I am running a small small scale business(as of now!) ; and we are into export of automobile parts to the aftermarket in some parts of the world.
We have new items coming on for development every week; every time a new item comes we build a report for it; which may consist of an item code that we generate for that item; an item description; item picture; item wt; technical drawing and so on.

Naturally; we have accumulated a big database of items now over the last so many years; and we have such reports for every item; some items work out to be profitable for us which means we start doing business in them; getting them manufactured in India and exporting so for these items we have additional data that is generated like purchse and sale records; inventory details etc.

Now for a long time all this information; all this data has been managed in a very old fashioned way; by means of paper records; for example if I wanna see when was the last time Item XYZ was purchsed I have to refer a physical file in my office(hard copy) with purchse records or I can alternatively refer the inventory control file which will have a page for this item containing all the purchase sale record for the item.
If I want to see the picture of the same item I will have to refer a folder on my laptop( still running on windows XP service pack 2) where in I maintain all the pictures of all the items; ofcourse I have categorized and subcategorized them under various heads so it dosent take me long to reach at the picture I am looking for.

Now I am looking at 2 problems here; first; as the expanse of data is increasing I find it too decentralized; spilled across too many physical locations for it to be useful; which is why I want to introduce some kind of a database model where in under a single item I can see everything from its picture to its technical drawing to its last purchase/sale details.

Second problem is that of data redundancy; I hope I am using the correct term; basically I have to collaborate with my colleagues (I have 3) and exchange pictures of new items with them as well as various excel files; maybe an inventory file or soft copy of purchase register(again in excel).
Now there has to be a central location where the latest copy of each file will be saved otherwise after a while everybody is holding different versions of that file and all synchronization is lost; so there has to be a central location which every1 can access remotely and work on some key files which form the backbone of our business and save it there only.

The first problem of collecting the data and aggregating it so that it makes more sense, calls for a database model; one solution I came up with is modelling a database in Microsoft Access.
I know the basics of access and understand that its not as flexible as modelling in SQL; however SQL modelling requires qualified personnel and would probably encompass hiring a software database development company to give me a tailor made solution; also there is the option of ready made soultion; I do not have an idea of how flexible these are and if all my requirements, though not many could be addressed by the modules of one such ready made solution being marketed by some software company. I donít even know if these options are scalable for me (if they are too expensive)

As against this I can model my own database in access; however I might not be able to model a good structure and this would take considerable time and effort.
Getting a database in place will solve problem 1 and now to centralize this database storage in one location only and make it remotely accessible to every1 with one person being the administrator of the database to restrict/allow various data manipulations by other people; this will address problem 2.
For this I probably need to install a server; again I have limited knowledge of the subject; I was reading a technical support website by the name www.webopedia.com where I learnt that you can simply use a high speed computer as a server if you aint going to have 20 other computers to use its resources; if u have just 3-4 machines accessing it ; it will do fine. However there will be no parallel hard disk for storage(alternate storage) as in proper servers marketed by the likes of IBM and you will have considerably more server down time and all that. Understood that part; but then how do we go about it;how do I setup a server so that every1 in my office can access data on it ; also it should be accessible through the internet from anywhere in the world. So I want the server to be online.
Lets say I choose a good desktop with a good processor and a 500 GB hardisk to use as server; what next? Do I have to install a different operating system on it then the regular windows XP/vista/win 7 that we use; something like microsoft windows server edition??
What is this "windows server edition"; I have only heard about it.
Also how do I facilitate connectivity of other computers to this server both over my office wifi LAN and the internet?

Also in this connection I have heard of another term in the tech spaceÖcloud database services; wherein I donít need to setup an inhouse server and can use services available online; I dont exactly understand the technical details behind cloud computing but I have a vague idea; also I understand its different from a hosted server wherein the applications are still on your hosted server and not on the cloud.

So there are three optionsÖ
1. inhouse server for which I can use a good pc or go for a neon series processor or something which people generally use for serving upto 25 machines/clients(lowest model)

2. Hosted server,dedicated or undedicated (which should be unnecessary considering we are just going to have 3-4 people accessing the server so we donít need to host a server with a server/data management company)
3. Cloud services; being offered by various vendors; I donít understand the scope of these services entirely.


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