Upgrade recommendations from Windows Server 2003

We're running Windows SBS 2003.  The machine is a Dell PowerEdge we bought in 2007.  We need capability for 20 to 30 clients.  Initially we hosted our own email, but we now use Google Apps.  Our file server is about 500GB.  We're mostly into automotive engineering.  We do a little embedded programming.  For backup we use Dropbox and Crash Plan.   Our current machine has 2 mirrored hard drives.  Do we need that?  Or are there better methods for redundancy, crash recovery, etc.  Realizing that MS is about to stop supporting the 2003 OS, what would you recommend?  I'm hearing that for OS we should probably go with Windows Server 2012.  What about equipment?  We're looking at the Dell T320.  Do we need SQL Server?  If so why?  Probably I'm not asking all the important questions, but think these are some of them.
Thanks in advance.
Josh ChristieAsked:
Who is Participating?

[Product update] Infrastructure Analysis Tool is now available with Business Accounts.Learn More

I wear a lot of hats...

"The solutions and answers provided on Experts Exchange have been extremely helpful to me over the last few years. I wear a lot of hats - Developer, Database Administrator, Help Desk, etc., so I know a lot of things but not a lot about one thing. Experts Exchange gives me answers from people who do know a lot about one thing, in a easy to use platform." -Todd S.

Cliff GaliherCommented:
You should probably hire a consultant and work with them. Your questions are broad enough and sweeping enough that I don't think EE is a good fit. How would you even know if you were getting good advice?
If you are going to continue with a local server, then mirrored drives are important for server availability and data protection.  Small cost for the extra protection.

If you are starting with new hardware you may as well go with Windows Server 2012 R2 as long as you don't have any specific server based apps that won't work with it.

Dell should have a decent enough server for your requirements.  I forget the exact Dell model features but I always recommend a proper PERC raid card and redundant power supplies with a 5 year warranty to cover your ass.  Getting iDRAC is also a good idea if you provide remote support and need the ability to get at the server console when it isn't booting properly so you can troubleshoot things without having to come on site.

SQL Server is only needed if you have a product that depends on it.  It is a database server.  If you have it now, there is a good chance you will still need it although you will need to do a better analysis of your environment to see if it is needed.  Once you have it you need to maintain it and backup the databases appropriately so it isn't something to get into lightly.  If you currently have it and no one is managing it, then your current dropbox/crashplan DR option may not be covering you.

Running a server lets you run Active Directory for centrally managing all the user accounts rather than a work group model which would be a nightmare for 20-30 computers with file sharing being required.  The general rule is that if you have more than 10 PC's you should be configured in a server based environment.

There is likely still a lot not covered here so if you don't know what you are doing you should heed Cliff's advice and hire someone who does.

Experts Exchange Solution brought to you by

Your issues matter to us.

Facing a tech roadblock? Get the help and guidance you need from experienced professionals who care. Ask your question anytime, anywhere, with no hassle.

Start your 7-day free trial
I would second the advice that has been given, but will add some more.

Consider installing Hyper-V Server 2012 (free) and then Server 2012 R2 within it.  It should give you more flexibility in the future.

I absolutely agree about mirroring of drives.  This is independent of your backup and other disaster recovery plans.

The (expensive) standalone PERC RAID card is more of a benefit with RAID levels above 1, but still useful with RAID 1.  If your budget is tight, this might be a place to save.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:

First, I completely agree with Cliff - if you can't answer some of these basic questions yourself - such as RAID and if you need SQL, then you need to hire a professional to come in and see what your business does, exactly, and from that see the questions to ask and offer you professional solutions.  I would recommend you be prepared to paid a nominal fee to 3 consultants to provide recommendations.  Else what you end up with could be a HORRIBLE fit for your business and changing it later could cost FAR more.

Now, that said, I'll provide my opinion to some of your questions with noted caveats.  

Our current machine has 2 mirrored hard drives.  Do we need that?  

You should understand that ALL drives WILL fail.  They are not guaranteed to fail at the same time but it COULD happen. You need to determine what your businesses level of risk is.  Is $200-800 extra worth ensuring that, should the drive fail, you do not interrupt your work day for hours or potentially days to recover your server/data?  I can't answer that.  I don't know how you work or how heavily your staff uses the server for their day to day activities.  I would say that the VAST majority of businesses would find the additional cost of adding RAID on a server is a no brainer (and frankly, I wouldn't allow any of my clients to not have it; if they declined, I'd decline them as clients (well, ALMOST certainly as every business IS unique).

Realizing that MS is about to stop supporting the 2003 OS, what would you recommend?  I'm hearing that for OS we should probably go with Windows Server 2012.  

Before you can know what OS your server can run, you need to make CERTAIN that any application you expect to run on it will be compatible. SBS 2003 is a 32 bit operating system.  *IF* you have any line of business apps running on the server, they MAY NOT work on 64 bit editions of Windows.  You MAY have to upgrade them.  OR you may be stuck using Windows Server 2008 (NON-R2) which was the last 32bit version of Windows Server.  There may be other reasons you cannot go to Server 2012 R2.  But without inspecting what's currently in use and knowing what you might want to use later, it's impossible to be certain what you need.  *IF* nothing stops you from using it, I would DEFINITELY be implementing Windows Server 2012 R2.  I would also be virtualizing it provided there wasn't a compelling reason not to.  And if you're not familiar with virtualization, you should be learning it now.  It's not new.  It's been a feature in Windows Server for 7 years now and VMWare has been offering it for well over a decade.  Virtualizing offers certain potential benefits in the area of disaster recovery and depending on the level of up-time you need / your tolerance for down time, it can be used in conjunction with cluster to further minimize potential downtime.  It also makes your server more portable so you can easily upgrade its hardware and even move it to a temporary system in the event of a hardware failure (including a laptop or a desktop).

What about equipment?  We're looking at the Dell T320.  
I would say a T320 would LIKELY be fine - aside from the fact that I hate Dell and have had numerous bad experiences with them in recent years and thus won't buy another Dell product for the foreseeable future - how it's spec'ed out though, that's another question for someone who can see what you need.  

Do we need SQL Server?  If so why?

This is probably the single biggest thing screaming "I'm not qualified at this point to implement a network upgrade without the help of an on-site professional."  SQL is a database server.  You NEED it *IF* you need it.  You should already know that.
Josh ChristieAuthor Commented:
Sounds like lots of good advice.  We'll put this information into the mix as we begin moving this direction in the next few months.
It's more than this solution.Get answers and train to solve all your tech problems - anytime, anywhere.Try it for free Edge Out The Competitionfor your dream job with proven skills and certifications.Get started today Stand Outas the employee with proven skills.Start learning today for free Move Your Career Forwardwith certification training in the latest technologies.Start your trial today
Windows Server 2012

From novice to tech pro — start learning today.