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SBS 2003 Fail Over Server - How Can I Do this ??

Posted on 2009-07-05
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I run my own medical practice.  The server I purchased in 2004 had a crash 2 mos ago.  It cost me 4 days of going back to paper scheduling and charting and halted any billing for that week. It costs $1200 dollars in a service call over 3 days to get the system and network up again. I do not have an IT staff - it is just me.  This has worked for me so far.  My office has 22 computers and now 2 servers ( included the recently purchased one).  I run SBS 2003 but it cannot play nice and share its active directory control with any other SBS on the network.  The second server has SBS 2003 on it also. I need a fail over server to support immediate recovery of business critical software that day - that hour a crash occurs.   My tape backup system is inadequate in this respect.

I considered DoubleTake software but it requires server 2003 standard to be present on at least one server for their software to work - and two licenses $1800.00 for their failover system to work in a SBS 2003 environment.

I considered purchasing an OEM copy of server 2003 standard for around $700.00 for the second server and using RoboCopy windows server utility to maintain data mirroring.

I considered using Acronis sever software to image server drives - this seems to be the best option for what I have and the cheapest. It would seem to allow the network and server full recovery in minutes.  However I do not know if real time backups are being made ???

My last consideration is to use the second SBS server as a stand alone duplicate overlapping network in the office with  unique IP and subnet addresses and let the router handle communications via One to One Network address translation or through use of Virtual LANs within the Cisco router

I really just want a fail over server without having to spend much if not any more money - Any suggestions / plans from the experts out there ???? I have no experience with acronis nor doubletake software. Please help :-)
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Question by:eanmd
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Rob Williams earned 500 total points
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A fail-over server with SBS is not really an option, but there are some good defence systems you cn put in place.

You can add a second domain controller to an SBS network without a problem. This would allow you to shut down the SBS and still have Internet access, and all users be able to log onto the domain. It does require a 2003 or 2008 server license. In the event of a crash you would have to restore the data to the second server and change the client "pointers" to the new data  location.
This however does not address Exchange, assuming you are using it. A good option for that is a service like Exchange Defender, or Zimbra. These services "intercept" all mail before it reaches your server and then forward it to your server. If your server is not available it saves the mail, forwards it when the server is available, and offers web access to the mail while your server is down. This is a good practice just to protect you from an ISP outage.

I assume you have mirrored drives on your SBS? This at least protects you from the most common crash, a failed drive.

Acronis or Shadowprotect, my preference are good choices for fast recovery. Shadow protect offers a specific product for SBS. Be careful with these applications as many do not allow for restoration to different hardware. Chances are if your server dies this will be the case. As I recall Shadow protect allows for restoration to different hardware or a virtual machine (see more below), where Acronis requires a $300 add-on.

Another possibility is to use Microsoft's "Windows Home Server". This is a relatively new product that backs up servers and PC's to a separate machine on a daily basis. In the event of a crash, you use a supplied CD to boot the machine, locate the image, and restore over the network. For a typical SBS this would take less than 2 hours. Though this was intended for PC's it is becoming popular with SBS IT folk. I believe the licensing limits WHS to 10 PC/server connections. If you wanted to back up all of your PC's you would have to add multiple WHS's. The cost of this is very affordable. It can be run on most any PC and the software is under $200. The more common way to buy it though is as a preconfigured dedicated device with 1 to 4 TB of storage starting at $500 for hardware and software, installed and ready to go. This states it will not restore to different hardware, though I have not persoanly tested it other than to the same hardware.

Virtualization is an extremely popular method these days. Too lengthy to explain in detail here, but with Virtualization you run a basic OS, and then on top of that you run your server software. In this case you can actually run multiple servers or PC's on the same physical box. Though there are numerous other advantages to this, if you back up the image, It can be moved to an other virtual host as fast as you can copy the image over, and it boots with no difference from the previous server. The virtualization software is mostly free and available through Microsoft with Virtual Server 2005 or Hyper-V, or through VMWare with VMWare Server or ESXi server. Virtuallixzationis the one option that does allow fail-over. It is possible to set up two physical boxes, running multiple servers which mirror each other. In the efvent of a failure the second server takes over seamlessly in under 90 seconds, however the software cost for this option is in the $1000's, and intended for large corporations.

However, with 2 servers and 22 PC's you really should consider outside IT support. You are trained as a doctor, and we are trained in in computer support. A decent support technician would already have all of this in place for you and like be far more efficient in dealing with the disaster when it happens.
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by:PlusIT
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why do all the hassle and all those exotic configuration?

Why you don't migrate to SBS 2008 premium, this gives you a second server license and a second domain controller!
I do think you will have to replace the 2004 server.

This is by far the easiest and cleanest solution.

Virtualization is another option to look at, but automatic failover will cost you $$$ and you will have to replace ta least one of the servers.
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by:Rob Williams
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SBS2008 is a good choice, but still requires a solution for Exchange, however 2008 requires 64 bit hardware. I am willing to bet your server is 32bit so that would require buying 2 new physical servers to make use of SBS2008.
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by:Rob Williams
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Actually, the second server 2008 std can be 32bit. Sorry I forgot it has licenses for both 32 & 64, but not for SBS as Exchange 2007 (included) must be 64 bit.
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by:PlusIT
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i'm sure the recently purchased one will support 64bit.. if you bought a real server offcourse :)
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by:eanmd
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Thank you for the input on my request.  I probably should get an IT guy.  I however have not had any problems with the machines or software in my office for nearly 5 yrs until my server failure.  The failure involved hardware and drives.  Software has worked well. I now know that tape backup alone is too naked a place to be for quick recovery purposes.

The Old server is a tyan thunder with dual opterons 256 at 2.6 ghz and the New server is a Tyan Thunder S2895 with dual opteron 258 at 3.0 ghz. All daa drives are mirrored. I have two tape backups and Network Storage available. The complex medical software is 32 bit and is not compatible with Vista  nor server 2008.  And, not certified for virtualization enviorment.  The software will run in server 2008 and vista desktops but the networking and HIPPA (Privacy and Tracking) compliance portions of the medical practice software fails in these enviorments. The vendors are slow at changes due to most medical practices not willing to shell out 10 to 20 grand to update software for the new microsoft systems when the old software systems are otherwise working well. Also the Opteron 200 series processors do not support virtualization.

My office does not use exchange server - we have an internet based service with the internet company 'Network Solutions' for our email and phone devices. I would like to move to server 2008 but the business software is not compatible.

Thanks to RobWill for the input - I will figure out a good solution using your advice :-)
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by:Rob Williams
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Understandable that you want to stay with SBS2003 based on your comments. Since you are not using exchange adding a second domain conroller would be a good option, but it does require buying a new license. There is software available that would allow you to sync the data with the two servers or you could use built in Windows DFS (Distributed File System) to sync the data, though I am not certain that will work with database files.

Thanks eanmd. Good luck with the project.
Cheers!
--Rob
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by:eanmd
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I am posting this as an update.  I have two licensed SBS 2003 servers.  I have been able to create a real time synced 2 server system.  The software product  ViceVersaPro (http://www.tgrmn.com) has at cheap price and by use of Volume Shadow Copy Service allowed the servers to be mirrored in real time including open and locked database files.

The severs are independent machines in different SBS domains within the single office network.  The servers have their DHCP services turned off.  DHCP  is handled by the CIsco router.  The Router points to server 1 as the primary DNS service and points to server 2 as the secondary or backup DNS service.  Each server is aware of all computers and devices on the office network as in their Domain.

There are two NIC ports each on the servers.  The mirroring of the servers occurs via their crossover cable. There is no impact on the network bandwidth to client computers.  Over the network the Servers can see each other and the XP client computers at logon can choose which domain to join. I was surprised this would work but it did.
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by:Rob Williams
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Thank you for updating. Glad you have found a solution. I apologize for being critical, but it is highly unusual and not what I would call a best practices scenario with DHCP handled by the router, 2 SBS servers, 2 domains, PC's have to be rejoined to the second domain if the first fails, etc. This is not a fail-over server but a different server and domain with synchronized data.
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by:eanmd
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To RobWill: I am glad to see that you responded.  I do not perceive your comments as critical ... I find them informative & helpful.  The arrangement is sort of a 'Fake Failover'  system :-)   but it is working for now and serves a 'niche' purpose in my office.  Thanks again for the insight :-)

Eric A Nash, MD
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