Watch what you install on your server Today's server operating systems, including Microsoft Small Business Server 2003, are so user-friendly that you could be left with the impression that anyone with the ability to put a CD into a computer disk drive could successfully deploy a new application. That is the wrong impression. When it comes to adding any new software — and particularly third-party applications — you need to be extra vigilant about what you're putting on your server and how you're doing it. A server isn't as forgiving as a desktop computer. Take if from someone who just spent the better part of a week trying to recover data from a server that had been hopelessly corrupted up by several applications that, in retrospect, were probably incorrectly installed by yours truly. Here are a few things I wish I had done: 1. Get professional help. Make sure that you are working with a certified IT professional. (There are several new designations for Microsoft-certified IT professionals.) Pick the one that best suits your needs and make sure that he or she is around to lend a hand. An IT pro will make sure that you don't make a dangerous mistake when you're installing an application. 2. Look for a certified partner. Make sure the software is developed by a Microsoft Certified Partner. That will ensure that the program is created by specialists with a sound knowledge of your server — not some fly-by-night coders who could end up leaving you with something on your server that you will later regret. 3. Ask around. There are other small-business owners, and IT professionals, who are eager to share their experiences with others. If I had known to ask before installing, I could have probably saved myself a big headache. (It turns out that I wasn't the first person to experience the problem with my server/software combination). 4. Read up. Before installing — no, before buying — the application, check out the published reviews online or in magazines that cover the small-business and technology field. Certainly, it's a good idea to take these write-ups into consideration before adding any new program to your server. 5. Network. When you have a question about your server, there is no substitute for person-to-person contact with a knowledgeable source. That's particularly true when you are navigating the unknown waters of a new program. There are a number of Small Business Server 2003 user groups, including the New England Small Business Server User Group and the Miami IT Professional Association. The advice you'll get is free, but the contacts could save your small business if things ever go wrong. Before you install a third-party program on your server, get all the facts about the application. Will it play nice with the other program you are currently using? Is there a chance something could go wrong? Ask around and get the facts. You'll be glad you did.