What's the best server configuration for a small office?

Matt Kendall
Matt Kendall used Ask the Experts™
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Hi,

I need to replace a six year old Dell Poweredge T620 server.  I was thinking about replacing it with another Poweredge T630, with this CPU:  Intel® Xeon® E5-2630 v4 2.2GHz,25M Cache,8.0 GT/s QPI,Turbo,HT,10C/20T (85W) Max Mem 2133MHz.  I want to use Hyper-V but I'm not sure if I should use RAID or if there really is a big enough performance advantage for the extra cost.  I was thinking about going RAID10 using the PERC H730 RAID Controller with 1GB NV Cache but is that a good idea to have the VHDX and host all on the same RAID10?

Would there be performance problems if I just had two stand alone SSDs?  One would have the host Windows Server 2019 and the VMs would be on the second SSD.  I understand that the speed difference between stand along drives and RAID10 (with 4 drives) is 4 times faster the read and 2 times the write.  But with the SSDs being so fast now, is it necessary to go with RAID10 for a small office?  I will be running an Active Directory/Application VM and a Remote Desktop VM.  There are a total of 15 users and 5 of them will occasional work on the Remote Desktop VM.  Thanks in advance for any and all suggestions, recommendations and criticisms!
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Danilo AndradeIT Systems Analyst

Commented:
I would definitely recommend you go with a virtual environment. Setup your hyper-V host and your 2 VMs. You license will do fine as one Std license covers the host plus 2 VMs, unless you go with the Essentials license in which case you'll have only one license for a single server. It will be easier to manage now and in the future in comparison with doing all physical. The most important component for a virtual environment is RAM, so make sure you have enough for your host and 2 VMs (AD/DNS/DHCP/FS and RDS).

Go with a RAID configuration as well, you do not want to go with a standalone drive because if it fails you would have to start all over. If only mirroring is important to you and you do not care about parity, just go with a RAID 1 or 10 if you need the performance. SSDs are the best choice. I would make two separate raids to have the OS and the Data in separate arrays. This way if your OS fails for the host, your data is still fine, so it is easier to manage.

Now, do you have any line of business applications that require a server component? The reason why I ask this is that I do not see a point of a physical environment nowadays when you can have a cloud environment, specially for a small office. The only reason that it makes sense is if you have an application that is server dependent and that cannot be replaced with a cloud version.

Nowadays I would recommend going you with Office 365 without a need of a server at all. You can have all your emails in the cloud without the need of an on premise Exchange Server. Your users would securely log in with an Azure AD account without the need of an on premise AD. Your files would be located in SharePoint and OneDrive. You can implement a series of security policies, rules, etc. All in all, you avoid the hassle of dealing with hardware failure, backup of data and servers, server licenses, extensive downtime, increased security risks, etc. As for your remote users, you could consider a VPN connection which is secure and less troublesome than having to connect and maintain an RDS server, unless you need to have specific applications that will run on RDS and cannot be installed or opened through a VPN directly on the user's computer.

In summary, it will depend on your needs, but just wanted to give you additional options as well :)
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013

Commented:
I want to use Hyper-V but I'm not sure if I should use RAID or if there really is a big enough performance advantage for the extra cost.  
RAID is not just about performance... in fact no where in the definition of RAID does it mention performance.  The R is for REDUNDANT and redundancy on your drives is VERY important on a server.  ALL DRIVES WILL FAIL.  Even SSDs.  So in this, there really is no question, you want RAID!

I was thinking about going RAID10 using the PERC H730 RAID Controller with 1GB NV Cache but is that a good idea to have the VHDX and host all on the same RAID10?

Honestly, if you go NVMe instead of SSD I wouldn't worry about RAID 10.  One (or two) sets of NVMe in a RAID 1 would be fine.  

Would there be performance problems if I just had two stand alone SSDs?

We can't answer this honestly.  We simply don't know.  You said it's a small environment... are there performance issues now?  You haven't identified what you've got running now besides a 620... is it running 12 VMs?  2?  None?  Same applications?  What kind of RAID subset now? And with what disks?  And controller... WAY too little information.  People CAN give an answer, but a true, accurate answer?  Not without a lot more information.

I will be running an Active Directory/Application VM and a Remote Desktop VM.  There are a total of 15 users and 5 of them will occasional work on the Remote Desktop VM.
I don't know what "application" you'll be running, but in most cases, a couple sets of mirrored spinning disks performs just fine for two VMs.  Up that to SSDs and for an office the size you indicate, I wouldn't be worried about performance for my 15 user environments.  But my users may run different things from you and may depend on those things in different ways.
Matt KendallTech / Business owner operator

Author

Commented:
Danilo, thanks for your comments and suggestions.  I will definitely go with RAID for the new server.  We're already using Office 365 for email/Outlook and it's great!  Much better than having an on premise Exchange server!  Wow!  I'm glad those days are gone.  :)  

Lee, thanks for the info as well.  I'm sorry that I was vague.  I was trying to put it all together and left out a lot of details.  We're running Lacerte and Quickbooks are the primary applications.  We're currently not having any performance problems.  But, the server is running Server 2012 (not R2) and we were looking at upgrading the current server.  Three years ago, the original SAS drives failed (in the RAID5).  One failed and before we could get that one replaced, a second one failed later that day--taking the server down completely.  I bought 4 Samsung Pro 512GB SSDs and set them up in a RAID 10.  We're currently running Hyper-V and only have one VM--the AD/Application server.  We have 15 users using Lacerte and Quickbooks on the server.  There are never any complaints about slow network or applications.  What prompted this need to change out the server is they have 3 computers that users will remote into (RDP) when they're out of the office.  We have a Sonicwall TZ400 that we use to have the users VPN into the office and then connect with RDP.  It has worked great for a few years but they want the ability to add more remote users without adding more PCs in the office--and taking the three computers used solely for remote and assign them to future users in the office. I want to make sure that we don't get too much server or too little server for this replacement server.  The management does not want to go with a cloud server solution as they only want an on premise server.  They've lost Internet for several days and were able to work in the office while their neighbors went home because their server was in the cloud.  So, that's the thinking behind that.  So, if I just setup two RAID1, one with maybe a 480 GB SSD and the second being a 1.9 TB SSD, that should be plenty?  Probably the RAID10 with four 480 GB SSDs would be overkill.  We're currently using 700 GB of our 1 TB total space so we're getting relatively close to capacity.  I just want to do what's best for this office.  Thanks for your help!
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Technology and Business Process Advisor
Most Valuable Expert 2013
Commented:
So yes, given what you've described, 2xRAID1 using 2x500 GB and 2x2TB (I'm rounding/generic number).  Your OS (for the host) doesn't need 500 GB.  None of my hosts have a C: drive larger than 128 GB.  I put everything on other drive letters and the "worst" usage I have is 80 GB.  I'd partition that 500 so that 300-375GB is used to ancillary services.  Create a VHD for VSS and other services and put that on the 500's space.  The core OS, Data, RDS system would then be running off the mirrored 2 TB set.

You don't mention RAM, but personally, I'd start with 32 GB and give systems with SQL databases a fixed amount of RAM and leave the RDS server to start at 2GB, shrink to 512, grow to 30GB (less whatever you allocate to the SQL database system).  Just make sure you can increase the RAM in the system at a later date if you need to.

You're overkill on threads, but I expect that CPU isn't THAT much more expensive than some of the lesser models so might as well...
kevinhsiehNetwork Engineer

Commented:
My branch servers have been R410 with a pair of SSD in RAID 1 using PERC6i controllers. They have worked well, but running out of space on the 800 GB drives, and 4 cores has been a problem when we have too many users on RDP with too many web browser tabs open.

My new servers are R630 with two 1.9 TB SSD, PERC H330, and 32 GB RAM. CPU is whatever. Servers from Xbyte. If I needed more capacity than what I could get from a pair of drives, I would go to 3+ drives in RAID 5 using PERC 730 controller.

I found issues with a pair of 7200 RPM drives with a host that was a DC and file server and a RD VM. Storage latency caused all sorts of profile issues.

Commented:
Typically in small accounting offices we set each user up to work from home on the PC they use while in the office.  Do your users have laptops and take them with them when they are out of the office?  Our users connect via VPN and use Quickbooks, PeachTree, Pro Series, etc on their desktop in a RDP session.  Those applications would not work well if they had a laptop from the office and a mapped drive at home connected with VPN.
Matt KendallTech / Business owner operator

Author

Commented:
Thanks guys for your help and setting me in the right direction!  The server I'm replacing has 3 4TB 7200 RPM drives in a RAID 5 and latency has been a major problem!  I'm going with the 2 RAID1 arrays.  The first will have 2 500 GB SSDs and the second will have 2 1.9TB SSDs.  I'm going with 48 GB RAM and a Xeon CPU with 8 cores.  This server should really perform well.  Thanks again!

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