Implementing a small business server is no easy feat. There’s the expense but what is the expense? There’s the implementation service but who will provide that service? Do you even need more hardware when you got the “cloud” keeping your business flowing?
Where does one start when their informal business processes no longer meets their growing needs? We followed a growing San Diego business of just under 15 users from their very basic network infrastructure, zero documentation, and limited knowledge of what they wanted out of IT Support; and divvied up all IT related problems into projects. They simply knew what they were doing wasn’t working. First thing, come prepared with your tool belt of items:
- 50′ Ethernet Cable
- Some extra cable management items.
- External hard drive and DVD Burner
- Thumb Drives plus ISO of Operating Systems and Utilities
Many smaller shops just use their knowledge from previous installations for installing the server. This is fine if it is one man shop but this is not a scalable solution. Not to mention, that network administrator is bound to make leave an item out from one project to the next. We highly recommend you use project management software to organize your project into phases and tasks. Any content beyond this point becomes easily managed into separate post for separates task in separate checklist items. Otherwise, you have gobbly goop mess of items as you see below and you hope the person is somehow accountable for knocking all of them correctly.
Project 1 – Server Hardware and Software Integration
Setup server as a Vsphere box using Rufus and install virtual server and workstation AKA Hypervisor.
Pro Tip! – Make sure you have a Kingston USB stick. Some other USB sticks do not show up in the “one shot boot menu” under UEFI boot option
Project 1 failed miserably due to a hardware limitation with the SAS drives or a driver issue with the current release of Vsphere. We spent a wee bit too much time trying to resolve this little issue.
Know Your Hardware Specs!!! and don’t let the client purchase the server with consulting an IT professional
Upon reflection, Windows 2012 R2 Foundation would not have installed on Vsphere anyway. They are serious limitations of Foundations. There’s a product comparison at Microsoft’s site. Foundation only handles 15 users to begin with and Hyper V does not install.
Then there’s a hardware issue with the Dell PowerEdge R230(Read full blog post on the poor hardware specs). It came with a Perc H330 controller card for running the SAS drives mirror configuration. This is a poor card to introduce into your organization’s first server.
Avoid – Perc H200/H300 controller cards and 4k sector drives. Enable “Disk Cache Policy” once you have confirmed a battery backup is in place and is working.
Consider – H700/H800 controller card and 512 sector drives
Finally, configure OpenManage and iDRAC for remote access. Estimated hours to complete this is two hours.
Pproject 2 – Document the Network
This brings us to our next project. Ideally, this should be done first for all the reasons that are well documented in the first project. Anyway, document and inventory the network when implementing a small business server. Joining the machines to the new domain called AD.acme.com cannot occur until we knew the current user account credentials and the specs of the machine. For instance, we knew early on we could not proceed with the project until the operating systems were upgraded from Home edition to Professional. With that said, what’s the best method of organization?
- Keepass database for storing your passwords
- http://Drive.google.com for storing your basic network info sheet. Do not store anything too personal since it’s a Google sheet but running Advance IP Scanner and documenting what pops up should get you going. Here are some items to consider for your info sheet:
- Users – What are the full names of the users on the network?
- Hostname – What’s the hostname of each machine?
- IP Address
- Location – It’s important for the supporting staff to know where everything is located
- Model – Knowing the type of the computer expedites support
- Current user name and proposed user name – Educate the users as you document that all new users will contain a standard naming convention like first initial, last name
- Password – Set a generic password for the user to login into once the domain is setup and they apply their own unique password later.
- OS – It is very important to know if they are on a Windows 10 Home Edition or some other unsupported Operating System
- Serial – Tracking down the warranty information and any type of disaster/recovery before any issues occur is critical. Add Serial Keys for products like Office and Quickbooks is even better. Consider using Belark Advisor for key recovery or simply contact the Office Administrator.
- User Roles and Email address are also essential for expediting deployment of new technologies throughout the network. The more useful information, the better.
Consider the following tools to download on to all workstations for best chance of users accessibility to a Remote Desktop and standardizing on a local admin account at the same time:
ProTip: Create a share on the network for the tech to access to make the above items easily deployable.
Estimating time for discovery or documenting is 3 to 5 hours depending on how helpful the prior documentation is if any…
Project 3 – Promote the new server to a Domain Controller.
This will allow all workstation to join the new centralized file server and user credentials environment. We then took the user information collected and developed a user naming convention. Ie. First initial, last name. We then added the users to the Active Directory of the server and assign them to security groups based on data obtained and placed on the info sheet. Shares were created for specific groups of users and the windows users were configured with login scripts for mapping drive letters to their workstations.
Project 4 – Special Add-ons or Customization of Your Network
Implementing a small server is never a cookie cutter template. At this particular site, a virtual server AKA hypervisor was created on the Windows Server to address the needs of Quickbooks hosting and remote accessibility. A remote desktop connection was created for both LAN and WAN accessibility. This required some Sonicwall reconfiguration for the WAN or work from home solution.
Project 5 – Workstation Setup
Creating local admin account on all the machines, Joining Windows machines to the domain, and transferring their data to the new profile.
1 hour per workstation
Project 6 – Mac Setup
Adding local admin account to Mac’s and connect server shares via a specific user account.
.5 per Mac
Project 7 – Printer Setup
Setup printers to be static and added to the print server.
Project 8 – Organizing and Filing Data
Uploading data to the network. Quickbooks, client data, etc
Varies but easily several hours of coordinating with organization leaders
Project 9 – Training.
This is easily take a couple days but training can be reduced significantly with the generic IT information/scenarios in these blogs. Instructing users going forward to use the support email address to contact support will help organize the chaos of implementing a small business server.
Implementing a Small Business Server Summary
Underestimating your time and clearly spelling out the level of expectations for everyone involved will sour your relationship and leave your small business server environment to fail. The expense of hardware and services will go to waste unless the time involved was maximized to it fullest. Meaning, the users not only have all the services setup but they understand how to use it.
Lifecycle Deployment – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLe5xhhyFjDPd5bI0FoXqD4zJMPqs8tIpz
Virtual Box – http://blogs.getcertifiedgetahead.com/windows-server-8-virtual/
Installing VMware ESXi – http://www.dell.com/support/contents/us/en/19/Videos/VideoPlayer/OS-Installing-VMware-ESXi-Using-CDDVD/wxa2J3ODE6mJZvVYr7V461QRmkQZfgrT
VMware Setup Manual – http://www.dell.com/support/manuals/us/en/19/vmware-esxi-6.x/ESXi6.xIIGPub/Introduction?guid=GUID-B461EEBF-874F-4DE1-8D8B-7786A6241076&lang=en-us
VMware ESXi 6.5 – http://www.dell.com/support/home/us/en/04/Drivers/DriversDetails?driverId=NF6XJ
All Dell Server Videos – http://www.dell.com/support/contents/us/en/19/videos
Backup Power Supplies – https://www.amazon.com/Tripp-Lite-1500VA-Rack-Mount-SMART1500LCD/dp/B000DZRY9C
Controller Cards – https://betanews.com/2014/09/30/why-is-dell-crippling-its-low-end-server-raid-cards/
iDRAC Configuration – http://www.dell.com/support/contents/us/en/19/Videos/VideoPlayer/Connect-to-iDRAC8-and-Change-the-Default-Password-/V4ZWR2cTp2xxya5x2SG-VCSskeL8gThw