It takes more than a stack of snazzy hardware to get your Web site up and running-you've got to have the right software, too. You'll need a network operating system to provide the basis for running the server software. When you purchase a server, you'll likely receive a choice of operating systems to have pre-installed (usually Windows or Linux). The main job of the Web server software is to answer requests for pages via Hypertext Transfer Protocol, or HTTP, the mechanism for serving up static HTML pages. Additional, more advanced operations include CGI scripts and secure transactions.
You need to start by choosing a network operating system. Most popular are Sun OS and other Unix flavors, Windows NT, Windows 2000 Server and Linux. The Compaq ML350 comes installed with your choice of Windows 2000 or Red Hat Linux. If you go Mac, you get Mac OS X Server. If you're new to the whole experience, go with a popular, well-supported system like Windows 2000 or Red Hat Linux. If you run into problems down the line, at least help won't be too far away.
Next up is the Web server software. Two of the most popular titles here are Apache and Microsoft Internet Information Server. Although Apache is a free Web server, most commercial software in this area can cost well over $1,000. So if you don't go with Apache, look for hardware that comes bundled with a Web server. Purchasing a server appliance that's dedicated to Web hosting will usually cover your bases. Designed for easy set-up and use, they're ideal for first-time buyers. In addition, you should be able to get going in less time than it would take to dedicate a general-purpose server to Web hosting only.
We must stress that all your hardware and software will be useless without a fast, stable Internet connection, and we're not talking about puny dial-up access. T1 or T3 are better options-the more bandwidth, the better, especially when you're trying to feed your own site onto the Web.
Either you're really excited about the prospect of installing your own server and controlling every aspect of your online presence, or you're really not. If you fall into the latter group and don't want to hire an IT manager to do the dirty work, there's no reason to fear. You can always hire a host.