Does your practice need a Dedicated Server?

Does your practice need a Dedicated Server?

Having spent some time over the last few days trying to help a potential new client out of a tricky situation due to failed hard drive in their “server” computer I thought about why we generally recommend using a dedicated server over a computer acting as a server

I personally have been working in IT for 18 years now, 15 of those specifically in the Dental market. Whilst some practices I have come across have been simple one surgery operations, most are larger. The thing that I always found surprising is that a lot of these practices haven’t implemented a client/server-based network and also that some of the dental software companies don’t actually recommend a dedicated server until the practice is using 10 computers which to me is madness.

Peer-to-peer networks (networks with one of the computers acting as a server) don't provide you with much in the way of security and resource sharing can be somewhat problematic. So, not surprisingly, they can have problems accessing workstations, would experience intermittent Internet problems and have issues with printer sharing. PCs networked in a peer-to-peer fashion are adequate when you only have a few users on the network, but once you have more than 4 or 5 computers on your network, then you really should consider investing in a dedicated server.

Nevertheless, convincing a small practice owner to make this type of investment can be a hard sell. Unlike large corporates, small practices don't have the benefit of an IT department or the deep pockets necessary to maintain a complex IT infrastructure. However, network servers don't have to be overly expensive or complex for you to benefit from them. And while implementing a new server is not a trivial or inexpensive undertaking, the benefits you gain by adding a server to your computing environment far outweigh any shortcomings. A dentist often can’t work without instant access to the patients record and x-rays etc, do you really want your practice to be reliant on a desktop PC to keep you working?

But What Exactly is a Server?
Many people are under the misconception that a server is no different from a typical desktop PC. This couldn't be further from the truth. While almost any PC that meets the minimum hardware requirements can run the server operating system, that doesn't make it a true server. A desktop system is optimized to run a user-friendly operating system, desktop applications, and facilitate other desktop oriented tasks. Even if the desktop had similar processor speeds, memory and storage capacity, it still isn't a replacement for a real server. The technologies behind them are engineered for different purposes. With dedicated servers from Dell & HP they can link directly into our support software and often inform us of any errors before you know there is a problem.

A server is engineered to manage, store, send and process data, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 356 days a year. For these reasons, servers need to be far more reliable than desktop PC’s. In order to accomplish this, servers offer a variety of features not typically found in a desktop PC. Some servers will include:

  • Higher Grade & Quality Components
  • Redundant hard drives or power supplies
  • Hot swappable components
  • Are scalable; to meet current, as well as future needs
  • Can process data faster and more efficiently

So now that you know what makes up a server, what can a server do for you? There are multiple reasons to have a dedicated server. Some of the more important ones are the following:

  • File and Network security
  • Increased reliability & uptime
  • Centralised data storage, backup and shared resources
  • Built in redundancy
  • Data can be snapshotted multiple times a day allowing instant recovery of data

Many servers are equipped with redundant power supplies. With a secondary power supply running in tandem, the loss of one of the power supplies doesn't affect normal system operations. The same goes for a server's storage system. Unlike an average desktop PC that uses a single hard drive, a server will typically use multiple hard drives working in a RAID configuration to prevent data loss or an interruption in workflow. We always configure our servers so that the Dental Data lives on separate physical hard drives to Windows & Programs, this is much better for disk performance. Although disk failure rate is fairly low in servers many are equipped with hot swappable hard drives & power supplies. These hot swappable components allow you to replace faulty hardware without interrupting the entire practice.  In addition, since all user files are being stored on the server, if a workstation fails for any reason when it is replaced all their documents are there.

If you would like some information on the servers we offer and what having a properly specified and configured dedicated server can do for your practice please get in touch using the contact details at the bottom of this page.

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