From the February 2006 issue of Entrepreneur

Oh server, you are the conduit through which business files, applications and print jobs flow. You control the network traffic, provide a route for data backup and keep countless businesses running smoothly.

Servers may not be the most romantic pieces of hardware, but they're one of the most important. These beefed-up computers are both the heart and brain of your network, pumping data and keeping everything in line and online.

One size doesn't fit all, but you can find a server to fit any business. Your trusty IT person or an outside IT consultant can determine just how much bang you'll need now and later, and whether a Microsoft or Linux OS best suits your applications. We've priced the servers on the chart with Windows, but all run Linux equally well.

Configuration means a lot. For example, check out the Gateway E-9220T tower server. It has a base price of $599 (all prices street), but some recommended extras can send the price tag upward. Add Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 Standard Edition with five client-access licenses for $499; an SCSI controller for $189; dual hot-swappable 500-watt power supplies for $199; and the three-year, next-business-day warranty for $149, and you end up at $1,635. That's still an entry-level price for a business server. You'll probably also want to consider souping up the standard 256MB memory a bit.

Acer's Altos G520 is also available in a variety of configurations. We checked into the G520E-U-N2800 with specs that include a 2.8GHz Xeon processor, Windows Server 2003, 512MB RAM and a 160GB hard drive, all for $2,449. The G520 can support dual processors in case you need to add some oomph to your server. It comes in a compact tower, but can be rack-mounted to save space.

The Hewlett-Packard ProLiant ML350 G4 comes stocked with a 3.2GHz Intel Xeon processor. It features six 1-inch hot pluggable spaces so you can add plenty of extra hard drives as your data storage needs increase. (Remember to keep an eye on expandability while you're shopping.) We priced it at $2,607 with a 72.8GB hard drive and a five-user license for Windows Server 2003.

There are some budget-friendly options for businesses that are stepping up to their first server. The IBM xSeries 100 Express Model is a mini tower that skims in under $1,500 with Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 tacked onto the price tag. The trade-off is that hard drive expandability is limited. For more intensive applications, we stocked a Dell PowerEdge 1800 with dual 3.2GHz Intel Xeon processors and ended up with a $2,946 price tag. That's not bad for a dual-processor setup.

The job isn't over once you purchase the server. An uninterruptible power supply to keep the juice flowing in an emergency is a must. Those can cost several hundred dollars or more. A backup system of some sort is another absolute necessity. Your IT consultant or in-house IT person will be your best friend during the process of selecting or upgrading and then installing your new server.

Shopping List One of these capable and customizable servers is sure to be configured to serve your business best.
MANUFACTURER/
MODEL
CONTACT OS/PROCESSOR HARD DRIVE/
MEMORY
FEATURES STREET
PRICE
Acer
Altos G520E-
U-N2800
(800) 571-2237
www.acer.com
Windows Server 2003/
2.8Hz Xeon
160GB/
512MB RAM
expandable to 8GB
Dual Processor support,
three-year warranty
$2,449
Dell
PowerEdge 1800
(800) 757-8434
www.dell.com
Windows Server 2003/
Dual 3.2GHz Xeon
80GB/
1GB RAM,
expandable to 12GB
Six hard-drive bays,
three-year warranty
$2,946
Gateway
E-9220T
(877) 487-1129
www.gateway.com
MS Small Business
Server 2003/
2.66GHz Celeron
80GB/
256MB RAM,
expandable to 8GB
Dual hot-swappable power
supplies, three-year warranty,
SCSI controller
$1,635
Hewlett-Packard
ProLiant ML350 G4
(800) 888-9909
www.hp.com
Windows Server 2003/
3.2GHz Xeon
72.8GB/
1GB RAM,
expandable to 8GB
Dual processor support,
three-year warranty
$2,607
IBM
xSeries 100
Express Model
(866) 426-0472
www.ibm.com
Not included/
3.2GHz Pentium 4
80GB/
512MB RAM,
expandable to 8GB
OS not included in price,
one-year warranty
$945