The cloud is supposed to be about convenience. But if you’re trying to access files quickly, remote data storage often disappoints. For file copying speed, even the best online backup options can’t outpace a good local backup solution.
For businesses, that means faster disaster recovery, faster collaborations and fewer headaches. Forget about single-disk external drives, too. Local storage options today are both powerful and reasonably inexpensive, making it a perfect time to implement a more advanced hybrid backup strategy for your business.
During this overview, we’ll be noting some of the best servers for business with an with an eye towards affordability. Our top options include the Lenovo ThinkServer TS140 and the Dell PowerEdge T30. Beyond that, unless you’re ready to spend bigger, we recommend going the NAS server route, and our final three picks reflect that recommendation.
What Makes a Server the Best for a Small Business?
Finding an inexpensive server these days isn’t hard. Finding an inexpensive server that’s actually good is little trickier. The market is forever in flux and opinions vary wildly, but the five best server options listed below will all work nicely toward evolving your business’s backup plan.
There are a few criteria we looked for when making our picks. One of the most important is at least four hard-drive bays. The reason we encourage four bays is that’s how many you need to setup RAID 5 and maintain decent storage capacity. RAID 5 both stripes data across multiple drives for performance and keeps parity data so that if one drive fails, you don’t lose anything.
We also favor servers that support SSDs (solid-state drives). SSDs have fewer moving parts than traditional mechanical hard drives (HDDs). They’re both considerably faster and less prone to breaking. Granted, SSDs are also considerably more expensive, too, so you many want to stick to HHDs and upgrade later if needed. Some servers let you run both SSDs and HDDs simultaneously, so you can use an SSD for your OS and HDDs for other files.
As far as CPUs, most low-cost options use the same processors you’ll find in laptops. Better, faster options uses high-performance processors designed for multi-threaded capabilities and reliability (like an Intel Xeon). We considered CPU and allotted RAM, too. Both will dictate how many simultaneous users you can have accessing your backup and drive other performance metrics.
The Difference Between File Servers and NAS Devices
Traditional file servers and NAS devices share many features. Most notably, both let business users on a network backup, store, share, edit and otherwise work with files. Usually, the biggest difference between servers and NAS devices is power, with servers having more of it thanks to more advanced hardware. Lower cost servers, however, and NAS devices are usually pretty comparable in that regard, which is why we include NAS devices in this article.
Servers can also be used to run applications used by your office, including databases and email. NAS, not so much. In fact, servers are more configurable in general. They usually don’t even come preinstalled with an OS. That way, you can go with Windows Server, Linux Server or whatever other server OS you favor.
On the other hand, most NAS devices come pre-configured with proprietary OS software. While less flexible, there’s definitely a speed advantage here. NAS devices can be set up and backing up files in a few minutes. Servers will take both more upfront work and more consistent monitoring.
Ultimately, going with one or the other will depend on the needs of your business. Whichever you go with though, don’t dismiss the notion of also backing up your data to the cloud.
Server Backup to the Cloud
Here at Cloudwards.net, we tend favor a hybrid backup approach when it comes to storing business data. That’s to say, we suggest storing data both locally and in the cloud. While servers are pretty convenient when it comes to speed, only storing data locally can lead to some big problems for your business. It’s because of this that most online backup experts endorse the 3-2-1 rule, or some variation of it.
The basics of 3-2-1 are pretty simple: It’s always best to keep three copies of your data on at least two mediums, with one of those mediums offsite.
The reason offsite copies of your business files are recommend is that fires, floods, viruses, accidents and other such problems are hard to guard against. Unless you’re building your own climate-controlled, secure offsite data center to host your server, keeping everything on a server without a fallback plan means putting your business at risk.
Online backup is slow, but it also provides a level of data redundancy and security that’s hard to beat with an onsite server. Thanks to plenty of competition, you’ll find some pretty good prices on online backup, too.
The top options you can read bout in our IDrive for Business review and CloudBerry Backup review. We have an article on the best server backup to help guide the way. Many of the same options can also be used to backup NAS devices. Or, you can check out another article we’ve penned dedicated specifically to finding the best online backup for NAS.
Five Best Affordable Servers for Small Businesses
Servers:Server Type:Approximate Price:
Lenovo ThinkServer TS140 NAS$750
Dell PowerEdge T30 NAS$600
NetGear ReadyNAS 424 NAS$550
Synology DiskStation DS916 NAS$650
Our first pick is a popular one: the ThinkServer TS140. Lenovo’s tower server is inexpensive and upgradeable, meaning it can grow along with your business.The TS140 comes with four empty 3.5” bays, which means it can support RAID 0, 1 and 5. You can mix and match SSDs and HDDs, too, if you want to cut costs by only using an SSD for your server OS.
Base configurations are pretty minimal: dual Intel Core i3-4130 3.40GHz processors and 4GB DDR3 memory. However, you can opt for a higher-end model running with an Intel Xeon and 32GB of RAM if you’re don’t mind spending more. Or, you can upgrade later.
Four PCIe slots open up additional expansion and upgrade options, including swapping your hard-interface from SATA to SAS, should that become a need. The TS140 already has an Intel HD Graphics 4400 card and a DVD-R optical drive.
Model:TS140:TS140 (Intel Xeon): Approximate Price:$500$750 Bays:FourFour Processor:Core i3-4130Intel Xeon RAM:4GB DDR34GB DDR3
Another advantage in buying the TS140 is that it’s whisper quiet at just 26 decibels, so won’t disturb your while you work. If you ever decide to move onto a different server, you can also repurpose your TS140 into a pretty nice gaming rig. Granted, that might disrupt your work some.
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.
Up to 16TB of storageUp to 32GB of RAMRAID 5 capableVery quietLow-energy consumptionFour PCIe slotsDVD-R driveIntel Graphics 4400
No hot swappingSlow base CPU
LIke the TS140, Dell’s entry-level server comes in a tower case with room for upgrades. However, it’s base configuration also packs a bit more punch than our previous entry, seeing as it comes standard with a Intel Xeon 3.3GHz Quad Core processors and 8GB of RAM.
There’s also a pretty affordable 16GB version.
The T30 comes with a 1TB hard drive, but has space for up to four 3.5” HDDs or six 2.5” ones. That means you can support up to RAID 5 if that’s a business need. Four PCIe slots and six USB 3.0 ports will come in useful for expansions.
ModelT30:T30 (16GB RAM): Approximate Price$450$600 Bays:FourFour Processor:Intel XeonIntel Xeon RAM:8GB16GB
The unit is also compact and quiet, so should fit in the corner of your office nicely (just not by the water cooler). While not as popular as the TS140, the T30 certainly has better specs, minus the fact that it doesn’t come equipped with an optical drive or graphic card.
Intel Xeon Quad CoreUp to 16TB of storageUp to 64GB of RAMRAID 5 capableWhisper quietLow energy consumptionFour PCIe slotsFix USB 3.0 slots
No hot swappingNo graphics card
The Synology DiskStation DS916 is our top recommendation for SMBs looking for a NAS device. It’s a bit pricey and if you’re looking to save, the DS216 is quite a bit less, but also only has two drives to the DS916’s four.
That means the DS216 isn’t capable of RAID 5. The DS916 is and you can even scale it up to nine drives with Synology’s five-bay expansion unit, the DX513. Doing so would increase your storage capacity to 72TB.
The base model comes with 2GB of DDR3 RAM, which you might want to upgrade. The quad-core, Intel Pentium N3710 processor should be plenty powerful enough, though. While you can store and stream HD movies if you want, there’s no question the DS916 is built with information technology needs in mind. A maximum of 200 users can use the DS916 at a time — a testament to the power of its hardware.
Synology also uses an AES-NI hardware encryption engine to keep your files secure. The ability to read encrypted files at speeds of over 225 MBps and write them at over 209 MBps is another compelling reason why it might be beneficial to your business to keep files locally in addition to in the cloud.
Model:DS216:DS916: Approximate Price:$350$550 Bays:TwoFour Bays:Intel Celeron N3060Intel Pentium N3710 RAM:1GB2GB
Finally, Synology packages its NAS devices with some great apps that will appeal to business users. That includes mobile apps to connect to your NAS while on the move and a surveillance station app if you want to wire your office with IP cameras for that friendly, big brother feel.
Fast to setupRAID 5Four baysMobile appsUp to 200 usersHot swapping
Only 2GB RAM (upgradeable)Can’t install server OSOnly uses proprietary apps
While we’d recommend the four-bay version of the NetGear ReadyNAS 420 series, as with the Synology DiskStation, there’s also a two-bay version if you don’t mind decreased capacity and data redundancy. Alternatively, you can can also pick up six-bay and eight-bay versions for a reasonable cost.
For those looking for a little more power, there’s also a 520 and 620 series. The 420 series uses an Intel Atom dual core processor to keep things moving. The 520 and 620 series both use the Intel Xeon. Both higher-end models also support virtualization, which the 420 doesn’t.
The ReadyNAS has some nice applications that make it a quick addition to your SMB network. That includes ReadyCLOUD to quickly set things up and remote management and monitoring apps.
Model:422:424426:428 Approximate Price:$300$400$550$650 Bays:TwoFourSixEight Processor:Intel Atom Dual Core Intel Atom Dual Core Intel Atom
Quad CoreIntel Atom Quad Core RAM:2GB2GB4GB4GB
It can also automatically backup to several cloud storage options, including Amazon AWS, Google Drive and Dropbox if you’re looking to implement hybrid backup and don’t want to use a service like CloudBerry Backup. According to the specs, the ReadyNAS 424 can only support up to 40 concurrent users. However, that should be enough for most SMBs.
Easy to setup
Expandable to 9 bays
Handy package center
Up to 40 users
Can’t install server OSOnly 2GB RAM (upgradeable)Media file transcoding can drain CPU
QNAP makes some of the most popular NAS devices for both home and business users — and makes a lot of them. For professionals, the QNAP TS-453A is our top pick, but there are a few different directions you could go in, including the higher-performance QNAP TVS-671.
The TS-453A runs an Intel Celeron N3150 Quad Core 1.6GHz processor and comes standard with 4GB of DDR3L RAM, which you can bump to 8GB.
This NAS also supports server virtualization, including VMWare and Hyper-V. According to QNAP it runs faster than our Synology recommendation, with speeds up to 412 Mbps even running AES-NI encryption. Dual HDMI outputs let you expand or mirror your storage locally.
Model:TS-253A:TS-453A:TVS-671: Approximate Price$450$550$1600 Bays:TwoFourSix Processor:Intel Celeron N3150 Quad CoreIntel Celeron N3150 Quad
CoreIntel i5 Quad Core RAM:4GB4GB8GB
Best of all, if you’re looking to after-work karaoke parties for your business associates, the TS-453A is your machine thanks to QNAP’s Ocean KTV app. In fact, it’s all around great media server, making it an ideal addition to your home theater setup, too.
Easy to setup
4GB RAM (upgradeable to 8GB)
RAID 5Hot swapping