We have used Microsoft SBS in our own small business office for over 10 years now, and overall been quite happy.
Yet as our SBS 2003 box ages, I worry more and more about the dreaded Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD) which causes a piercing feeling to crash through my chest whenever it happens.
Will a cold reboot fix it?
Will I need to reinstall Windows?
How good are my backups?
What about all the little tweaks that didn’t get written down in the documentation?
Will I miss any important emails while I hastily rebuild the server?
I’m tired of having those kinds of worries. And while I made a lot of money as a consultant for other small businesses preventing problems like that and creating contingency plans if it did, no one pays me for working on my own stuff.
I bypassed SBS 2007 and have no interest in getting up to speed with the lastest version. First, they took away all of our graphic tools saying they were a security threat and now they are moving back to them (probably because of revolt).
For us it’s time to determine just how valuable it is to have our own mail server, deal with the spam and the required bandwidth versus the convenience of instant emails. And while I used to archive all emails, that takes space and time, and I almost never need to refer back to them.
As for storage space, the really big stuff we are already storing on our ReadyNAS NVX. And while the NVX is not what I would buy today (I’ll get to that in a bit) it’s really nice that it just plain works. There have been only a couple of firmware updates the entire time we have owned it and any questions regarding operation are easily answered by ReadyNAS tech support or the community forum.
Even adding storage to a new ReadyNAS couldn’t be easier. Whether you are adding a drive to an empty drive bay or even upgrading to larger hard drives, with ReadyNAS you do NOT need to backup all your data, wipe the RAID array clean and restore!
(Yes, still make sure you have a good, current backup, but that is advice that is valid 24/7/365 anyway.)
Steps To Migrating From SBS to Small Business NAS
First and foremost, we have to replace Microsoft Exchange. Fortunately we are not using SQL Server for anything or, thankfully, SharePoint.
Exchange has always been nice, but in the early years recovery from a disaster was a major undertaking requiring great skill; and experience didn’t hurt either. Fortunately it is now easier to recover from an Exchange problem these days but it can still take a lot of time, especially if your database is large as most are.
While I am looking at several hosted Exchange solutions I am also considering just migrating to gmail and not bothering with our custom domain. In any business with a customer presence, you want your own domain but for us it’s not that big of a deal. At one time there was some prestige involved but not anymore.
Any more we forward other email accounts through gmail just to get the anti-spam services for free.
Outlook is still my calendar and email client of choice, but that will work without Exchange. I have to be more diligent about backup and make sure that my online backup service will support open and locked files such as an Outlook PST file, but the best do.
When it comes to shared calendar’ing, we don’t, so that is not an issue for us.
Once Exchange is out of the way, the rest is easy.
In the world of Windows 7 and almost every copier also being a network printer – even the relatively cheap all-in-one’s – there is no real need to run all of our printing through the server anymore.
With some companies there may be permissions or special drawer usage for checks and things but not for us. Simply connect up all the printers directly via the network to each PC is fine.
Windows AD Security
Windows AD is one thing that has probably spoiled me over the years. With that is the ability to run policies to control program and user behavior.
What I may consider, though, is a simple Windows Server 2008 VM solely for the purpose of continuing AD as before. We’ll see.
This is the easy part.
If you do not use Windows AD, just create users on the Small Business NAS using the same Windows user names and passwords as on the Windows workstations. If you don’t need password security, just open up the NAS for Guest access. Note: Don’t open up the NAS to the internet this way!
File shares and permissions are what network attached storage (NAS) units do, so just create the shares you want, create the mapped drives on the Windows workstations and you are done.
Data Backup Using A NAS
Just because you setup your business NAS with RAID 1, RAID 5 or RAID 6 doesn’t mean you don’t need backup. Online backup is the easiest and gets your data off site automatically.
Not every online backup service will support a NAS from a workstation, though. ReadyNAS units offer scheduled backup to an attached USB hard drive for local backup and have their own online backup service named ReadyVault built-in to the ReadyNAS unit if you choose to subscribe to that.
The online backup service we use with small businesses that does support network drives such as your NAS is Mozy Pro.
If you do choose to dispense with AD, then your workstations need to be disjoined from the domain, and unfortunately your profiles will be trashed. That’s Windows, thanks a lot.
With XP and prior you could copy profiles but good luck with Windows 7 (I never used Vista, thank God!). You can export profiles of Firefox (or sync them in current versions), copy favorites, etc and I recommend you do that.
What Small Business NAS Would I Buy Today?
With all of the network attached storage vendors out there you might find it difficult to settle on a vendor. Personally, I have been happy with Netgear ReadyNAS over the years so I would stick with them.
Service and support are important and the user community for ReadyNAS is the best I have seen.
And since we would be interested in a “pedestal” (free standing desktop) unit, the Netgear ReadyNAS Pro would be the lineup that interests us. See rackmount small business NAS if you would want a NAS mounted in your equipment rack.
The ReadyNAS Pro 2 is a great little unit, even has 1 USB 3.0 port, but two drives in a mirror is not quite enough for us.
The ReadyNAS Pro 4 is more like it, but if we want X-RAID2 with dual redundancy (RAID 6), for some reason Netgear does not allow it except with 6 drive units and above, even though only 4 are required.
So we may opt for a ReadyNAS Pro 6 just to make sure we have all the expandability we want and the option of dual redundancy.
If you have a small business network you no longer need to be shackled to Microsoft.
With Microsoft the cost of software is high, the cost of hardware is high, the cost of ongoing maintenance is high and when it crashes the downtime can easily exceed 24 hours.
With a quality small business NAS device, the cost of hardware is reasonable, their is no cost of software, the ongoing maintenance is almost nil and the crashes almost non-existent.
That’s the direction we are going.