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Does Server 2008 Require Active Directory?

Posted on 2012-03-26
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Hello,

Can Server 2008 R2 be configured as a Workgroup server without active directory?  If it does require AD, does that mean I need to use that server as a domain controller and have a backup domain controller?

I currently have SBS 2003 running on a 3+ year old Dell PowerEdge R300.  When I set-up this system I have 4 different users, a web server, and a BDC.  I also used SBS Exchange for my email.  My office situation has changed and the web server and BDC are now gone.  I use Google Apps for email and use both Exchange and Outlook 2010 /POP3 to access my accounts.

I have an unused PE 2950 that has 2008 R2 installed.  I would love to simplify my IT infrastructure.  Years ago I had a W2K server running in Workgroup mode.  My server and desktops all had fixed IP addresses and the users were assigned to different groups with different permissions.  I have so few users, is it possible to go back to a Workgroup mode using 2008 R2?  Would I need to use Active Directory?

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Thanks,
Chip
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Question by:MrChip2
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Expert Comment

by:Adam Brown
ID: 37768369
Yes, windows 2008 R2 can run in Workgroup mode and comes that way by default. SBS 2008, on the other hand, can't. If the 2008 server is already on the domain, you can just switch it back to workgroup fairly easy and configure it how you want.
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Expert Comment

by:Geodash
ID: 37768372
It does not require AD.

Just make sure the users are assigned the same passwords in the same workgroup across servers and all will work fine.
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Author Comment

by:MrChip2
ID: 37768539
Thank you both for your comments.  This sounds like a lot simpler, more cost-effective solution, to me.

Does Server 2008 R2 run in 64-bit or 32-bit?  Given how I plan on using the server - will 64-bit buy me all that much?  All of the applications will be running locally.  I know 64-bit requires a bunch more RAM.  Would server functions like backups run much faster on 64-bit than 32-bit?
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by:Adam Brown
ID: 37768545
2008 R2 is 64 bit only. It doesn't *require* more RAM, it Allows more RAM. 32 Bit windows will only address up to 4GB of RAM. 64 bit allows more depending on which version you get (Standard, Enterprise, Datacenter).
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by:Lee W, MVP
ID: 37768713
I use Google Apps for email and use both Exchange and Outlook 2010 /POP3 to access my accounts.
This does not make things simpler.  Simpler would have been to stay with Exchange or get rid of it entirely.  Using both is a headache.

I would ask why you think moving to a workgroup where each computer maintains it's own list of user accounts is simpler than having one centralized database of user accounts that each computer references?  Further, are you planning on closing the business or do you hope it grows again.  Moving to a more complicated (in my opinion) workgroup would make things more difficult in the future - from implementing security to enabling remote access to preserving user profiles and documents with centralized backup.

Are you planning on getting rid of the SBS 2003 server entirely?
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Author Comment

by:MrChip2
ID: 37768904
Hi leew,

Thanks for your questions.  You raise some very valid points.  Let me provide some more information that may explain my reasoning.

In terms of email, I plan on getting rid of Exchange completely.  In terms of user accounts, I have no problem managing 5-8 desktops which is far more than I have now.  I am certainly not planning on closing the business.  If down the road I need to move back to an SBS solution, that would be fine.  For the next few years, the workgroup solution seems more attractive.  

My SBS 2003 server is at capacity and Dell wants a bunch of money to provide support.  Purchasing a new server with SBS 2011 and support would probably cost $6K - $8K including installation.  I have a PE 2950 server sitting idle that is still under warranty.  For about $2K I can expand its capacity and extend the service contract on that server until 2015, and have a simpler IT infrastructure to support.  The ~$5K savings will be spent on business development activities.  If I did not already have the PE 2950, I would agree with you that any new server purchased should run SBS.

I am curious about your security concerns.  Given the small size of my network and that all users are onsite, what are your security concerns?  All work files will be stored on the server and are backed up daily.  Thanks again for your input.
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by:Geodash
ID: 37768919
Not having centralized security groups is less secure meaning, having to manage it in each place. If the settings aren't correct on each client, you can have issues that are easily solvable in such a small environment. It can technically be "just as secure" if setup correct, just more tedious and difficult to manage.
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Expert Comment

by:Lee W, MVP
ID: 37768944
Security depends on who you are. I've done work for small businesses of 3 people and they don't want the secretary reading their confidential partnership documents.

I'm not saying you should stick with SBS - indeed, for probably LESS than the 2K you want to spend, you can get a NEW server running Server 2008 R2 Foundation Edition - which does not use CALs and has a maximum of 15 users.  For a little more money, you can get SBS 2011 Essentials which does not come with Exchange AND provides backup of the workstations with a maximum of 25 users.  SBS 2011 Essentials requires it be setup in a domain environment.  Foundation does not (but can be).  I don't know what kind of installation you need or how savvy you are yourself.  You SHOULD be focusing your time on running the business and not handling the IT stuff (isn't that the same argument you make to your clients - Can you do what we do, probably, but we specialize and can do it better, more efficiently, and at a cheaper overall cost (in terms of resources).

You CANNOT get Foundation without buying a new server.  You CAN get Essentials and install it on the 2950.

In my opinion, a properly setup domain should work smoothly and without issue for a LONG time with MINIMAL maintenance.  (LITTLE if any more than a workgroup would require).

A workgroup will not provide the remote access features of SBS (Foundation doesn't either, but SBS 2011 Essentials does).

Keep in mind how Active Directory - AND WINDOWS - works: Each user and computer has a globally unique ID (GUID) that's a security ID (SID).  By reverting to a workgroup, you are throwing out all your accounts and starting from scratch with new ones.  That means new profiles and lost productivity.  That also means that if you decide you want migrate to back to a domain at a later date, you start over yet again.  Any permissions you may want to setup would have to be re-setup each time.  And why?  What is simpler about a workgroup?  I don't understand that line of thinking?  Is it simpler to create a user account on each computer for a new user... or just once on the server?  Is it easier to manually configure each user on each computer to automatically save documents to the server... or is easier to do it once in a group policy and let Windows handle it... or trust the users to remember to save and never think about it until a hard drive fails and they lose files because they weren't paying attention?

Seriously, WHY do you think a workgroup is simpler?
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by:Lee W, MVP
ID: 37768947
BTW, I'm not saying stay with SBS or that you can't use an already purchased copy of Server STandard... but there are other options that can prove more beneficial and/or you may not have considered.
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Author Comment

by:MrChip2
ID: 37768986
leew - thank you so much for staying with me on this.  you raise some interesting points that I need to think about.  can I get back to you later today or tomorrow?  I have to leave the office for a bit and do not want you to think I am ignoring your points.
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Author Comment

by:MrChip2
ID: 37792385
Hi Leew,

Thanks for your patience - I am finally feeling better from whatever bug had me under the weather the past week.

You raise some interesting points about keeping my current stricture and NOT moving to a workgroup.  

I don't think buying a new server at this date makes sense.  First off, after I configure a server with the redundancies I need (redundant hot swap power, hot swap mirrored drives) and 3 years of 24x7x4hr onsite support - I am getting prices closer to $4,500 or more.   Second, I have a server that has these features and prepaid service is sitting idle.

Now the first question is what OS to put on the server.  On Ebay I can buy SBS 2011 Essentials for about $380 or SBS 2008 Standard with 5 CAL for $270.

1. I plan on retiring the SBS 2003 server and taking it offline.  I also plan to stop using Exchange.  Can I make my 2008 R2 server the primary and only domain controller or do I need to have a version of SBS?

2. Does SBS 2011 Essentials come with WSUS for centralized management of MS Patches?

3. My current server sends me alerts if there are any problems (like failed backup, or persistent high memory use).  Can I still get these alerts if I do not use Exchange?

4. Which OS offers the easiest migration - 2008 Standard or 2011 Essentials?  I normally would not buy an older OS, but the 2950 will only be good for another 3 years or so and I would think 2008 should be fine until then.

Thanks again.  I look forward to your thoughts on this.
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Accepted Solution

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Lee W, MVP earned 500 total points
ID: 37792422
> I don't think buying a new server at this date makes sense.  First off, after I configure a server
> with the redundancies I need (redundant hot swap power, hot swap mirrored drives) and 3 years
> of 24x7x4hr onsite support - I am getting prices closer to $4,500 or more.   Second, I have a
> server that has these features and prepaid service is sitting idle.

I'm confused... the 2950, I don't think, hasn't been sold in years. And the R300 you said is three years old.  I'd verify what your support levels are on these machines.  Because it sounds to me like you have NO SUPPORT on either, most likely.  In which case, your statement "I need (redundant hot swap power, hot swap mirrored drives) and 3 years of 24x7x4hr onsite support" makes less sense - while I absolutely would recommend this you don't have it (at least the latter).

> Now the first question is what OS to put on the server.  On Ebay I can buy SBS 2011
> Essentials for about $380 or SBS 2008 Standard with 5 CAL for $270.
Being cheap like this will get you in trouble.  The SBS 2011 essentials you quote on ebay is likely the OEM version which limits your usage rights and in my opinion, no one should EVER buy a server with OEM license of Windows UNLESS the only way to get that license is through OEM (such as Server 2008 R2 Foundation or Storage Server).

I would not upgrade to SBS 2008 when SBS 2011 is out and the next version of Windows is PROBABLY less than a year away.  Further, getting SBS Standard when you are not going to use Exchange is not, in my opinion, a great idea.  In my experience, SBS works best when you utilize all the features as they were designed to be utilized.  Start pulling out major components (even by simply "not using them") and you can cause problems.

> 1. I plan on retiring the SBS 2003 server and taking it offline.  I also plan to stop
> using Exchange.  Can I make my 2008 R2 server the primary and only domain
> controller or do I need to have a version of SBS?
You cannot make 2008 R2 a primary because there is no primary (sorry, pet peeve of mine - Primary DCs disappeared with NT4 - everything is just a DC and one to five DCs that handle the FSMO roles, depending on how you configure the network).  Anyway, you CAN migrate away from SBS 2003 to a Server 2008 R2 only network where the 2008 R2 server is your only DC.  DO NOT transfer the FSMO roles UNTIL you are done transferring everything.  Then go ahead.  You have UP TO 3 weeks to finish a migration ONCE THE FSMO ROLES ARE MOVED.  In a migration to a standard server, you are under no particular pressure to move the roles.  In a migration to a new SBS server you ARE.

> 2. Does SBS 2011 Essentials come with WSUS for centralized management of MS Patches?
Yes*, but I'm not sure that's its a supported role you can add.  And there are tricks to adding it and even then it may break things.  Best to use another server for it.  (No, it's not integrated into the console as it is with SBS 2011 Standard).

> 3. My current server sends me alerts if there are any problems (like failed backup, or
> persistent high memory use).  Can I still get these alerts if I do not use Exchange?
The alerts rely on Exchange.  Don't use Exchange, you'll need another alerting system as far as I know.

> 4. Which OS offers the easiest migration - 2008 Standard or 2011 Essentials?  I
> normally would not buy an older OS, but the 2950 will only be good for another
> 3 years or so and I would think 2008 should be fine until then.
The 2950 should handle SBS 2011 just fine.  If you go virtual, you can easily move the VM to a new machine later with minimal downtime.  But this requires a NON-OEM copy.

The Migration to standard editions of SBS should be pretty easy.  Never done one to Essentials, I've only installed essentials cleanly.
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Author Comment

by:MrChip2
ID: 37793925
Hi leew,

My bad - I can understand why you are confused about the 2950.  When I purchased it I bought 5 years of coverage.  I just checked online and this is the coverage as of today:

Service                             Provider          Start Date           End Date            Days Remaining
Keep Your Hard Drive         DELL                  8/28/2008         8/28/2013           514
Silver Premium Support         DELL              8/28/2008         8/28/2013           514
4 Hour On-Site Service         UNY              8/29/2009         8/28/2013           514

I contacted Dell and I can extend these coverages another two years to August 2015 for a total of $2,000.  I can reduce this cost if I want to drop the "keep your hard drive" or change to next business day service.

Based on your responses, SBS 2008 would be penny wise/pound foolish and I really should get SBS 2011 Standard.  What is the most cost-effective way to buy this?
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Author Closing Comment

by:MrChip2
ID: 37819802
Hi leew,

Thank you for all of your help.  I now know with 100% certainty what I will do.  As "luck" would have it, my primary work desktop started hanging up three days ago.  I have spent most of the last three days trying to fix it.  The hw all checks out fine and the system is malware free.  Something in Windows became corrupt.  I am now looking at doing a clean install.  Lucky for me I have a backup PC connected to the SBS2003.  I signed on, opened Outlook and after a couple of minutes synching I was online with email and all my apps.  I am sold on the value of using a domain structure and will not go back to workgroups.
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