Sooner or later a growing business will need a server of some sort to allow staff to share information and collaborate. There may be fewer name brand manufacturers selling servers these days but the reality is that there's as much choice as ever, thanks to the ever widening range of server categories.
In this Top Ten we've selected the crème de la crème of servers, ranging from simple network storage device, through servers aimed at small businesses to the sorts of servers large enterprises depend on.
So here, in no particular order, are the top ten servers for businesses large and small from basic level Network attached storage (NAS) servers, to high-tech high-spec Blade servers you can build a growing business on,
Network attached storage servers
1/ Synology DiskStation DS212j
About the size of a shoebox, this NAS server might be super-compact but it packs a lot of functionality in its diminutive form-factor.
Sold without hard drives, this two drive-bay unit supports RAID 0, 1 and JBOD disc configurations, and if you're looking for something bigger, then larger versions of the DiskStation are available, which can take up to a dozen drives.
Synology's well-regarded server OS, DiskStation Manager (DSM), is supplied on CD and is easily installed from a network PC. DSM is a full-featured server OS, lacking only the bells and whistles required by large organisations. You get the usual file sharing (supporting Windows, Mac and Linux platforms), printer sharing, plus a basic mail server as well as support for DLNA media streaming. You can even set up your own private cloud storage for sharing data with remote users. An online app centre lets you download free upgrades and add-ons – free antivirus protection is one must-have available.
A couple of USB 2.0 ports let you plug in external storage for backup – both desktop PC and server backups are supported. Last but not least, the DS212J sips electricity, just 17.5W, and runs whisper-quiet.
2/ Buffalo TeraStation Pro TS-QVH12TL/R6EU
Despite its mouthful of a name, this TeraStation Pro is a very capable NAS device. Carrying a price tag worthy of a full-blown server, this device features the increasingly common Intel Atom 1.66GHz Dual Core CPU with 2GB RAM.
Basic management info is displayed in an LCD panel at the front. Underneath it are four drive bays holding a total of 12GB of hot-swappable storage. As you might expect a variety of RAID configurations are supported: RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10 as well as JBOD. Connectivity is also very good, with pairs of Gigabit Ethernet, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports on board. Interestingly it additionally features a 9-pin UPS port and a switch to toggle between booting from the internal disks or a USB drive.
It's no laggard either offering very good read/write speeds and good integration with existing networks, supporting an alphabet soup of file sharing protocols: CIFS/SMB, AFP, HTTP/HTTPS, FTP/FTPS/SFTP, NFS file sharing protocols as well as LDAP and Active Directory.
On top of this it also features a print server, a web server, MySQL database server support, a BitTorrent server, virus scanning, Amazon S3 support and Time Machine compatibility.
3/ QNAP TS-219P II
Superficially, the TS-219P resembles the Synology DS212J – sold without disks, it's roughly the same size (ie small) and can take a pair of drives. But it's noticeably dearer and this premium means it enjoys a superior specification – a fast 2GHz Marvell Kirkwood MV6282 CPU, 512MB of DDR3 RAM, hot-swappable drives, three USB 2.0 ports and a pair of eSATA ports, a comparative rarity on NAS boxes. RAID is supported, with RAID 0, 1 as well as JBOD.
Mac users benefit from the TS-219P's ability to read HFS+ volumes attached to its external interfaces, a feature not found in many of its rivals. There's also iSCSI support, which lets you map a network folder or volume as a local drive, rather than a mapped network share.
Network access to data stored on the TS-210P is provided via all common file sharing protocols: SMB/CIFS, AFP, NFS, FTP and HTTP. Most of them are configurable, too. It has excellent media streaming capabilities (it supports the Logitech Squeezebox for example) which makes it well suited for domestic duties as well. It runs whisper-quiet too.
Downloadable QPKG packages can add extra functionality ranging from Wordpress blog hosting to an NZB download client for downloading content from Usenet.
4/ Netgear ReadyNAS Duo V2
As might imagine from its name, this NAS server can take a pair of 3TB HDDs – if you need even more capacity Netgear's 'prosumer' ReadyNAS Ultra range can take as many as six drives behind the hinged grille door at the front. With both ranges having hot-swappable capability.
At the rear of the ReadyNAS Duo you'll find a Gigabit Ethernet port plus a pair of USB 3.0 ports. There's also a USB 2.0 port at the front. A dedicated Backup button lets you back up data stored on your NAS to an external USB disk. It can also act as a Time Machine backup target for Mac users.
Installation is straightforward – insert one or two blank hard disks and use the supplied RAIDar discovery tool to locate and configure the NAS from a networked PC. The default file system is Netgear's expandable X-RAID2 array but you can also configure the drives as RAID 0 or RAID 1.
The ReadyNAS Duo v2's web interface allows you to administer and reconfigure your NAS. The Shares tab lets you individually set the properties of folders on your NAS; properties such as DLNA (UPnP) media streaming and user access. In common with other NAS devices, Netgear offers a range of both official and community-created add-on utilities, some good, some so-so.
Entry-level and mid-range servers
5/ HP ProLiant N40L Microserver
We've already taken a look at HP's baby server, the ProLiant N40L Microserver on Techradar (how to build the perfect home server) but this diminutive server is Microsoft Server 2008 R2 certified so is capable of much more serious tasks.
Powered by an AMD Turion Neo N40L 1.5GHz CPU, the Microserver comes with 2GB of DDR3 RAM and a 250GB SATA HDD. This occupies one of the four drive bays accessible behind a lockable door. A further externally accessible drive bay is provided above this. The Microserver supports RAID 0 and 1 arrays as well as JBOD, though hot-swapping isn't supported.
There are four USB 2.0 ports at the front and another pair are located on the rear panel, along with Gigabit Ethernet and eSATA ports, so no complaints on the connectivity front.
Loading older MS server operating systems, such as Windows Server 2003 can be tricky as HP doesn't support them but later OS's such as Server 2008, SBS Essentials 2011 and Windows Home Server 2011 work right out of the box.
The Microserver's expandability, compact size and low power consumption make it an attractive small office home office proposition even more so when HP seems to offer £100 cash-back on it at regular intervals.
6/ HP Proliant ML110 G7 Server
A step up from the Microserver, the ProLiant ML110 G7 is aimed at businesses with limited budgets and on-site IT skills. It's available in seven configurations but the basic one sports an eight-core Intel Xeon X3 CPU, 2GB of DDR3 RAM, 250GB SATA drive, integrated 6-port RAID in a Micro ATX tower. It also has a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports and can take a maximum of 16GB RAM.
For an entry-level server, the ML110 G& scores well on remote management, featuring HP's embedded iLO3 controller as standard. These features make the ML110 G7 well suited to remote sites, and for those worried about downtime added protection can be gained with an option of a dual 460W hot-swappable PSU.
A lockable door conceals access to four HHD bays. The embedded RAID Controller supports striping, mirroring and cold-swap drives. Like so much else in the ML110, this can be upgraded with an HP Smart Array controller.
Initial commissioning is carried out by booting from the bundled SmartStart DVD which provides an assisted installation routine, access to diagnostics and to the RAID array configuration. This and the remote management feature are uncommon at this price-point – it's an astute server choice for small businesses.
7/ IBM System x3100 M4
The System x3100 M4 is IBM's newest entry-level server, the first to feature an Intel Xeon E3 CPU, though a cheaper version is available powered by a dual-core 3.1GHz Core i3. You also get a pair of Gigabit network ports plus four PCI Express slots and the ability to run to 32GB of DDR3 RAM in its four DIMM slots.
The well-built chassis features two 5.25in externally accessible drive bays at the front and behind the front panel lies a four drive HDD cage with power and SATA connectors allowing the drives to be slid in and out, though these are cold and not hot swap operations. However, eight 2.5in hot swappable internal drive bays are available as an option, as are hot swappable power supplies.
RAID functions are provided by IBM's ServerRaid six port SATA controller – RAID 0,1 and 10 are supported but an upgrade to RAID 5 is available.
The server has six USB 2.0 ports plus an internal USB supports a USB tape backup device. It's an IBM server and so benefits from IMM2 remote management and Predictive Failure Analysis on CPU and RAM.
The x3100 M4 is quiet running and sips power which makes it ideal for small office use.
8/ Dell PowerEdge T410 Tower Server
Dell's PowerEdge T410 is a mini-tower server aimed at the entry-level. It has plenty of room for expansion and can be factory installed with either Windows Server 2008 or Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
It's compact and as result it can just sit on the floor or a desk, it's a good choice if you don't have rack-mount infrastructure. Like the ML110, the T410 runs on an Intel Xeon E5603 CPU (there's a socket for an additional Xeon if you need to upgrade), 2GB of DDR3 RAM and a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports.
Storage options are well catered for: a 500GB SATA drive is standard but there is room for a total of six cold-swap SATA or SAS drives, or, optionally, small form-factor 2.5in drives or hot-swap drives.
RAID is provided courtesy of a Dell SAS 6/iR card.
The T410 has five free PCI Express slots, too. The base system features a simple LED diagnostics panel but a backlit LCD version with more detail is an optional extra. As standard the T410 comes with a fixed 525W power supply, but you can opt for a pair of 580W hot-plug models.
Servers are an essential part of business technology, and the Dell PowerEdge T410 is a safe choice for middle-to-high end server needs. Its ability to be customised makes it scalable to almost any specification, for any business.
High-end blade servers
9/ HP ProLiant BL460c Gen8 Server Blade
If you want the world's best-selling server blade, the BL460c Gen8 is what you're looking for. This 'c-Class' blade is a highly configurable server: it only needs to be wired into a rack once. After that, computing resources can be altered on the fly to dynamically adjust power and cooling. Similarly you can 'virtually' re-wire it via its virtualised Ethernet and Fibre Channel connections.
Two 2.5in drive bays are provided for SAS, SATA and/or SSD drives. These are connected to an enhanced HP Smart Array Controller that now ships with 512MB Flash Back Write Cache as standard, delivering up to 3x the performance of its predecessor. This is an integrated SAS controller that supports RAID 0 and RAID 1 for the two internal drives, and has a 512MB flash backed write cache standard.
The entry-level version is driven by one four-core Intel Xeon E5 2.5GHz CPU though there's a socket for a second CPU, with 16GB of RAM, expandable to 512GB. At this price-point throughput is the name of the game and accordingly the BL460c has two FlexFabric 10 Gigabit ports.
To add to the laundry-list of features, the BL460c features next-generation HP iLO and cloud-enabled Insight Management.
All this high spec power doesn't come cheap: the fully-loaded model carries no less than a £6K price tag – and the hard drives are extra.
10/ IBM System x3650 M4
The x3650 M4 is the latest version of IBM's popular 2U form-factor rack-mounted server.
The server is feature-rich and very scalable, with the capacity to cope with 16 Small Form-Factor drives or 32 1.8in SSDs, giving a maximum of 18TB.
It can take up to two Intel Xeon CPUs, 24 DDR3 DIMMs or 768GB, up to 6 PCI Express slots and four Gigabit network ports, upgradable to two 10GB ports with a mezzanine card. There are no less than six RAID options available, too, so you can really mix 'n' match to suit your needs here, to 'grow' the server with the business.
Virtualisation options are supported by an internal bootable USB port. A notable feature of this range is IBM's new UEFI (unified extensible firmware interface), which offers a setup menu for general server configuration, a boot device manager and a diagnostics GUI.
Power consumption is important for racked servers and the x3650 M4 pulls only modest power even under maximum load, something you can monitor with IBM's IMM2 management software. This makes the x3650 M4 easy to deploy, integrate, service and manage.