Real-time failover for Small Business Server

Posted on 2010-08-16
Last Modified: 2012-05-10
I have a customer who wants a solution that provides a maximum downtime of 4 hours if his SBS server suffers a catastrophic failure.  He's asked a consultant to make recommendations, who's come back with some sort of 'Neverfail' solution, where a live and standby server sit there watching each other.

Thing is, I'm not sure if this is possible with SBS 2003, let alone if Microsoft will allow you to license it out.  
So what exactly, would people recommend for a 4-hour resilient system?  I'm thinking of a NAS drive maybe, but that wouldn't do Exchange.  Can anybody suggest similar systems that they've set up?

Question by:Techdivision
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LVL 58

Assisted Solution

by:Cliff Galiher
Cliff Galiher earned 150 total points
ID: 33450435
Realistically the only way to do this and stay compliant with SBS licensing is to purchase a high end SAN (dual power supplies, dual drive controllers, dual *everything* such as EMC SANs) ....without that, you are just shifting the failure from the server to another component. Yeah, you can suffer a server failure and be back up in 4 hours, but what if your NAS fails?  High-end SANs duplicate almost everything so they can even suffer significant hardware failures. But they aren't cheap. Or even close.
Then, once you have a SAN, you set up multiple servers that can boot from the SAN. This is uauslly done via virtualization. So vSphere or Hyper-V.
Then you set up the virtualization system to monitor so you can perform a live migration from one server to the other in the event of an issue. VMWare calls this Live Motion. I don't recall what the Hyper-V equivalent is called, but it was introduced with Hyper-V R2.
In short, you can make SBS *almost* immediately recoverable, for a six-figure pricetag. Usually it is better to just have good backups, a cold server, and perform a restore as needed.

Accepted Solution

it-pro earned 200 total points
ID: 33450915

Assisted Solution

strafexx earned 150 total points
ID: 33450965
In response to Cliff's suggestion, his is probably the solution of highest availability, but it will also attract the highest cost. If your client is still on SBS2003 then it is unlikely they will fork out for a SAN and virtual environment just to run SBS2003..

You need to firstly ensure that the server hardware is covered by vendor warranty with the appropriate response times. Dell, HP, IBM and so on have warranties with 4 hour response times, but clarify with each vendor what that exactly entails; it might be four hours to come up with a resolution plan, or a fix within four hours.

I would considering going down the path of imaging the server using software such as ShadowProtect, and making hourly, half hourly, or quarter hourly system images onto an external device such as an eSATA or USB drive. In the event the operating system has a major problem, or the RAID array / logical volume containing your OS has issues, you can quite quickly restore the image back to the server. You can also restore to other hardware, or load up the image as a virtual machine on a high powered workstation and in theory continue to run the server workload there until the actual server is repaired. You'd have to have several hundred GB of data in order for a restore to require longer than four hours.

The other area to consider is why exactly the client wants to avoid down time within such a timeframe; do they need constant access to file shares? You can set up a Distributed File System in conjunction with another server and achieve high availability for not much cost. From memory you can also run a second Exchange server alongside SBS2003 with full functionality. Do they run a website on IIS that needs to be up all the time? SQL database? A lot of Microsoft technolgoies support multiple server scenarios, and it may be beneficial to introduce more hardware to run the critical applications instead of rely on the one system. That way, if one system does go down, there are other systems to take up the slack or continue serving files/IIS webpages.

There's no requirement to leave all your eggs in one basket with SBS. I have client sites who only run SBS2003 / 2008 for Active Directory and Exchange, another server handles file and printer sharing and SQL databases, another handles backup and antivirus management, and so on. We also have backup domain controllers running.

If you can show to the customer that you are willing to properly understand the customers needs, than the customer will find more value in your services and advice than your competitors.
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Author Closing Comment

ID: 33634460
Thanks all - I have to say, even though ITPro's answer was the shortest one, he seems to have hit the nail on the head there!  Just what I was looking for, now just to find out if it actually works... :)


Expert Comment

ID: 33635210
Techdivision; following this post I brought up the topic of the Heroware BCA with some colleagues; here is what one of them had to say:
"It’s an OEM whitebox pc, using a desktop board, desktop RAM and desktop hard drives, but it claims to be “The HERO appliance is an All-In-One solution of server class hardware and software”..... My issue is with the description of the device being server class hardware when it clearly is not.  I’d hope that if anyone went out to a site and a client had a “server” containing a Intel Desktop Board D945GCLF2, that most of you would say “that’s not a server”. "

I tend to agree with him.. I wouldn't recommend one to my clients..
LVL 58

Expert Comment

by:Cliff Galiher
ID: 33638913
strafexx: Agreed. There is also the issue of licensing. MS has very specific licensing restrictions on restoring backups to new hardware (which is essentially what this is) and running what are commonly called cold-spares. Heroware sells the hardware, so when the license hammer drops, they can legitimately say "not our problem, we never said making a cold-spare was LEGAL" ....but it still leaves whoever configured their server in such a fashion holding the bag. Until some of legal issues with these new breed of devices gets worked out, I'd steer clear.

Author Comment

ID: 33645374
Actually, I probably agree that this device isn't right.  I tried to call them and got through to voice mail.  I really don't want that to happen when the server's in a heap on the floor, and the standby box has failed to switch in.  I need the phone picking up, no hesitation.

Noticed that they're using Double-Take, so will probably just get that plus two identical servers.

Thanks all.

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