Keeping IT Simple – Infrastructure Choices for the Small Business : John R. Pattison:

Interesting blog post about the decision making process of upgrading.  Looks like HP will be launching their Foundation Server models starting next week according to this blog post.

“In the end, I decided that the best way to “Keep IT Simple” was to move the client’s domain from SBS2003 to Windows Server 2008 Foundation + Microsoft Online Services, and let users do their own workstation backups using the image-level backup tool provided in Windows Vista. While the Home Server was a tempting add-in, I feared that I was introducing too much complexity. Had this been a new business without an preestablished server/domain, I would have gone with Windows Home Server, but in this case, I just couldn’t bring myself to kill a domain and then deal with the mess of workstations perpetually looking for a domain controller.

Best wishes to all of the IT Pros out there… Keep that infrastructure simple and fight TCO bloat!”

So what do you think?  Would you make a similar decision?  Would you make a different one?  What solutions are in your menu of options and why are you landing on those as your solutions for small businesses these days?

5 Thoughts on “Keeping IT Simple

  1. Great choice. I really like it, hosted exchange plus local storage… I personally would add the homeserver to the above equation to give an additional form of backup to the Foundation Server as well as to backup key workstations. In an environment that small, I’m sure that data is squirreled away on workstations… Also the homeserver protects laptops so VERY well.

    Personally, I would NEVER use Microsoft Online Services until they let us brand it. I would use Seismic from Ingram instead and whitelabel the hosted exchange. We need to own our customer relationships, not let Microsoft or anybody else take control.

    Great discussion – the move to the cloud is just getting started…


  2. Hosted Exchange sounds great, but I can’t imagine that most small business users have the technical prowess to work in a hosted Exchange environment. W/ the constrained bandwidth between the clients and the server(s), the oft seen habit of emailing multi-megabyte files between users is going to result in sub-optimal performance, IMO. Get me a solution to that problem that doesn’t involve trying to explain things like file sizes and bandwidth to users who don’t care and want things to “just work”.

    Branding the service seems silly to me. I had an old boss that liked to stick his company’s name-plate stickers over the manufacturer names on monitors, keyboards, etc. Anyone with a modicum of technical knowledge would quickly realize that his little company didn’t manufacture these devices (and would laugh at the hubris of the suggestion), and anyone who actually believed that his little did manufacture them would be in for a great disappointment when they tried to get service and found out that “service” meant “buy a new one”.

    If you need “branding” to retain Customers, you’re not doing a good enough job. If Microsoft can “take control” of your Customer relationship in such a situation, you never had it to begin with. Your Customers can see thru your “branding”– they know that you’re not really the one providing those “whitebox” products / services.

    I was _shocked_ to read John Pattison even suggesting that you could get by w/o a domain. If you want any security for shared data files at all, you need a domain.

    I was also shocked at statements made about users initiating backups. Users shouldn’t have to initiate backups– that’s why we have folder redirection, offline files, task scheduler, etc. Users should be able to save files in “My Documents”, know that they can get to those files from any PC on the network, and feel confident that their data is backed-up. Anything less is a joke. Companies hire IT consultants to take care IT– asking users to do backups is putting the user in charge of their IT.

    (John also made it sound like his users have Administrator rights. *sigh* That, right there, makes him small-time and an amateur in my book…)

  3. Matthew Clapham on April 26, 2009 at 10:08 pm said:

    What struck me the most about John’s post wasn’t the logic he followed to decide what to go with, but the fact that he’s referring to an accounting firm with lots of client files on their PCs and a user there likes to install some screen saver of the month (likely a Trojan horse). In addition to horking up the workstation (and requiring a system rebuild), it likely stole the juiciest data bits present. Only keeping files locally and backing up the individual client machines there’s a file version management problem waiting to happen.

    Where’s the concern over keeping the files safe not only from loss due to hardware failure, but also from mismanaged security?

  4. I find it funny, that the solution he gives requires a lot more end user knowledge that a simple SBS 2008 server on site that can easily be remotely administered.

    Honestly, I think his solution is not as simple as he thinks and while there might be a TCO advantage on the initial purchase, the real question is long term TCO and what is going to happen with it, plus how much control will the client use with a hosted exchange solution, especially if the client needs adjustments to attachment sizes allowed.

    My choice would be an SBS 2008 server and a full host BDR solution liek what you can get through Zenith’s partners.

  5. There are some good points made above. Of course it is best to have a domain. Of course it is best to have client files on a server instead of a workstation. Of course it’s nice to have automatic backups of workstations. Of course users SHOULDN’T be administrators. Of course users SHOULDN’T install malicious software on their computers… However… this is the real world…

    The reality that there are a lot of small businesses out there on REALLY tight budgets. Some of these businesses need REALLY simple solutions that eliminate the risk of a problem happening that’s going to cost them $2,000 to fix, or that isn’t going to put them out of commission for a day to resolve.

    Regarding users initiating backups… Users at companies such as this know that they need to keep their files on the server. Of course, the files there are protected by RAID and offsite backups. But the reality is that they’ll always have SOME files on their local systems which need to be backed up. The users know what they’re dealing with better than I do, and understand the risks they are taking in the choices they make. Additionally, it takes a full day sometimes to reload a user’s software. In a service-based company such as an accounting firm, some of that lost revenue may affect the individual personally (in either time or money). So in a situation such as this, I don’t see any problem putting some responsibility on the user, since they are the ones who will face the consequences. We’re dealing with laptops here, which are taken with the user overnight, so we can’t do things like schedule laptops, etc. And in reality, it is just so SIMPLE to kick off an image-level backup using the tools built in to Windows Vista.

    We all would love to have perfect clients that will agree to do things exactly as we want them to, and will pay us for as much time as we need to make things perfect. Unfortunately, that’s not always in line with the real world.

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