology DS412+ Pros:
- It is easy to service due to the front-facing drive bay design
- It supports hot-plugging without having to switch off the server
- It offers support for advanced functions, such as VPN server, Active Directory and iSCSI
- It offers more than enough features for a small business and delivers fast performance
Synology DS412+ Cons:
- The setup process is a bit complicated, despite the availability of ‘Synology Assistant’
- The app does not specify all the functions it can perform
- It is quite expensive to use it as a surveillance system, additional licenses need to be purchased
- Image thumbnails take a really long time to generate
This server comes with:
- Two USB 3.0 ports at the back
- One eSATA port at the back
- One USB 2.0 port at the front
They can be used to increase storage capacity, and the USB ports are capable of hosting devices such as Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS), printers, speakers, and TV tuners.
I often recommended this server to small agencies that are well acquainted with the Windows operating system.
Because the Synology DS412+’s DiskStation Manager OS is pretty similar to how Windows operates. The web interface used for running this DSM OS is excellent, and perhaps one of the best ones for a NAS server — in my opinion.
I used the ProLiant micro server from HP for a couple of business clients and found it pretty effective in basic tasks and functionalities, such as file sharing, printer sharing, emails, web interfaces and database hosting.
However, without advanced functions like hot-swapping, I often recommend this server only for businesses to whom small downtime during working days isn’t a big deal.
The HP ProLiant MicroServer Gen8 comes without any operating system, which I find strange, though it offers compatibility with any Intel OS, such as Windows 10 and Linux.
However, it cannot run Apple OS X.
The professionally built HP ProLiant Gen8 server supports:
- Two USB 3.0 ports
- Two Gigabit network ports
- One embedded RAID controller
The Proliant Gen8 comes in three different dual-core configurations, which are:
- 2.3 GHz Celeron G1610T with 2GB DDR3 memory at approximately $500 (excluding the disks)
- 2.5 GHz Pentium G2020T with 4GB DDR3 memory, at approximately $600 (excluding the disks)
- 2.3 GHz Xeon E3-1220 with 4GB DDR3 memory, at approximately $700 (excluding the disks)
With regards to storage, this server offers four slots which take 3.5 inch SATA drives, and to provide more storage capacity than the 16TB maximum — the server also provides internal USB and SD cards support.
HP ProLiant Gen8 Pros:
- It comes with an integrated HP Lights Out controller for remote management and diagnostics
- It comes with a choice of Intel dual-core processors
- It has easily accessible memory slots with the ability to pull the motherboard out from behind
HP ProLiant Micro Server Gen8 Cons:
- An integrated built-in fan and a larger fan produce a lot of noise
- One cannot get more than 16GB of RAM memory space, which is quite restrictive
- There is no hot-swapping support
Another NAS server which belongs to the QNAP family, the TVS-1271U-RP comes with various high-utility features that enable easy sharing of files, data backups, and support for cloud syncing.
In my consultation work, I tend to favour QNAP as the ideal example of a NAS server. Because not only does it offer ample storage, but also provides great flexibility in disc usage utilities.
Also, it supports a vast range of apps and tools that can facilitate advanced functions like virtualization, backups, ERP, etc.
The server can support massive amounts of storage, thanks to the 12 hot-swappable drive bays, which can occupy 2.5 inches or 3.5-inch disc drive.
It is also possible to use 4TB drives or even 8TB discs, to get a storage capacity of around 96TB.
And after getting almost six times more storage than the DS412+ and HP ProLiant Gen8, this server’s seemingly high price (starting from around $2200) is entirely justifiable.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the server also makes it possible to add a further eight expansion units, and thereby offer humongous storage potential.
The storage capabilities of this 12-bay QNAP server means it comes highly recommended from me to most fast growing businesses, which are on the verge of making it to the league of medium-sized businesses.
The server also has four Gigabit Ethernet ports, which offer significant network bandwidth possibilities, and it’s equipped with a compact motherboard and single processor socket.
For the processor, a business gets three choices, namely Core i3, i5 or i7.
The QNAP server’s firmware is named QTS, and it offers compatibility with all modern platforms, including:
Generally for small businesses, Core i3 or i5 should suffice, and they’ll also save on expenses.
The TVS-1271U-RP is functional as a desktop computer, or perhaps a surveillance monitor for a CCTV security system, thanks to the HDMI port located on its back.
QNAP TVS-1271U-RP Pros:
- It has the capability to host virtual machines that can run other operating systems
- It can synchronize data with cloud storage services and thereby offers anytime data access
- It offers support for mSATA as well as SSD caching
- The server’s internal storage is scalable and it has optional expansion units
- Additional bandwidth can be added via two PCI slots for 10GbE adapters
- It offers a plethora of tools for backups, ERP, databases, content management and virtualization
QNAP TVS-1271U-RP Cons:
- Similar to the HP ProLiant Gen8 server, the fans are quite noisy
- SSD caching only has read-only capabilities
- It can be expensive for small businesses which do not need additional features
Lenovo’s ThinkServer TS140 is one of the most recent entry-level servers, launched by Lenovo particularly for small businesses.
However, it can deal with enterprise-grade hard drives that have higher Mean Time Between Failures (MTBFs) than other similar entry-level servers.
I’ve worked with this server for a small business only once but found it to be excellent, especially with its remote access management functionality and ability to control system noise.
For businesses that have a particular need for these two features, along with a real concern for power consumption, I suggest the Lenovo ThinkServer TS140.
It also is environment-friendly and consumes less power than its rivals on this list. The TS140 is upgradable to 32GB of RAM memory and 16TB of storage.
It consists of:
- Four PCI slots
- Four USB 3.0 ports
- Two USB 2.0 ports
- One video port
- One serial port
The server comes equipped with an Intel Xeon E3-1200 V3 series one processor, alongside an integrated graphics Core i3 series Pentium CPU.
ThinkServer TS140 Pros:
- It has an advanced thermal design that helps to reduce system noise by 26 decibels
- Has Error-Correcting Code memory for most common kinds of internal data corruption
- It’s equipped with an onboard storage controller that upgrades to RAID 5
- It comes with AMT 9.0 which enables remote supervision and access
- It’s ENERGY-STAR certified
ThinkServer TS140 Cons:
- It supports a limited number of operating systems, such as Windows and VMware ESXi
According to me, the Synology DS1513+ is one of the most advanced storage systems available in the market, that offers advanced server features with fast performance.
It consists of five front-facing drive bays, and each of them can occupy at 4TB HDD with ease, thus supporting a total storage capacity of around 20TB.
Additional storage space of about 40TB is obtainable by using two Synology DX510 expansion units (20TB per unit).
A business can quickly obtain up to 60TB of storage capacity, which is likely to be enough for small-sized businesses — in most cases.
The DS1513+ server comes equipped with two USB 3.0 ports and four USB 2.0 ports at the back, which can be used as additional storage or to share devices such as:
- TV tuners
- Wi-Fi dongles
It has a built-in power supply and two quiet ventilation fans.
A business can expand the server’s 2GB DDR3 RAM to around 4GB, by using laptop system memory. The DS1513+’s web interface is quite robust, due to running on the latest version of the DiskStation Manager (DSM) OS.
The server is compatible with most popular platforms, which is cool, despite already offering such a wide range of features.
And apart from the extensive storage on offer for the price of around $1600; this server’s all-round compatibility is a primary reason why the DS1513+ is my first preference whenever any small business consults me to choose a reliable, yet affordable server.
Synology DS1513+ Pros:
- It offers a vast amount of dynamically scalable storage space
- It’s designed to ensure that every hard drive bay is held in its tray without screws
- It supports all RAID configurations, along with Synology Hybrid RAID
- It has four Gigabit Ethernet ports for better performance and load balancing
- It supports high availability, multipath I/O and high-end functionality
- It supports Apple’s Time Machine backups and services like SQL, DHCP, FPT, and VPN
- It offers many business apps and supports a large number of concurrent devices
Synology DS1513+ Cons:
- The initial setup assistant does not clearly list out the numerous functions of DS1513+
- The available help documentation and customer support are not great
- DS1513+ only has one IP camera license and requires additional licenses
Each of the five servers discussed offers useful features and capabilities to support a small business.
Often, small agencies come to me with complaints about their existing servers, which fail to provide dynamic storage scalability, and suffer non-compatibility issues with a particular platform.
Of course, affordable pricing remains one of the most fundamental concerns for any company.
All challenges that are quickly met by the Synology DS1513+ server, which is why I find it a notch above the rest of its rivals discussed in this article.
If a company is only looking for one of the most basic servers, at the least price and can compromise with minimal downtime — then the HP ProLiant Gen8 server is a decent alternative.
However, if the price is a primary concern, then the Lenovo ThinkServer TS140 is better compared to the HP Gen8; since it offers remote access management and overall system noise control.
If you’ve used any of these servers before, please feel free to share your feedback in the comments section below.