SBS 2011 - migration to Exchange 2016

We're preparing to migrate our single SBS 2011 box to "full" Exchange 2016. We don't like the SBS limitations nor interface. The environment is 35 active users, 75 mailboxes, and 400 GB of active Exchange data.

I'm being advised to buy at least two boxes, one for DC and one for Exchange. A consultant is saying that 3 boxes would be better, 2 for DC. He's also talking about 4 boxes, which would include a shadow server that would pick up if the primary Exchange server failed. This all sounds a bit excessive. We can use the old server as a backup DC, so I'll probably buy two new boxes.

Some people say that virtualizing Exchange is the way to go, for rapid recovery. I'm inclined to stay with bare metal and a RAID 10 box for Exchange -- (8) 1TB enterprise hard drives should do it. Is there any reason not to go for SSD (aside from price, which may be out of our budget)?

Our environment is 100% Mac so we'll be upgrading to standalone Outlook 2016. No one likes Word, Excel, etc 2016 for Mac -- these programs are sluggish and less stable than 2011.

Finally, we want to stick with Dell because we know the platform inside out. However, we can't find any email notifier that works with Dell servers for hardware failure notification. Is there anything out there below the Enterprise level?

All suggestions welcome.
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Adam BrownConnect With a Mentor Sr Solutions ArchitectCommented:
With the Server 2012 standard license, you get virtualization rights for 2 Windows 2012 VMs on Hyper-V as long as you don't run anything else on the VM host. You only need one server for handling the two roles.

That said, "rapid recovery" of Exchange in a VM isn't always that good an idea. You don't want to do snapshot recovery with Exchange. There are too many things in Exchange that still don't handle snapshot restores very well. You'll still want to make sure you have good backups of Exchange to restore the databases from.

For hardware questions, SSD gives significantly better read/write speeds, but for your purposes, the extra cost isn't likely going to be justified by the performance increase. It would be a noticeable one, but with 35 users you won't see too much of a difference, to be honest, since Exchange does the vast majority of its live work in RAM (It will use all the RAM you give it).

The "shadow server" option your consultant is talking about is Exchange High Availability, which, to function properly, requires two servers and a hardware load balancer. You'd have extremely fast single server recovery in that setup (one server fails, the other immediately takes over), but it's pretty expensive and, again, your user base probably doesn't justify the price of that solution. Usually, the price for a full HA Exchange solution like this is in the $10,000+ area, which would be about 8 years worth of the entry level Exchange Online subscription for your user base (Exchange Online plan 1 is 4 dollars a month, and you only have to license mailboxes for actual users. Mailboxes that multiple users access can be configured as Shared mailboxes, which don't require a license, so you'd be looking at about $150 a month for your environment for just the Exchange capabilities).

Don't immediately dismiss the thought of going to Exchange online. If you're in a Mac environment, the windows Domain isn't really helping you too much aside from controlling file share access and centralizing user login. Being able to control your hardware is nice, but it's also expensive (in time, energy, and stress). Exchange Online is *really* solid these days and rarely ever has major service interruptions (The last one was in June, which was probably the biggest service disruption since about 2011).
Jon a.k.a NetgopherSupport EngineerCommented:
SBS 2011 is somewhat bloaty and redundant. We're slowly migrating our clients away as well.

It depends on your Growth expectancy and hardware available as to whether you install Exchange on a separate server or not. I've seen many Exchange installations hosted on the DC quite happily.

Virtualisation offers several benefits over bare metal configurations such as resource sharing of hardware and instant VM snapshotting. Additionally if you later "pool" Physical hosts you can migrate Virtual machines away from servers with failing hardware giving you short term respite whilst you deal with the fault (providing your live host has enough physical resources to cater for the additional VM).

As for Dell hardware monitoring look at the OpenManage Suite available off Dell's website with a little bit of tweaking you can configure email notifications (theres documentation online on how to do it but depends on your setup)

Kind Regards,
d4nnyoAuthor Commented:
Jon and Adam, thank you.

Adam, your comment reflects the cautious nature of our consultant, who advised me that virtualization is not really the best path for this environment. We are diligent about backup so we should be covered well enough. It seems you are in accord with "bare metal" here, correct?

As for SSD vs. HD, Dell is pushing SSD. I'm willing to consider 10K or 15K HD (if 15K is available). We're going to have a RAID 10 setup with four hard drives for a total of 4 TB. Even that is overkill but we'll never have to bother concerning ourselves with the mail store.  I know SSD is impossible to recover from. But isn't SSD more reliable than HD?

Regarding migration to hosting, some companies will never put their email into the cloud.
Marshal HubsConnect With a Mentor Email ConsultantCommented:
Please refer this post.
David AtkinConnect With a Mentor Technical DirectorCommented:
Just to add my two pence worth,

The installation of Exchange onto a Domain Controller is not recommended.  Because of that you will need to have at least two servers, one for the DC and the other for Exchange.

Touching on virtualisation slightly, personally we are leaning towards virtualising pretty much everything these days.  I'd lean towards getting one new physical server and virtualising a new DC and Exchange (If Exchange Online is out of the question).  You'll probably find that this will better future-proof your environment.  If you get the right server then it can be easily upgraded to deploy new Virtual Servers, if and when you need them in the future.  As already mentioned you are licences for 1 physical server and two VMs with Windows Server 2012 licencing.

In terms of backup solutions there are plenty of options for backing up Virtual machines. Personally I'm a fan on Altaro.  Its cost effective, has great compression ratios and is simple to use.

The SSD pricing is still very high for servers. Because of the size of your environment you may find it to be overkill.
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