If your organisation is growing in terms of staff, beneficiaries or funding, it might be time to upgrade to a server-based or ‘client-server’ system to help unify and manage the IT in your office. A popular option for nonprofit organisations is Windows Server, as it’s available as donated software through the Charity Digital Exchange programme - eligible charities just pay a small admin fee for access to Essentials, Standard and Datacenter Editions. For larger or growing organisations, some Editions let you build and manage virtualised environments that allow you to run more efficiently and scale up as your needs grow. They may also have features such as direct access that allow access to the network from any computer or device. Here are five key benefits of servers for charities and non-profit organisations.
A server can help you manage the users on a network. All server operating systems offer ‘directory services’ which allow you to create user accounts of different privilege and access roles. These network user accounts give you more control over the network resources your users can access. This can be a sensible security management feature if, for example, an organisation has many volunteers or temporary staff coming through its doors, especially if they are accessing apps and data from their own devices.
For example, you can assign one user or a group of users access to a folder of sensitive beneficiary information, but exclude others from opening it. Likewise, you may want to give your financial manager and her part-time assistant — and only them — access to a printer for cheques and invoices. It also allows administrators to shut down a user’s account, access to data and privileges once they leave the organisation. Aside from users, server-based systems allow workstations to be managed centrally, without the need for individual administration.
For example, the free Windows Server Update Services tool allows you to distribute Microsoft software updates to workstations in your network, selectively control which updates groups of computers get, and monitor the status of updates on workstations. Similar tools are available for antivirus and other security software.
With more staff comes more data generated and collected, and the greater need to share files and resources. A server facilitates sharing. One staff member can save files on a server and other staff can look at the file and work on it. A server is also designed to help share other resources, such as databases and printers. In addition, servers are also designed with efficient storage and retrieval of data. They come equipped to store a lot of data, and allow you to add additional storage capacity when you need it.
This could be useful, for instance, if your charity expands its services or runs seasonal fundraising events, or regulatory changes such as GDPR demand that you keep more data for longer. You can can save on costs by save costs by pushing your charity’s additional data to Azure in the cloud, which integrates with Windows Server.
Consolidating your data to a server allows you to target your backup processes to key folders at a central location. You will also be able to take advantage of more powerful, server-based backup software which offer additional backup and restore features, even for files located on individual workstations.
These days most charities have core services based on IT, so a good system for backing up files and systems is essential. The ability to get back up online in minutes could mean the difference between supporting someone in need, or an incident which could negatively affect your reputation and volunteers’ confidence in the running of your organisation. As you move to more sophisticated information management, server-level backup software can effectively prepare for data loss and recovery.
Servers are designed to accommodate a number of users simultaneously. To boost performance, they are equipped to handle more memory and processing power than a regular desktop computer. Many charitable organisations have staff and volunteers working on different processes such as administration, service delivery, campaigning, volunteer management, fundraising and grant management, needing access to the same central resources. If sharing files or a database from another staff’s computer in a peer-to-peer setup is affecting your productivity, it could be time to upgrade to a server-based system.
Windows Server, for instance, is designed for built-in integration with cloud hosted services like Azure and Office 365. This is known as a hybrid cloud approach, and can offer a way to optimise all your assets both on-premise and hosted. Servers are now commonly built with hybrid cloud approaches in mind, allowing consistent management of resources across different environments, no matter the location of the apps they are using.
This flexible approach to resource management can be particularly useful for organisations that need to grow and shrink their resources at different times of year to coordinate with a specific campaign or fundraising event, or the running seasonal services. Think a server may be right for you? Charities and non-profit organisations can access donated versions of Windows Server via the Charity Digital Exchange platform, for just an admin fee.