You can think of the hardware part of the equation as a desktop computer on steroids. To handle the grueling task of hosting a Web page, the machine must be loaded to the gills with hard-drive space, memory and processor speed. All that can make for a mighty pricey PC. Thankfully, the hardware manufacturers know you're budget-starved, and they want to make sure they can get your business anyway. Therefore, a variety of manufacturers target start-ups.
Take the $2,784 (all prices street) Compaq ProLiant ML350, for example. That's pretty cheap, considering that big-time Web servers clock in at the hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars level. It comes with a 1GHz Pentium III pro-cessor, 128MB RAM and a 9.1GB hard drive. If you customize online by adding a processor or hard drive, your price can creep substantially upward. And remember that the server price doesn't include server software.
Another option is the $3,238 Dell PowerApp.web 100. Specs include a 750MHz Pentium III processor, 256MB RAM, a 9GB hard drive and pre-loaded Windows 2000. It's also available with Red Hat Linux installed for a couple hundred dollars less. It comes in two versions: One version sits on your desk like a regular PC; the other slides into a rack instead. The rack-mount server is only 13¦4 inches high and looks more like a pancake than a desktop tower. But it's convenient, especially if you plan to purchase several and keep them all together in the same rack.
On the Mac side of things, you'll find the Macintosh Server G4 with Mac OS X Server. A 450MHz PowerPC G4 processor provides the speed, while 128MB RAM and a 30GB hard drive provide the memory and storage. All that power translates into $2,999 for the bottom-of-the-line model. If desired, you can work your way up to 1.5GB RAM and three 72GB hard drives for $8,649. Apache Web server software comes bundled with the Mac OS X Server operating system. If you're more comfortable in the company of Macs, these options are the ones to consider.
One server may not be enough, however. Many companies invest in several machines to handle the heavy volume of traffic their Web sites attract. Because traffic and load levels fluctuate wildly, your server could go down from operator error, a software glitch or a hacker attack. The last thing you want is for customers to get a "server too busy" error message-also appropriately known as the kiss of death for an e-commerce business. But if the prospect of second-guessing your site traffic makes you squirm, try hooking up with a server seller who will take care of it for you. IBM, for one, offers its Quick Launch for e-business Ventures program. Tailored to your start-up, Quick Launch is a scalable hardware, software, storage, edu-cation and support package. Pricing varies with each undertaking and includes financing options.
Remember that servers generally don't include monitors, keyboards or mouses: They're designed to be accessed through your office network. If you prefer the direct approach, you'll have to budget for those things.