A network server is a great way to store and share data between multiple users. But many of its benefits are lost if your server is not organized properly: files get lost, users edit files which are meant to be read-only, and overflowing folders slow down the hard drive. Organizing a network server is a simple task, but it has to be thought through and actively maintained. First, sit down with pen and paper, and make a plan of what you want to do. It will help to have an overview of your needs later on in the process! Who will be using the server? Do users have read-only access, or can they modify folders and files? Do you use the server only for storage, or also for communication? These are all things to keep in mind.
Like with your internal hard drive, you’ll probably want to divide the server’s storage space in two partitions: one for the operating system and other software, and one for data files. For easy maintenance, you create one data folder on the second partition, and two folders within the data folders: one to contain all shared information, and one to contain all personal folders and data. You should keep the structure of your file server clear for all users. Make sure all folders have simple, descriptive names, and that documents are saved in the correct folder.
Now all files are distributed in the right folders, it’s time to decide which users or user groups have access to which files, and if they can only view the files or also edit them. First of all: limit who has access to the to root-share folder, so not all users can change the structure you’ve just set up so carefully. Setting up sharing permissions might well be the most crucial step in the organization of your server, so be careful. It’s easier to add sharing rights later than to take them away. Something else to take into account is whether you want folders that users cannot access to be visible. If you have a large amount of folders, hiding inaccessible ones makes the structure of the directory much clearer, but otherwise you probably don’t need to bother.
If you’re running a business, you might want to consider using exchange server software. This kind of software supports both storage and communication, with functions for email, calendars, contacts, and tasks. Information can even be synchronized with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet PCs. The main benefits are that communication is faster and more secure, known issues are solved more easily, and common tasks are automated to increase efficiency.
Lastly, servers are not fail-safe. Like any computer system, they can crash, which could result in data loss. Also, you never know when someone might accidentally delete an important file, so don’t forget to make weekly back-ups, for example on an external hard drive or a third-party hosted cloud server.