How to Replicate Windows Server Data (including Exchange)

I have a customer that just purchased a Windows Small Business Server 2011 server.  Now he would like to purchase a second server for his home so that he can go home and work at night and have his files available without having to do anything.  Then any changed files would be available at his office in the morning.  It would also make sense to have all of the server data, i.e. Active Directory, Exchange replicated to his house so that in case of a disaster, theft, etc. he would be able to be running with the 'backup' server fairly quickly.

I have never set something like this up using Windows.  In Linux I have set it up using rsync but I am thinking that there has to be a better way.  He has a VPN setup between his office and house so data would be able to be copied using any available method.

Any suggestions on what to look for that can make this all work?
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Cliff GaliherCommented:
Short answer is there isn't an inexpensive way. There are backup applications that do this, but they are expensive and weren't designed with two-way syncing in mind. Further, I'd argue that you are mixing to goals. Anywhere file access is great, but you also mention syncing AD and Exchange data. In a two way sync scenario, if the home PC gets a just synced to the office.

Disaster recovery and file syncing are two different scenarios and should be planned separately and accordingly. When you view your issue through that lens, "syncing" exchange and AD becomes unnecessary in your anywhere access scenario and two-way syncing is not required in a DR scenario.

Som to answer your initial question, you have two, or potentially three, choices.

1) set up BranchCache.
2) set up DFS.
3) use a syncing service such as windows live mesh or Dropbox.

Each has pros and cons, and to detail each would be to write a book worthy of being on a shelf in Barnes and Noble. But that should be enough to let you find technet articles and do the necessary legwork on actual implementation. So I leave that exercise to you.

Good luck,


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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
What you are asking for is a high degree of redundancy and flexibility. This is EXPENSIVE. mostly because exchange cannot be easily replicated. You can setup a second server with Ad and use dfs to replicate files back and forth,  but that doesn't cover exchange.  To include exchange, you'd want a bdr (backup/disaster recovery) type device. These typically cost $1000+ to start and then have monthly maintenance fees. In addition they don't work well as being two "live" copies of the server.  One is strictly a backup to the other. Further, if you bought SBS preinstalled on the server then you cannot use a bdr because gthe oem license prohibits you from transferring it for any reason.

Assuming it's not an oem license, I would likely recommend a combination bdr and vpn.  A ojnt to point vpn between the client's office and home combined with offline files should allow a reasonably solid experience.

Of course, the remote workplace capabilities of sbs means the client can log in to the network from home using rdp and work off their office workstation.
bdhtechnologyAuthor Commented:
Thanks for the information I will certainly review those links.  One thing I should point out is that the Exchange/AD/etc would not need to be 'live' on the backup server, but have the data replicated there just in case of a disaster.  The only thing that would modified in multiple places would be Word docs, pics, etc. that he wants to be able to edit from wherever he is at.  He just wants to be able to 'fire up' the backup server in case something happens to the 'live' server and have all the users, e-mails, etc. available in that case.

SBS is not using an OEM license so that shouldn't be an issue.

I have shown him the remote workplace in SBS and he likes that for simple file retrieval but his main thing is to be able to access all his files at once.  Plus the *real* important stuff like have his iTunes library and download his digital camera.
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Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
The bdr solution is becoming quite common for environments that don't want significant downtime. But the bdr server is running it's own system and replicating the main server OFFLINE. So the file access would need to be a separate puzzle piece.

Here are some solutions to your queries.

1.If you wish to have AD / Echange to be also available on the server at home and office,you can promote additional Domain Controller in the domain which would replicate the database on 2011 SBS and the other DC.

2.To have the data available on both the servers you can configure DFS on the servers.With DFS you will see the data on the network with all the updates being done with the help of DFS replication.

Hope this helps !!!
bdhtechnologyAuthor Commented:
Just to clarify, I know that you can't have two SBS servers on the same network, but can you have two SBS servers connected by a VPN like this?  If not then we would have to get Server 2008 R2 & Exchange, is that correct?
bdhtechnologyAuthor Commented:
I have been reading about BranchCache and it looks like it would work well, the caveat being that it only stores the files on the local server that have been requested, is that correct?

If so wouldn't it make more sense to use DFS to replicate the data then?
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
I'm not as familiar with BranchCache as I should be.

As for two SBS servers - you cannot have two SBS servers in the same DOMAIN - this is because the SBS server must be the FSMO master role holder.  Since you cannot have two DCs holding the same FSMO roles in the same domain (it's technically possible to have two in the same network with a couple of minor adjustments, but they cannot be in the same domain), you cannot have two SBS servers. Other servers are fine though.
Cliff GaliherCommented:
As I've said before, you've actually asked two questions here. One about making files available offline (two way sync) and one about making a disaster recovery scenario for your server (one way replication.) trying to discuss both is obviously muddying the conversation. Pick ONE topic and stick to it. Don't try to solve both problems with the same solution. That will fail. Don't try to solve both problems in this question. Ask another one for DR in zones with appropriate experts.

As far as branchecache vs DFS, yes branchecache only caches requested files. But this SHOULD NOT be a disaster recovery plan. what happens if you use DFS and the boss deletes a file he wanted to keep, and that delete action replicates back to the server...two way syncing is NEVER a disaster recovery plan. So once you think of it in that way, you'd be surprised how effective branchecache can be over a VPN. chances are the boss uses the same few files from home quite often, so branchecache is mUch easier on system resources and disk space than DFS.

DFS does work too, however. There is a reason I listed it. If the boss really wants access to all files locally, whether he uses them or not, then DFS is appropriate. You must plan on bandwidth usage, disk usage, and most importantly, replication monitoring and conflict resolution. The access to all files has a trade-off of higher ongoing maintenance. I can neither say you should or should not choose branchecache over DFS. that is a decision based on budget, time, and required features. Which also brings me back to what I said in my previous post about reading the feature sets and choosing the option that fits YOU best. I can't learn your environment well enough and quickly enough to answer that. Nobody here can. There is, sadly, no shortcuts on doing some research on your own and the legwork in final choice and implementation.

As always, if you have specific questions, just ask. And good luck.

Just to pipe in briefly, Intra-site DFS replication is not advised by Microsoft or under their best practices. I just worked with a major organization, where an Intra-Site DFS system failed, and overwrote thousands of documents. DFS is a great solution, if you have the structure for it, including multiple sites. It is a good solution for two replication (when it works). There are better solutions out there though, and DFS as many have said, should never be considered a Disaster Recovery method.

One other thing, two replication as Cliff said can get very dicey. Depending on replication times, bandwidth, etc. if a file is deleted on the main server before caught, it could be deleted on the other server as well. Deleting it for good. (I know this very well).

Finally, to my knowledge, an SBS system cannot have a secondary Exchange server in the structure, even as a backup.
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