Nice (server) rack!

serverrack1When you first buy a server, you’ll probably get what’s known as a tower server. It’s in a case that looks very much like any other PC case. It might be a little sturdier than most, but otherwise it’s not that different.

As your computer infrastructure expands, you’ll start to acquire more hardware, like a big switch, a high-end firewall or security appliance, maybe a better phone system, another server or two along with a KVM so you can use the same keyboard/monitor/mouse, and a bigger UPS (uninterruptible power supply).  Suddenly you have more equipment than space.

That’s when it’s time to look at getting a server rack. It allows you to store a lot of equipment in a small space.

Most business-class equipment can be mounted in a rack, although you may need a shelf for those tower servers you bought. When you upgrade them, look into a rack-mount server instead, which will be sized to fit into your rack. You may see terms like “1U,” “2U,” etc. These refer to the height of the equipment in your rack. The bigger the number, the bigger the equipment.

Keep your rack in a well-ventilated room to avoid trouble with overheated equipment. Racks pack equipment in tight, so keeping the server room cool is critical.

Racks also provide a level of security, as most can be locked. The ideal is to keep your rack in a locked server room, but in smaller offices where this isn’t an option, a locked rack (or even a shorter “half-rack”) will help.

Reduce spam – don’t be a zombie

spam1Every year spam becomes a bigger issue. People ask me why…surely no one’s falling for the Nigerian scams, right? No one really buys generic viagra from strangers?

Actually, they do. And if 0.0001% of all spam receives a response – that’s 1 in a million – those spammers make millions.

Sadly, the costs of sending all those emails are next to nothing. Spammers use hackers, trojan horses, and viruses to take over “zombie” computers. All the email is routed through these unwitting accomplice PCs and servers. So they send millions, they receive a small but steady flow of responses, and they get rich.

Think this isn’t for real? One time we were talking to a prospective client about their email issues. When we got on their server, we found a dozen spammers connected, with 4,000 emails queued up and ready to send. We booted them off, only to have another dozen reappear within minutes. Until a better firewall could be put into place, there was little to do but disconnect Internet access.

It’s not limited to servers either. We brought in a client PC that had been infected by a virus. While we were working on it, someone accidentally connected it to our Internet connection, and it sent so much spam our very own email was temporarily blacklisted. Legitimate emails sent to clients and prospects bounced until we got that corrected.

The solution? It’s all about security. If you thought a robber was casing the neighborhood, you’d check the alarm system, your deadbolt, your window locks…do the same thing with your computer network. Make sure you’ve got a business-class firewall, anti-virus protection on every single machine, and intrusion detection if you can afford it.

Keep in mind, robbers can break into even the best protected homes if there’s reason; likewise, hackers can break into any network if they really want. Just be sure  you haven’t left the front door wide open.

Not sure if your current IT guy has you covered? Have an independent third party run an external scan. If they can get in, so can the spammers.

Your very first network

Simple networkMost small businesses that have more than one computer start out with a peer-to-peer network. This means there is no server – the computers talk directly to one another, as peers. If you have Windows XP or Vista, setup is fairly easy and can be done entirely through wizards. With older versions of Windows, the mechanics are a little more complicated, especially for the novice, but it certainly can be done.

Why bother? Networked computers can share not just your Internet connection but also printers and files. You can even backup files from one computer to another.

While you can connect two computers directly together, your network will be much more reliable if you purchase a router, around $50. Linksys, Netgear, and D-Link are popular brands. A router will manage your network for you, by “routing” the signals between your computers and your Internet connection, much like a traffic cop. In addition, most routers have a built-in firewall that will provide basic protection against hackers.