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    Network attached storage vs traditional in-system storage


    We have a couple of 4U servers in our office, each of which have 8~10 hot swap drives (some SCSI, some SATA). This hardware (particular one of the machines) is getting somewhat older and we're going to be looking at getting new server software (and hardware) in the next year or two. These are both currently running different flavors of Windows 2003 (one 32-bit Small Business Server and the other 64-bit R2).

    My main question is what would be better (if one option is indeed better) and why:
    1) Continue to use larger format servers with multiple internal hard drives?
    2) Downsize to 1U-2U servers with less internal storage and get a network attached storage appliance?

    We utilize a decent-sized database (approx 40GB tablespace), but it's only accessed by a few people at a time - it's not used for OLTP or anything like that. File server, Exchange server, Sharepoint - the usual Microsoft shop, plus a couple of in-house applications and such.

    Anything to reduce noise and/or heat would be a consideration too as we're a small business and our server closet is basically a regular closet.

    Just wondering what your thoughts were. Thanks.
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    I have to say, I'm somewhat shocked. I don't think I've ever posted a thread with zero replies. I'll have to re-think my question and post with some more details.

    I'm now thinking about virtualization as well, but I think that might be a bit of overkill for our small shop. I like the whole virtualization idea, but not sure I'm too keen on having to buy multiple Windows Server licenses, especially now that Windows Small Business Server had been re-branded as Windows Server 2012 "Essentials"... which "essentially" means they don't include Exchange server anymore and you have to buy it separately.
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    Originally Posted by SlinginSam
    I have to say, I'm somewhat shocked. I don't think I've ever posted a thread with zero replies. I'll have to re-think my question and post with some more details.

    I'm now thinking about virtualization as well, but I think that might be a bit of overkill for our small shop. I like the whole virtualization idea, but not sure I'm too keen on having to buy multiple Windows Server licenses, especially now that Windows Small Business Server had been re-branded as Windows Server 2012 "Essentials"... which "essentially" means they don't include Exchange server anymore and you have to buy it separately.
    It's quite a general questions whereby any answer you get could have several advantages and disadvantages regarding performance and feasibility of finance. My old workplace utilised a NAS but mainly for backup but to get rid of the old servers we bought a SAN and virtualised all them. It also depends on the size of your company. My old workplace was a relatively big secondary school which had around 1000 users logged onto the network at any one time so having fast log ins and retrieval of documents was essential, hence the reason why we went with a SAN in the end.

    One thing I suppose a dedicated NAS would offer is redundancy and the fact that your server would be alleviated of processing saving data.

    I'm with you, I'm surprised no one has replied, it could be quite a decent debate about this subject.
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    Hey Sam,

    I'll give you my 2 cents on the deal; probably all it's worth too . If you have several 4U servers that are a bit old (i.e., 6+ years), and you don't have too large of an organization, you can still benefit from virtualizing your environment.

    You'll probably cut down your electrical costs, definitely cut down on your heating, and you'll be able to free up some capacity in your rack for other projects; if that's applicable. If you have a table that's around 40GB in size, you'll want to make sure the server hosting that table has plenty of RAM so it's not swapping the program from virtual RAM to actual RAM like crazy (evident via page faults in the server I believe).

    In terms of NAS vs SAN, if you virtualize you could dedicate one of the virtual servers to file storage (for your table), and the rest for whatever. A SAN sounds like it would be way overkill, but again, I don't know the size of your organization, how much data you push through your LAN on a given day, number of concurrent users, etc...

    If you're worried about Exchange, I would actually consider looking at a hosted solution. If you factor in the cost of a server to host Exchange, the cost of application and license fees, plus administration time, it's often cheaper now-a-days to simply go with a hosted solution through Microsoft or some similar company.

    It all really comes down to what the unique needs of your company and users are, your end goal, and of course the true needs of the person writing the check; or at least what you can convince him/her to go with.
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    Thanks to both of you. You've definitely given me some more to think about. I definitely like the virtualization idea if only for the ability to fairly easily do bare metal restores and move VMs between dissimilar hardware. I'll have to do some more cost comparisons and see what I come up with. We only have about 10 concurrent users at a time, so the amount of data being pushed through the network isn't too large by any means.
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    With 10 users I'd definitely just virtualize the place and push your email to the cloud; so much easier and far less of a headache. This idea is overkill, but if you really wanted to minimize headache and downtime, you could buy two physically identical servers, host all your servers on one box and configure the other as a fail over server. VMware has products out there that will keep identical copies of the VM clients on each physical box, and if it detects a failure on one box it will automagically start shifting everything over to the available box.

    If you have just 10 users, you should easily be able to get away with one physical box and one or two virtual servers at most though.

    Comments on this post

    • SlinginSam agrees : Exactly my thoughts
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    Originally Posted by seack79
    This idea is overkill, but if you really wanted to minimize headache and downtime, you could buy two physically identical servers, host all your servers on one box and configure the other as a fail over server...
    ....
    If you have just 10 users, you should easily be able to get away with one physical box and one or two virtual servers at most though.
    I didn't know about that specific VMware solution, but it's funny you mention the scenario with two servers and automatic failover. That's pretty much exactly what i was thinking... budget depending of course.

    I suspect if we go the virtualized route, it'll be as you suggested with one physical server hosting two virtual environments. Being a small company, we tend to hold on to hardware and software as long as possible (hence Server 2003 & Win XP). So I try to "go broke or go home" whenever I do actually upgrade and get the best at the time, within reason of course.

    I'm thinking about Windows Server 2012 Standard. From my understanding it includes licenses for two VMs plus the hypervisor on the physical server. If we decide to keep Exchange in-house, we can use one of the Server 2012 licenses on one VM, and run Small Business Server 2011 Essentials on the other VM. From the MS documentation, it looks like SBS 2011 can be virtualized, including the OEM version. I'm not sure that the OEM license would work in a failover environment though, since (I think) that tends to be tied to a physical machine.

    Thanks for your input. Looks like I have a few options to explore. I still need to figure out the right storage solution as well. Knowing just a bit more about what I may be planning, does that change any of your recommendations on storage solutions?

    If we had just the one physical server, I'd think that on-board storage would be sufficient, at least to start. But having a direct attached appliance may allow for a smaller server format as well as room for expansion. From the pricing I've seen and given our needs, I think a SAN is probably way overkill.
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    If you have Server 2003 I'm going to assume you have Exchange 2003 as well (sorry if I missed it in your last post). If you go with Server 2012, the only version of Exchange that is support (at least currently) is Exchange 2013. You can't upgrade from Exchange 2003 to 2013. So I understand small companies like to hang on to software forever, but then you get into situations like this.

    With that said, it adds another check mark for a hosted solution. Your other option would be to upgrade to Server 2008; which does support Exchange 2007/2010; which Exchange 2003 is upgradeable to both. However, even with that there are a few caveats:

    Yes from E2K3 SP2 and later.To clarify, you have to build a new server and move the mailboxes. You cannot do an in-place upgrade, but 2010 will co-exist with SP2 perfectly fine.
    source.

    You'd have to leave your 2003 box running and build a 2010 box and migrate over. Not a big deal, but might be more headache than you want to deal with from a small office standpoint.

    VMware also has a very useful tool that will allow you to perform a physical to virtual migration; so you can basically take your existing servers and move them to a virtual server seamlessly. The name escapes me at the moment; but a quick Google search should reveal it.

    At this point it may be worth your time to bring in an IT consulting company and have them do an initial assessment and get a few quotes. You can always bounce them off the folks in here to see if it sounds reasonable.
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    Thanks again for the suggestions, and especially for pointing out the Exchange 2003->2012 upgrade issue. That will definitely be an important factor to consider. If we decide to keep email in-house, I'll have to see if I can find a cheap copy of Exchange 2007 to upgrade to first. Of course, production Exchange 2007 is 64-bit only and my current Exchange server is 32-bit. Exchange 2007 comes in a 32-bit edition for "evaluation, lab and testing use only". I suppose it might be easier to just install E2K7 on the other 64-bit server I have. Looks like I have a lot of steps to plan out.
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    Sorry didn't see your new post. You will want to stick with exchange 2007 64 bit. You can "test" it with a TechNet sub for around $250 I believe. Good luck.
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    Thanks. I'll need it.
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    .Thanks for your help anyway.
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    For Exchange, we decided to go with the hosted solution, probably direct with MS but looking at another vendor or two as well. Given the low upfront cost, lack of having to have Exchange running locally, not having to pay for the Exchange upgrade and CALS, not having to pay for email anti-virus/anti-spam solution for Exchange, and not paying for time administering the server, I think it will definitely save money, or at least be no more expensive in the long run. Calculating the breakeven point/TCO, I think it would take five years minimum to recoup the cost of upgrading our local installation, and it could be much longer. We may go ahead and get a trial of Office 365 as that is only an additional $4.50/month/user.

    In the interim period, this will also allow us to move a little slower in retiring our legacy hardware, as one server will mainly only be used for a DC and file server, and the other for DC and mySQL server. The only thing that really taxes the oldest server is Exchange + the associated AV software, and with that uninstalled, our performance should vastly improve. A dual-Xeon with 4GB ram should be plenty for a file server and small DC I should think.

    I may try an in-place upgrade from Windows Server 2003 R2 Standard 64-bit to Windows 2008 Standard 64-bit on the database server and see how that goes. We're upgrading our workstations over the next few months to Win7, so it'll be good to have all of the Group Policy extensions that come with the new server OS.

    I'm still thinking about virtualizing the servers, but I decided against virtualizing the desktops after checking into all of the licensing requirements. The main savings for us were going to come from running thin clients instead of PCs (IE 150 watts vs 7 watts x 10 = about $130/year/PC). But considering the server requirements necessary, the server licenses, plus the required MS VDA license for each thin client ($100/year/client) it was pretty much equal cost-wise, or had an extremely long break-even point. From MS's confusing documentation, I think I'd be required to have RDS CALs as well. If MS revisits its licensing (haha) at least as far as the VDA license, this would become much more feasible.

    As we retire these servers and possibly go virtual there, I really like the enterprise versions of this for shared storage.
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    Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) is becoming very popular. In your case, Office 365 can be a benefit because you don't have to pay for the newest edition of Office each time it comes out; and I believe you get support from Microsoft as well. It's similar to your premise about Exchange. By the time you factor in administration cost to run office updates using a WSUS server or other administration means, cost to upgrade when needed, and ensuring you don't fall behind the "IT curve" and get stuck in the situation you're currently in (i.e., running Exchange 2003 but you have to upgrade to 2010 or 2013 now), it's usually less costly to do SAAS and hosted in the long term (think 5+ years).

    The file server you have now should be more than enough to handle your needs. You don't so much need RAM (unless it's pulling huge databases) as you do storage space and a speedy array. So dual xeons and 4GB of RAM should be fine for the most part I believe.

    I would encourage you to upgrade to Server 2008 when you can, just make sure you read through the documentation before proceeding. When that's done, I would do a physical to virtual migration and call it a day. Sounds like your shop is relatively small so you could probably run everything off one power box; and use a redundant physical server as a hot spare if needed.
    Last edited by seack79; May 20th, 2013 at 01:42 PM.
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    Originally Posted by seack79
    ... so you could probably run everything off one power box; and use a redundant physical server as a hot spare if needed.
    My thoughts exactly.

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