If it's just you with a desktop and a laptop, a simple peer-to-peer network to share files is probably OK, but as soon as you put another user or two in the mix, you should be thinking about a real Windows server to control traffic and secure your data. Microsoft's Small Business Server 2003 (SBS 2003) provides an economical solution that is ideal for the growing remodeling company.

Easy user management. Once you get everything set up, you won't need the “IT guy” very often. Built-in wizards make it easy to perform routine tasks like adding users or doing backups.

Data protection. SBS 2003 uses “shadow folders” to automatically copy everyone's files on the server. You can easily retrieve a deleted file.

Remote control. Once set up, every computer on your network can be managed remotely from any Web connection. You can also push applications and updates out to users with minimal effort.

Mobile user support. Users with laptops or TabletPCs can synchronize files and folders with the server without using additional software.

Built-in apps. SBS 2003 includes SharePoint services for project collaboration and a copy of Exchange 2003 (e-mail and shared calendar). The premium edition adds the MS SQL 2000 database as well as ISA, a capable software firewall.

SBS 2003 does have some limitations. Mainly, everything in the box must be installed on the same physical computer — not a problem as you beef up the hardware. SBS 2003 Premium retails for $1,495 with five client licenses. The Standard version costs $995. More information at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/sbs/. —Joe Stoddard is a process/technology consultant to the construction industry. Contact him at www.smaconsulting.net.