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Non-Profit Business: Setup email Exchange on own Server or Host with 3rd Party Company?

Posted on 2007-04-01
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Last Modified: 2010-03-06
We are a small/medium size church and I volunteer to maintain the computer system.  My main question involves the best approach to handling our email.  We are currently debating whether to host Exchange on our own server or continue to have a 3rd party host the email Exchange Server.  Your advice on the best approach is appreaciated.   I apologize the the long description below.

Our current setup: Our website provider currently hosts our domain name, email (with 17 POP3 email accounts) and website.  There was a need to have exchange server capabilites for 5 to 6 of the email accounts.  I was not comfortable with setting up or maintaining an Exchange Server, so I simply forwarded the five email accounts which needed Exchange capability to Intermedia.net for hosting.  It is $9/email account each month.  I have nothing to maintain and it was very easy to setup.  

Looking at the future:  We are now evaluating the best direction for the future.  I am trying to get approval for funds to have addittional support from a local IT company.  The local IT company suggested moving the email to our own server which can support Exchange.  I replaced our old server recently with a Dell Poweredge 1900 running Windows SBS 2003 standard, so we are setup to do this.  My greatest concern comes down to being able to support the Exchange server now and in the future and costs associated with maintaining an exchange server.  I have the following concerns with some of the other suggestions that the local IT company made to support putting Exchange on our server:

1) Antivirus - We are currently using Trend Micro, but it does not have Exchange Server monitoring capabilites.  We would need to spend atleast an extra $300/year if not more to upgrade.  The local IT professional suggested using a free antivirus software called WinClam or Avast.  Are these good Antivirus programs?  

2) Backups - Buying the software to properly backup the exchange server is also costly.  We do online backups with a company for our files and they provide the additional capability for Exchange Server at $8/month per device.  What is the best way to do backups for Exchange Server?  How difficult is it to actually recover from backups?  I have heard of problems with recovering an Exchange Server.

3) Exchange Server Maintenance & Problems: I know that at my company office, we have problems with the Exchange Server from time to time.  I do not want to create a maintenance nightmare for a small non-profit church.  Especially when volunteers come and go.  We are trying to get approval for the local IT company to do maintenance, but this can be difficult base on funds available.  

Your advice on the best direction would be greatly appreaciated.
Thanks.

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Question by:r_may
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Expert Comment

by:Sembee
ID: 18832423
Exchange servers, if setup correctly do not need much maintenance. I have sites where I do nothing but setup user accounts. Someone on site monitors the IMF archive using a web page and changes backup tapes.
Most problems with Exchange are caused by third party tools or someone "fiddling". The problem I have seen in the past with an organisation such as this is where someone in the group claims to have some IT experience and offers to "help" and actually causes more problems. If everyone can be strong enough to decline all offers of help and the administrator or domain admin level passwords are not handed out to anyone who wants them then you may have a chance to maintain the stability of the server.

On the position with backups, you need to backup Exchange using an Exchange aware backup application. If the online backup company will do the job then go with that.
Also remember that you don't have to pay anything for Exchange aware backup. NTBACKUP which is part of Windows is quite capable of backing up Exchange correctly. You can buy low cost interfaces for NTBACKUP that can manage the media pools and deal with alerts etc. You don't have to go down the path of purchasing Veritas Backup Exec and its competitors.

If you only have 17 users then you are prime candidates for SBS. That can bring the costs of the server down and some vendors have SBS versions of their applications which are cheaper.

With regards to AV, I would look at putting something else on to the Exchange server to provide additional levels of security. The frequent ones I suggest here are GFI Mail Security (Which is a multi engine product) or something like Grisoft AVG. Many of the AV vendors don't allow you to purchase the email component on its own, so you may have to look around. I haven't used either of the AV products that you have mentioned so cannot comment.

What you also need to think about is ongoing maintenance. The GFI product for example is quite good for sites that do not have onsite support as they have made it easy to release items that are caught and shouldn't be.

It is perfectly possible to setup an Exchange and SBS server that simply do not require massive amounts of ongoing maintenance.

Simon.
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Expert Comment

by:Philip
ID: 18836271
I too felt like you now. Although after more than a dozen installs of SBS are now far more confident.
In most part I am in agreement with Simon but here is some additional information.

1. Antivirus. I use Trend CSM Messaging Suite. To date it has never let me down (touch wood).
As a have a couple of charities (not for profits) as clients I am aware that Trend offer a discount under these circumstances. The important part here is that when the email is scanned at the server level (exchange) for viruses they in theory prevents them from getting to the desktop.

2. Backup. None of my existing clients use anything other than the standard SBS backup. As suggested it CAN backup exchange and in addition has some cool features like email retention (being able to retrieve deleted users emails) if required. For the sake of some hard disk space very useful. Only hope that my users don't rely on it as now they know I can retrieve deleted emails.

3. Exchange. Perhaps this is my sticking point. I know exchange can handle the email directly but...
Most of my clients still host their email remotely and use the pop connector to download to exchange. This has some ups and downs. The up is that in the event of the server being offline that the email remains at the isp until such time as it comes backup. (Although this can be avoided to by using a hold and store service so that in the event your server is down the mail is held until back up.) It also means that you'll always be paying your ISP, not so good if its $9 x 17 per month. In fact thats highway robbery. A quick search of the net will find plenty of reliable hosting services for significantly less. Another down is that you can only pop every 15 minutes, so that in todays age some people cant seem to wait that long for new emails.
But perhaps the best advice when it comes to exchange is how it is configured.
Things like place database on separate partition or better drive. Likewise for log files.

On a brighter note, you have  SBS which in reality means that your have most of the software required to solve your issues.
Best wishes.
Philip


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Author Comment

by:r_may
ID: 18848476
Thank you for your comments.  I apologize for the delay in responding.
I have the following questions and comments to follow up:

1) I just wanted to clarify that the $9/month is for only 5 of the 17 accounts.  These accounts are hosted with Intermedia.net which provides full Microsoft Exchange Server functionality.  The other remaining accounts are free with our website provider, which are POP3.  If you have found other companies which will provide email Exchange functionality, please let me know.  They all seem to average around $9.

2) What happens when our Exchange server is down?  It sounds like using the email would backup at our ISP provider.  If the email is stored at our ISP when our Exchange server is down, could the staff access their email from the internet using the ISP's email interface?  This would sort of provide a backup if something were to happen with our server.  Are there better alternatives if our server was not working for the staff to access and send email while the repairs are being done?

Thanks for your help.
Roger
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Accepted Solution

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Philip earned 250 total points
ID: 18848582
1. I took a look at intermedia I now understand better. In essence you rent an exchange server of them for 5 email accounts. As such these email accounts offer exchange functionality GALs, Public Folders etc.  As for pricing that seem more reasonable.

This would also (or is more than likely) to mean that your accounts at your ISP are a different domain ie. user@isp.com ?

2. Yes the email backs up at the isp. Yes it could also be accessed via webmail.
But remember for users that use webmail via the isp you will lose exchange functionality. Storage of sent emails, common signatures, disclaimers and address books etc.

One assumes (dangerous I know) you do have a FQDN ?

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Assisted Solution

by:Sembee
Sembee earned 250 total points
ID: 18850142
Trying to mix account types on the same domain will be almost impossible. I doubt whether any outsourced Exchange providers would actually allow you to do that. Technically it can be problematic, but from a business point of view it wouldn't make sense.

As for email when the Exchange server is down, that depends on how you have configured your DNS. If you are pointing MX records directly at the Exchange server (so no other mail servers are listed) then messages will be queued on the sending server until your server becomes available again.

While there are backup MX services available - your ISP may even offer one, I don't tend to recommend them. An Exchange server built on good quality hardware to the best practises does not go down on its own and if it does it will only be down for a short while.
I find backup MX services are magnets for spam and viruses and don't use them at all.
If you are going to be down for more than 48 hours then you have bigger problems to worry about.

Simon.
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Author Comment

by:r_may
ID: 18882358
Thank you both for your responses.  I have split the points equally.  I apologize for the delay due to the long holiday weekend.

I do have one more question:

1) We have a Dell Poweredge 1900 Zeon processor with 1 gig memory.  It has two 80gig hard drives which are just mirrored.  Do you feel that this is adequate?  Would it be more beneficial to add another hard drive for the Exchange Server?  Not sure if that is possible.

2) I have heard about a company called MessageOne, which provide a backup if your server goes down.  We have very limited support during the day, so I am not sure if this would be a good option.

Thanks
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Expert Comment

by:Sembee
ID: 18882443
The additional hard disk comes down to performance. Exchange databases perfmon better when separate from the OS and transaction logs.

You would have to look at the costs of something like MessageOne. A properly built Exchange server shouldn't go down and you could use some kind of monitoring software to see whether it is available or not.

Simon.
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Expert Comment

by:Philip
ID: 18883150
My initial thoughts.
1 GB of memory a bit light
2. Hard disks. (Since you already have sbs in place I guess you dont want to rebuild it so as far as the hard disks are concerned it will to some degree depend on how they are currently configured. To keep the price low. You could break the mirror. Partition into 2 40 GB drives. Exchange database on one, user data on the second partition and leave the exchange logs on the OS drive. (questions begs is the os drive partitioned?) Also means that you can have your AV exclude the exchange drive

Having said that hard drives are cheap so the other idea would be purchase another 2, brake mirror.
1. OS
2. Exchange
3. User Data
4. Log files and reference files

This will save you having to upgrade later should your users go crazy with their email.

I understand the nervousness about backup for exchange but with a properly configured system I this will go away. In my own office I still (shhh...) use the pop connector so if my exchange is down (or as likely is the case) I ma playing with my server the email is still at the ISP. I just collect it every 15 minutes (the minimum time) for the pop connector.
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