Article Date: 12/1/2002

Server Searching

Your current goal: To purchase a new computer server. How? Where? These tips will help make this task easier.
Richard Hom, O.D., F.A.A.O.

So you want to buy a server for your computer (to stand alone or to become part of your office network of computers). What steps do you take? I tend to the rules "Buy what you need today," "Buy what you need to run your office software" and "Keep your home and game software on a computer separate from your office software."

The first rule follows my belief that the computer should match the requirements of the office software that you're running now or are planning to purchase. Buying a computer server can be tricky but it doesn't have to be. I'll tell you some easy-to-follow guidelines for buying a computer server.

The size of the hard drive. This is the first thing I consider. If the software says it needs 200 Megabytes (MB)of hard disk space, then I recommend at least 20 times this figure for the size of the hard disk space. In the computer industry, a good rule of thumb is as follows: A rapidly growing company increases its information storage at a rate of 20% or more per month, while a mature or declining company increases its storage rate at only 5% to 10% per month.

Quantity of memory. Practice management software (PMS) packages differ in the way that they're built. A higher or lower number has no bearing on the quality of the PMS. I prefer a minimum size of 512 MB because anything less will cause the computer's operating system (whether it's Windows 98, ME, 2000 or XP) and the PMS to run less efficiently.

If your new computer will be on a network and will be a server (holds the main program and runs that portion of the PMS that centralizes the storage of all of the data), then I recommend 512MB as a baseline and add 64MB per connected computer. For example, a setup with one server and three other computers gives you a random access memory (RAM) size of 768 MB (rounded up to the next size of chip).

Processor speed. At present, most Windows computers are sold with either Intel or MAD microprocessors. Both are equally sufficient for office needs. It's not important that the processor be the fastest available. Most new computer servers are now 1.6 GigaHertz (GHz) or faster. If money is tight, even a 700Mhz Pentium 3 will do nicely. Most PMS packages haven't been upgraded sufficiently to take advantage of the capabilities of more than one processor.

Other aspects to consider. Match the video requirements to the PMS package. If you want more information to show on the screen (but smaller in size), then consider a video card with at least "1024 x 760" resolution. Your network card should match the type of cable and hub (the box that connects all of the computers to each other). Most often, you'll need a Fast Ethernet/100Mb (Megabit/second) card for network connections. Because we're talking about an office environment, the sound card or system is optional.

Echoing the main point

The office computer server should only have business software. Keep the games or pleasure software off. Sooner or later, they will interfere with the PMS or compete for use of the microprocessor. It's not uncommon for game software to crash, which may require a restart of the computer server. You're lucky if you don't corrupt the PMS data files. At a minimum, you may lose any office transactions that may be ongoing at the time of the crash.

This brings me to backup. I've talked about this in the past so I'll just say "Plan for it" and "Do it!"

Take it all in stride

It's admittedly bewildering to listen to all this talk about computer servers. I hope that the three rules of thumb that I mentioned earlier will help keep your priorities straight in buying your next computer server. If it's appropriate, try assigning this task to one of the junior associate doctors or to the office manager.



Optometric Management, Issue: December 2002