Options for backing up workstations and a small business server?

Posted on 2011-05-06
Last Modified: 2012-05-11
I am responsible for a small business network that consists of about 55 workstations on a domain running MS Small Business server 2003.

Currently there are a few network shares setup on the server, and the server is backed up nightly to another disk.  

My situation is: I would like to have this server imaged instead, along with about 10 of the workstations that are very difficult to rebuild.   In addition I am looking for a way to backup the remaining workstations user data without having the user do anything.  If at all possible I would like this to be centrally managed, as setting this up on each machine and verifying backups would be difficult.

I thought about setting up a home drive for everyone and backup those folders, however I am afraid when/if the network or server goes down, NO ONE will be able to access their critical data.  Remember I am just 1 person and have limited time.

Another scenario would be to get Acronis software on each workstation.. this would be wonderful as it is centrally managed, but also very very costly.  Unfortunatly cost is a pretty big factor.

I had read that small business server 2008 / 2011 back backup workstations?   Could this be an option?  

Anyone have any ideas on this would be much appreciated as I am pulling out my hair on this!

Question by:coolkev99
    LVL 23

    Assisted Solution

    I think you are on the right line there - setting up a "home" folder on the server and activate offline folder/file. What it does is, when user log on/off the workstation sync with the server so their files are always "current". This way you can backup only whatever data you have on server.
    LVL 95

    Accepted Solution

    How often does your server go down for any length of time?  A well maintained server should be covered under a 24x7 warranty with 4 hour response time and be fully backed up.

    In an environment with 55 users (getting somewhat close to the SBS limit) you REALLY want a second server to act as a DC in case the primary server fails.  In which case, you can use DFS to replicate home drive data between the two systems.  Any failure of the primary server would be a few second to a few minute blip as the other server would be able to serve up the needed file (this won't work for Exchange and databases, but should work fine for Excel, Word, PowerPoint and other typical files - and with Exchange, thanks to the local Cache of a person's mailbox, the user would still have access to all received and sent mail up until the server failed).

    In my opinion, in a network your size, when properly configured, it should not matter what computer a user sits at - ALL the user's data should reside on the server and that's the ONLY thing that should be backed up.  Really - in a properly configured network, MOST of the workstations should be unimportant from the standpoint of backup.  (Using home drives and folder redirection and perhaps some portion of roaming profiles, this is all handled by the server and can be redundant through DFS and a second server).

    As for the few workstations that CAN be a nightmare to restore, you might want to consider Windows Home Server or Storage Server Essentials* which provide backups for workstations using an agent and de-duplication technology to store the backups on the Home Server/Storage Server.  Restores are as easy as booting off a CD and selecting a couple of things and then letting the restore happen over the network.  Many consultants I've met implement such backup solutions for their clients with tough to restore workstations.

    *Storage Server Essentials is limited to 25 users but I'm not sure if there's a limit in terms of being in a domain with more than 25 users (like Foundation Server or SBS Essentials) or if it's a limit like Home Server that is 10 users but you can have multiple servers.

    To be clear, SBS 2008 does not backup workstations.  SBS 2011 does not either - SBS Essentials 2011 DOES backup workstations BUT is limited to networks of 25 users or fewer so it wouldn't work in your environment.

    Author Comment

    The server has not gone down (unless intentional) , however getting a secondary I'm sure is a good idea.  It is SBS, not sure you can have a secondary DC?   How would get have a secondary?   I was also recently approached by a company that has a product that will backup/image the server to a applicance that keeps a virtualized backup copy of the server onsite, and offsite - ready to go if the "real" one goes down.  I may look into that...   The reason I'm not crazy about ALL the workstation data on the server as then it becomes a single point of failure.  If it goes down then everything will grind to a halt, I'm tring to keep problems isolated.. . at least for now.  

    The storage essentials would be perfect, if not for the 25 limit.  MS describes this as a companion to a SBS, you would think they would both match the 75 user limit.  In any case, this could be an option for the critical workstations.
    LVL 23

    Expert Comment

    You can have more than one DC in a SBS environment but they must not be more than one SBS. Those additional DCs must be running Windows 2003/2008 Server.

    Understand your cncern about "single point of failure" when main server go - but offline folder could solve your concern because they are two copies of data one sitting at workstations. However, this actually strenghten the case of having 2 DCs, because data is quite simple to restore onto another server. However, if the network goes (e.g. switches) of course no one will be able to access data outside their workstation.
    LVL 95

    Expert Comment

    by:Lee W, MVP
    To rephrase and confirm what ormerodrutter stated:

    The limitations of SBS are:
    *You can only have one SBS Server in the network - you can have as many other servers and DCs as you like, but only ONE can be "Small Business Server"
    *The SBS server MUST be the FSMO master DC (that's why you can only have one)
    *maximum 75 users
    *no trusts with other domains
    *Cannot - itself - be a terminal server - but you can add a terminal server (or as many as you like) to the network.

    I disagree with off-line files for systems on the LAN, mostly because I've seen that create problems and especially with SBS 2003, workstations have had a tendency to go offline and cause problems that way.

    Using a DFS and a second server running as a DC should alleviate most of your single-point-of-failure concern.  In addition, it makes it easier to replace the server at a later date since you no longer have to be concerned with drives mapped to a server name (they are mapped to the domain name\DFS share so it becomes as easy as just adding a new server to the DFS and giving time to replicate.  

    I understand your concern of single point of failure, but if you do things properly, it's not a significant issue.  By centralizing everything onto the server(s) as opposed to leaving some things on the workstations, you enable users to work ANYWHERE - on ANY computer.  It's far more likely that a user's workstation fails than the server.  If you allow that user to save data on their workstation, they lose access to that data and become largely unproductive while they wait for you to fix them.  On the other hand, if EVERYTHING lives on the server, they can forward their phone and site at another desk, logging in to the server and having complete and total access to their files.

    Yes, if the server fails, you're in trouble - this is why the SERVER MUST have 24x7x365 warranty coverage and 4 hour on-site response if available.  In addition, when you're as large as you are, additional servers and appropriate configurations can prevent major problems even if the server goes down.

    Finally, I suspect some of your workstations have occasional (or even frequent) problems with long logon times - this is likely because (I suspect, based on what you've posted thus far), your workstations are configured to at least use your ISPs DNS servers as secondary DNS servers so that if the server goes down they still have internet access... THIS IS WRONG.  Reason being, your ISP has NO IDEA where your server is - and even if you tell it, they won't listen.  Active Directory finds resources (DCs, Exchange, and other network resources) by using DNS.  And just because the ISP is a "secondary" doesn't mean its only contacted when the primary is offline - the secondary is used if the primary doesn't respond fast enough and occasionally if Windows feels like it.  

    Author Comment

    Well..  I think you are somewhat right about the DNS thing.   I'm sure it setup incorrectly, but we've never had long login issues.  I don't even think the server is acting as DHCP server, it is handled by a network gateway/router fireway device. (watchguard firebox X e series I think).   The server is acting as DNS, and..  I think... the firebox has the ISP as secondary?   I'd have to check it.   Things seem to work perfectly fine for 4-5 years now, but it very well may be setup wrong. :-/  

    I'm going to put something together and try to push for a second server, as you suggest.  I'm tired of loosing sleep over things like this!


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