We are a new startup company with five to eight employees. I know we need a server and office network, however that's it. I've looked online at different servers - this has only made choosing one even harder. We are lost, I guess what we need is a simple server for our accounting software, printing, and email/Internet. If possible, please be as specific as possible on the specs. We are a very small startup so it will need work with a small budget.-- Jay Smelser.

While Novell has its Novell Open Workgroup Suite Small Business Edition and Microsoft has its Small Business Server offerings, you have some research to do before deciding which way to go. And there are several open-source products that will probably work well for you as well.

You mentioned that you will be using an accounting software package. This is a good place on which to start your research, because some accounting packages today require a database server. If you have decided on the accounting application you will be using, see what platforms and databases they run on. Do the same with the other applications you will be using. This will help you to start eliminating the server platforms that won't serve your needs.

Both the Novell and Microsoft offerings offer an email server as a part of the server "bundle" of applications. Look for the option of using either a web-based client or an application to install on the workstation to be able to access your email. As a part of this, you will want to think about the domain name you want your email sent to. This means that you will want to get that registered. That isn't as hard as you might think, and there are several internet registrars that can help you through the process.

With the current size of your company, your most affordable options for Internet access will be either DSL or cable modem - so check with your local broadband providers. If cable service is available, I think you will find the speed vs cost to be the best value for your money. I would recommend that you get some type of hardware firewall. While I lean toward heavy-duty units such as Cisco ASA/PIX or Watchguard, you can start out with something like a Linksys or Multitech until you have a little more money to spend on a firewall appliance. I encourage this approach versus using a firewall on the server so that in case the server is having a problem or is down for some reason, that you still have access to the Internet.

You will also need some type of hardware server. There are several good systems to choose from. As a part of your research, you will probably come across a bundle solution that will give you a server and the software already installed ready for the fine tuning necessary for your particular situation. Look at each of the bundle packages I mentioned above for the memory and hard drive storage requirements. You will want to at least double or triple the minimum amount of memory listed in the system specs.

You also can't have enough hard-drive storage (fortunately, both are relatively inexpensive these days). Buy as much hard drive space as you can afford. Be sure to look at either mirrored hard drives (RAID 1) or multiple drives (RAID 5) so that you can at least one drive fail and you will be running until the drive needs to be replaced at a time convenient with minimal impact to the business. You will also want to look at some type of tape backup so that you can keep a copy of your important files at a location other than where your server and business are located so that you can get the information back if something catastrophic were to happen such as a fire.

If this seems a little overwhelming, just take your time and you can walk through the process. If you would rather spend the time on growing your business, then investing the money in a good reseller or consultant may be the better way to go until you become a little more comfortable with implementing this approach for your company. I know this may not have gone into the level of detail you might have like but this gives you a thought process to start with to help you identify the best way to proceed.