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Choosing a server

Posted on 2012-09-13
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Experts,

Ive been shopping around lately and looking at replacing my decrepit craigslist server, lol, with something new and shiny. My business has grown, but still small - not an enterprise level - and i need a server that can handle 5 - 10 users.

- since i have employee's / managers in the field, i need remote access to the server ( upload files and access software applications on it, ie: Quickbooks ). what would be the best way to connect these employee's? VPN?, GoToMeeting, then a local log in account? other technologies?

- How many User CAL's come in a windows CAL pack?

- Im looking at SBS 2011 since its a simplified platform with active directory for user permissions, integrates with Sharepoint ( might work on an internal site later on ) and sbs 2011 comes with exchange. what are you thoughts on this OS? should i just continue with Server 03?

- Server im looking at is a basic entry level Dell PowerEdge T320 beefed up a little with an Drac7 express, Intel® Xeon® E5-2420 1.90GHz, 15M Cache, 7.2GT/s QPI, Turbo, 6C, 95W, Max Mem 1333MHz Processor, and 1TB SATA drive.

-Should i do a RAID Array? i have plenty of data, but only have a limited budget. I planned on picking up another 1TB external to do regular backups ( included with SBS2011 ) or a 1TB NAS.

- Any comments on dell's powervault?

- Is there a better way to accomplish what i would like to do? Running a Citrix server is a little pricy, Ideal, yes, but... limited budget.

thank you for all your input!
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Question by:MattLight
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by:zunder1990
ID: 38396518
Use should run RAID. If you use RAID 1 for both the OS and the data, it can save you alot of time down the road. Also Raid 1 is cheap you only need two drives. Also I see that you are looking at the dells, look at the onsite warranty. A good onsite warranty is worth is wight in gold.
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by:zunder1990
ID: 38396544
I forgot to add after you get your server specs on dell's site call them on the phone. If you call them you can get huge discounts. There was one time I got about 50% off of the list price.
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by:djcanter
djcanter earned 664 total points
ID: 38396560
what would be the best way to connect these employee's? VPN?
-VPN would be the most secure way to connect. if you dont already have a VPN firewall, check out Sonicwall applicances. They are good price/performance.

- How many User CAL's come in a windows CAL pack? Typcially 5.
Server likely comes with 5 cals, you will need 1 additional pack of 5.

- Im looking at SBS 2011 since its a simplified platform with active directory for user permissions, integrates with Sharepoint ( might work on an internal site later on ) and sbs 2011 comes with exchange. what are you thoughts on this OS? should i just continue with Server 03?
SBS is a nice server package. If you r are going to deploy Excahnge, consider using Postini or another hosted solution to scrub your mail.


-Should i do a RAID Array? i have plenty of data, but only have a limited budget. I planned on picking up another 1TB external to do regular backups ( included with SBS2011 ) or a 1TB NAS.

Absolutely use a raid array. Backups are one thing, but disk redundancy is another.

- Any comments on dell's powervault? i dont have any recent experience with them.


- Is there a better way to accomplish what i would like to do? Running a Citrix server is a little pricy, Ideal, yes, but... limited budget.

Typically for your environment, I would install ESXi on the host then spin up 2 servers, 1 dc/fileserver  and 1 termserver. My Windows Server08 licensing allowed 2 virtual servers or 1 physical. I would recommend the same for you. Run ESXi then install SBS2011 in a VM, then configure a TS for your remote users. Quickbooks will hardly  run  over a vpn. A term server is a must.
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by:MattLight
ID: 38396562
awesome!!!! - you da man! ill have to call them first thing tomorrow. i wanted see what everyone else had to say before i purchased.

also- any ideas on employee's logging into the server that are out on the road? User CAL's is what i need correct?
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by:MattLight
ID: 38396609
@djcanter - awesome response, ill have to do some reading on that stuff. Cisco sells a small business VPN router for less than $160 with DynDNS built into the OS and supports up to 50 IPsec Connections. Quickbooks would run off the servers Hardware and not through the connection itself, although connecting to a Quickbooks file on the FS should be to bad? ... dont know, ive never done it. This is my first time doing something like this so im expecting alot of bugs.

Server 08, hmmm, so ill have to pick up a copy of that then SBS2011 :-/  however, a terminal for remote users and a file server would be nice to.
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by:djcanter
ID: 38396638
Avoid the Linksys/Cisco RV routers. I have had very little success with them. The Client VPN software never works correctly and on more than occasion they just dropped their configurations.

Sonicwalls, Fortigates, Checkpoints firewalls, etc can provide SSL vpns, java based RDP, web access to your fileshares.


RE: DYNDNS in router. Most routers support some thye of dyndns, but  If you are going to use Exchange, you will  need  a static IP address. SpamHaus and other services blacklist dynamic IP ranges.

Assuming Quickbooks will be installed on the server using the DB service. This is only supported for workstations on the local network. While the VPN connected ccomputers would be able to access the files, It can literally take 5 miutes to login, change screens, etc.
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Lee W, MVP earned 668 total points
ID: 38397787
The following is my opinion on your questions... There may be a few points that differ, but I believe djcanter has offered reasonable advice as well.

- since i have employee's / managers in the field, i need remote access to the server ( upload files and access software applications on it, ie: Quickbooks ). what would be the best way to connect these employee's? VPN?, GoToMeeting, then a local log in account? other technologies?

you have a few server options.  Which one you choose depends on how soon you purchase and what kinds of features you're looking for.  Below are what I think you should be looking at for your options:

1. Small Business Server 2011 Standard - why?  It comes with Exchange.  *IF YOU WANT EXCHANGE* This is the one to get.  If you're happy with your mail system, if you want to use Hosted Exchange or some other platform, then there's really no reason for you to buy this.

2. Windows Server 2008 R2 Foundation - why?  It's cheap ($250-300) and it doesn't require CALs.  It is OEM ONLY and only available on servers with 1 physical CPU socket.  ONLY buy this if you don't expect the company to grow beyond 15 users within the next 3-5 years.  Foundation has a limit of 15 users (why it doesn't have CALs).

3. Windows Server 2012 Standard - why?  It's new, yes, but when virtualizing (and these days you should ALWAYS be virtualizing unless you have a VERY good reason not to), you can legally run TWO copies of it on the same physical hardware.  Further, there are no feature limitations.  And further still, I *THINK* it will offer downgrade rights so one of the two virtual licenses you get can be Windows Server 2012 Essentials.  Assuming Essentials is a valid downgrade for a VM, you should use it because it provides client backup (backup your workstations) and Remote Web Workplace for easy remote connections.  It does NOT require CALs either but is initially limited to 25 users (can grow beyond for additional fees).

Couple points about remote access... DO NOT allow users to login directly to the server.  This is a security and stability risk.  If you get 2012, you can utilize Remote Web Workplace or use the second instance as an RDS server.

VPN is more secure, but it's not as easy.  *I* don't think it's terribly complicated, but it depends on how savvy your users are.

LogMeIn and other remote access platforms are options, but I still haven't found anything that is as fast as RDP).

DO NOT buy any OS pre-loaded on the server.  These are OEM licenses are tied to the systems they are sold with.  For a minimal amount more, you can get a Volume License for whatever OS you select (it may even be cheaper).  The Volume license will offer compatibility with BDR systems that potentially replicate your entire server to a new location and will allow you to reuse the license when you get a new server (to be clear, you can MOVE the license, not run it on both servers - OEM licenses can NEVER be moved).

- How many User CAL's come in a windows CAL pack?
Depends what you buy in 2003, you had to buy a minimum of 5 packs.  2008 and later allowed you to get increments of 1.  NOTE: when buying volume license, you must have an existing, active, volume license agreement or you must buy (for most things) a minimum of 5 licenses (servers are exceptions, a single server qualifies you, but if you wanted, for example, 2 licenses of Windows 8, you would have to buy 5 unless you already had an agreement/prior purchase).  *IMPORTANT* - you should understand how CALs work - a LOT of people do not.  Microsoft does not license by concurrent connection.  You say you need a server for 5-10 users... simultaneously or total?  If you have a total of 25 users but the server only needs to service 5-10 at any given time, then you need 25 CALs (assuming you license per user, which is USUALLY the cheapest method, as opposed to per device).  Each HUMAN BEING (regardless of whether they use the server once in a while or every day and regardless of whether they have their own unique user account (they should) or share someone elses with a "common" account like "salespeople") REQUIRES a dedicated CAL.  CALs can be reassigned every 90 days or when a person leaves the company, but that's it.  You can't reassign a CAL from Mary to Joe for 3 hours while Mary takes an extended Lunch and Joe stops in the office... doesn't work that way.  

I haven't read the licensing information, but historically, server came with 5 CALs. As noted above, Essentials comes with rights for 25 users and Foundation for 15 with no CALs.

- Im looking at SBS 2011 since its a simplified platform with active directory for user permissions, integrates with Sharepoint ( might work on an internal site later on ) and sbs 2011 comes with exchange. what are you thoughts on this OS? should i just continue with Server 03?

See my comments above.  But I'll add that A) you may not be able to continue with 2003 on a new server if your license for 2003 is OEM and not retail or volume and B) 2003 is OLD and partially out of support.  Unless you have very specific needs for 2003, everyone should be on 2008 AT LEAST and preferrably 2008 R2 (or SBS 2011) if you're running Windows servers.

- Server im looking at is a basic entry level Dell PowerEdge T320 beefed up a little with an Drac7 express, Intel® Xeon® E5-2420 1.90GHz, 15M Cache, 7.2GT/s QPI, Turbo, 6C, 95W, Max Mem 1333MHz Processor, and 1TB SATA drive.
I think I mentioned this before, unless you have a VERY good reason, you should be virtualizing every new install.  To do that, you want RAM, and fast disk.  CPU is nice, but not an absolute necessity in most cases.

-Should i do a RAID Array? i have plenty of data, but only have a limited budget. I planned on picking up another 1TB external to do regular backups ( included with SBS2011 ) or a 1TB NAS.

Should you do RAID?  To me the answer to this is ALWAYS yes.  However, to help you understand why, let me put it this way... RAID adds $250-500, typically, sometimes more... How much is your server worth?  If it the drive fails in 20 months and you lose the ability to work for two business days, how much is that going to cost your business?  How many employees will you have to pay to sit there and do nothing (or what seems like nothing) for two business days? How much do you use the server for sales processes, account processes, marketing processes, etc?  Now ask yourself, if the drive fails and I end up with 2 business days of outage, would I be willing to to spend $500 if I could get my people back to work?  I think most businesses would say YES, $500 is a small price to pay to help ensure I can keep running in a disk failure.

It's also important to understand, RAID IS NOT BACKUP.  It's REDUNDANCY.  A FORM of insurance really.  RAID cannot protect you from malicious software or uusers who delete files, it cannot protect you from data loss in a fire or flood, it cannot restore a file accidentally deleted, and it cannot guard against corruption.

- Any comments on dell's powervault?
I use them at all my clients.

- Is there a better way to accomplish what i would like to do? Running a Citrix server is a little pricy, Ideal, yes, but... limited budget.

This has taken me close to an hour to write this response... and I don't think I've covered even half the bases... if you want a good, accurate answer, hire a pro in your area to come in, actually see what you have, evaluate their systems and at the end of the day, make a recommendation.  Frankly, to do this right, you probably need to double your budget, especially if you're currently describing it as limited.  Put another way, you need to try to usefully and accurately determine your business's reliance on technology and decide what level of risk you're comfortable with
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by:Tony J
Tony J earned 668 total points
ID: 38397801
By the way - you might want to consider the HP Proliant ML110 G7 series (avoiding the non-Xeon models).

These are generally extremely good bang for the buck and although SATA from the get-go supports hardware RAID on the buit in controller (albeit only RAID 1). They're fantastic as little virtualisation hosts, too - I run three of them attached to two Iomega IX220 NAS's with VMware ESXi on the hosts - admittedly if more than one virtual server is rebooted simultaneously then it takes a longer time than local storage but once up there is no noticeable slowdown. There are many free hypervisors to choose from - VMware, Microsoft, Citrix / Xen all do them.

Which immediately offers benefits:

1. You have a flat file to backup that is completely hardware independent. So, say your server hardware does go kaputt and you can no longer get that server: no problem, just reinstall the hypervisor and copy the flat files back and bingo you're back up and running;

2. If you ever want to migrate to a more powerful server solution you can in a similar fashion to the above

3. If you want an additional server for some reason (such as adding a remote access / RDS server later down the line, say) then you can create another virtual machine trivially.

I wouldn't consider Citrix for that few users and I don't believe it'd install onto SBS anyway, but SBS does include a web based remote access solutions (basically a take on RD Web Gateway). And I say this as someone who has primarily worked in the Citrix arena for the last 15-odd years. It's not a panacea and why add an additional layer of complexity to the solution? And cost?

In terms of backup - have you considered one of the many cloud/online based offerings such as from Acronis? These offer bare-metal restore functionality (and you could combine it with, say an external NAS so you do have local restore capabilities too).

Oh one thing has just occured to me there - if you do go down the route of SBS, you may want to carefully consider what backup devices it actually supports. I seem to recall a conversation with a colleague earlier this year where they had to use very specific manufacturers USB disks until a very specific manufacturers tape drive arrived, so disk based backup may not necessarily be the best option after all. That said of course, that was using the in built backup software.

One last point - if you DO go down the route of virtualisation, whichever hypervisor you choose, make sure all your hardware is on the compatibility list - including whichever RAID arrary controller is in the box.
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by:Lee W, MVP
ID: 38398855
I disagree on HP servers.   I know they are one of the big options and before I went to craigslist or to a computer guy who builds systems, I would go to HP... but I would always choose Dell over HP... at least for the forseeable future.  I've had way too much of a negative experience with HP support working with big companies, small companies, etc.  "open a $250 ticket to verify hardware capability" - are you INSANE?  Yes, the server was out of warranty, but it was a SPEC QUESTION!!  I'm not saying Dell support is flawless, but I've never had them send me the wrong parts (unlike HP) and I've never had them ask me to open a PAID support incident on a spec question (or frankly, even on an out of warranty system).
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by:Tony J
ID: 38398871
All bad experiences for sure, but I've had exactly the same from almost all of the big vendors over the years at one time or another be it Dell, HP or IBM to name just three.

I've always found Dell are great if you are a large customer and/or pay for the premium support but tend to be a bit poor otherwise.

Of course it's all relative and personal experience varies :-)
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by:MattLight
ID: 38399573
wow, thanks guys for all the reply's it has helped out tremendously!

@leew - your response was fully detailed and for that you ROCK. I think im going to go with Windows Server 2012. It has some nice features included the remote virtual desktop for my on the road employees and the essentials comes with the cloud services with mobile device support. I beefed up the Server hardware to accommodate for the VM machines that will be running and put more RAM on it. Ordering more drives to set up the Raid Array, and going to also order the dell powervault this way i have a physical backup set and a remote ( on the web ). Sorry, still going to go with Dell products. Ive had bad experiences with HP before too. as for the connection - ill go with a sonicwall, it should provide a better firewall than just a simple router and if i want i have the option to VPN ( server 2012 has the remote workstation thing )

you guys helped out alot, and i appreciate all your input!
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