Oral Health Group

A New Look at Servers

May 9, 2013
by lorne

The modern dental office continues to evolve at a rapid pace. Many dentists are building or upgrading their practices to achieve their goal of a paperless or chartless system. There are many components to this, which includes electronic chart notes, digital charting, intraoral camera images, digital x-rays, and digital camera photos. As practices move towards a digital format, there is greater and greater stress on the computer and network systems that support this. Of all the computers in the network, the server is the most important, and it has many unique features that separate it from other computers on the network. In this article, we’ll evaluate the unique features of a server.

Hard Drives

While there are many options for server drives, we configure servers with Self-Encrypting Drives (SEDs). With the new HIPAA and HITECH regulations, one of the best defenses you can have against the Breach Notification Rules is to encrypt your data. While many software programs exist, such as BitLocker and Truecrypt, having the encryption built into the drives is a great first step. While some people are concerned about the speed of the server drives, it’s not something that I ever worry about. The main purpose of a server is to “serve” files out to the other computers on the network. Since most dental files are relatively small, the speed of the drive won’t really affect things very much.

RAID Drives

While we have previously talked about RAID drives in an earlier issue, it makes sense to briefly review these drives. RAID, or Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, is a system of using multiple hard drives for various reasons. For desktop computers, some manufacturers create a RAID 0 array, where the hard drives are configured to share the duties of the computer. While this increases speed, it is not appropriate for a server. The server RAID system is designed for redundancy. Multiple hard drives are mirrors of each other, which creates redundancy for the server. The concept is built around the thought that if a hard drive fails (still relatively rare), there should be a minimal amount of down time for the office to get back up and running. With mirrored drives, each drives contains a complete copy the main drive. If the first drive fails, the second drive will take over and allow the office to keep functioning. The RAID systems that are most common for servers in a dental office are either RAID 1 (two drives) or RAID 5 (three or more drives). I normally suggest getting two drives that are 1 TB each (1000 GB), in a RAID 1 array.

Hot Swap

For most desktop systems, the hard drives are housed inside the computer, where they are not easily accessible to the user. Most dentists and dental office personnel are not comfortable opening up a computer to take out a hard drive. One option with servers is to have the hard drives accessible on the front of the computer. By simply pushing a button, a faulty drive can easily be removed from a server and replaced with a good drive, even while the server is still running. This is known as hot swapping.


Most servers will use a special form of memory known as to create a more stable system. ECC, or Error Checking Code, is designed to help correct errors. ECC RAM, coupled with a proper memory controller, is able to correct memory errors instead of letting them go corrupted, possibly corrupting your data. This usually translates into less system crashes. I currently recommend 8 GB of RAM for a modern server.

Redundant Power Supplies

All the redundancy in hard drives won’t help much if the server doesn’t have power! The power supply is an often-overlooked but still important component on the system. To eliminate loss of power as a reason for server failure, many servers will be configured with a second power supply. The disadvantage to this is that not only does it increase the size of the server case, it also tends to create significantly more noise as the power supply fan is often the noisiest element of the server.

While many offices can function without all of the above features, office that are truly paperless or chartless should invest in a server that is designed to keep the practice running at all times.