The Top 5 Business Networking Myths

Updated: May 20, 2010

A Real Company Must Have a Real Server

For our purposes, a "real" server is a dedicated computer, high powered and beefier than a desktop, that runs some version of Microsoft Windows Server software. Microsoft has seemingly millions of resellers pushing this myth, all armed with nice sales materials and backed by the billions of advertising and marketing dollars Microsoft has spent over the years.

Companies do need shared file storage for security and ease of backup. Yet that can be achieved with an inexpensive NAS (Network Attached Storage) appliance, or a hosted online service. But when you ask a reseller, almost all will push you toward a Windows server for thousands of dollars rather than a NAS appliance for about a hundred. It's painful to see a company of 20 users paying for three big Windows servers, tens of thousands of dollars, but it happens all the time.

Many smaller companies, especially those with distributed employees, have found great success using a hosted service that provides secure storage available to all employees, along with shared calendars and contacts and task lists, among other features. Google Apps, HyperOffice, and StreetSmart from InfoStreet are three popular options, but there are more. Every user with Internet access can use hosted services such as these, and it doesn't matter if you prefer a PC or a Mac.

There are good reasons to buy a server, and many firms need one to support critical application software. But once you start down the server road, the bills never stop, so make sure you can justify your expenses rather than falling for the "real server" myth.

A Physical Server In House Is More Secure Than a Hosted Server

This could be labeled "hosted services aren't secure" because many non-technical managers still feel that way. A server you can see and touch in your own building must be secure, right?

Wrong. Every server on the Internet can be seen by everyone else on the Internet, and far too often that includes cybercriminals. Securing your server against the world requires expertise far beyond almost all small and medium businesses.

There are two ways to benefit from the security of a hosted server provider. First, when using SaaS applications, the hosting company owns and secures those servers. User access is monitored and controlled by passwords, every company's data remains securely separated from every other company's data, and security patches are applied to servers by the SaaS company.

Second, many resellers and managed service providers will gladly host your physical server in their data center. Called "dedicated server hosting" and "co-location" and a few other terms, specialized hosting centers will rent you a server (hosting) or house your server (co-location). They offer a secure physical and virtual environment with locked doors and strong Internet security features. Patches and security updates may be part of their service or available for a small fee.

When companies host their own servers, they must pay for physical security, electricity, and cooling. More and more small and medium sized companies are handing off those headaches to server hosting specialists.

Email Security Demands You Have Your Own Email Server

There is no question that email security is important, and more and more industries are being forced to archive their email by regulators. But security is not a casual process to be undertaken by the untrained. Real email security takes expertise, dedication, and resources.

Handling your own email security means blocking your portion of the 40 Trillion spam messages that were sent in 2009, straining resources on mail servers worldwide. Stopping spam at your email server takes bandwidth to download thousands of messages to delete, stealing bandwidth from users. Email archiving for legal protectio requires expertise and resources beyond the typical small and even medium business.

Hundreds of hosted email service providers exist, so competition is tight and prices are quite reasonable. Even Microsoft offers hosted Exchange services now.

Companies can justify the costs of their own email servers when they have hundreds of employees to support and trained staff to manage those servers. However, many large companies outsource tens of thousands of employee email accounts because they find paying an email specialist less expensive and more secure than handling their own. The email market may be almost entirely outsourced in a few more years, and companies hosting their own email a rarity.

Disks Are So Good That Backup Isn't Important

Whether the myth is actually that disks are so reliable that they never fail, or just that backup is a complicated process that scares small businesses, few companies properly protect their data. Two thirds of small businesses, and half of medium business have inadequate or non-existent backup processes.

On one hand, disks have become far more spacious, inexpensive, and reliable over the past decade. Unfortunately, most files are not lost due to hardware failure but user and software errors. And the most reliable hard disk can't help your business if it's stolen.

Proper file protection uses a backup process to automatically collect, copy, and redundantly archive all important files. Files must be stored locally for fast restoration, and offsite for protection against a disaster. Not all disasters make the news: if your server is stolen, the government won't declare it a disaster, but you will. Backups are the least expensive business insurance you have against Acts of God, Acts of Malice, and Acts of Stupidity.

No data files means no business. Talk to your trusted network advisor today about improvements to your backup process.

We're Too Small for CyberCriminals to Attack

Security gurus call this attitude "security by obscurity" as businesses think no one will notice them. They also call these companies victims far too often.

Not only do cybercriminals attack smaller businesses, they actively search for them. Smaller companies have far too little security expertise in house, and are often reluctant to allocate the resources necessary to secure their in-house file and email servers.

Even small companies have bank accounts that can be drained. Unprotected email servers are a major launching point for spam, taking company resources and damaging your reputation when the spam gets tracked back to your server. Your network may only be a stepping stone to reach one of your customers or suppliers, making you the dupe leveraged to access larger companies.

Every business on the Internet must protect itself. When you travel through bad neighborhoods, you worry more about security and take more precautions. Unfortunately, the Internet is now a bad neighborhood, so act appropriately.

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