Small business server recommendations

Hello everyone,

I'm in need of some quick help. I'm going to be setting up a small business server for a friend and need some recommendations on hardware.

Basically what I want is the ability to setup active directories, group policies, network shares (mapped drives), print server, and a DHCP server.

Right now there's only about 3 computers on the network but there's plans on getting up to maybe 10 with multiple users per computer. So I need something that's powerful enough to handle some expansion. Also being able to setup Raid 5 is a must.

All my server experience involves Server 2008 R2 and I don't know much about Small Business Server which seems to come on a lot of pre-built small business servers. Any advice would be great.

18 answers Last reply
More about small business server recommendations
  1. In most situations I've personally done a single server system for a small business like this, I just run Server 2008 R2 Standard or Server 2012 Standard as the host OS and a virtual machine with Server 2008 R2 Standard or Server 2012 Standard for all of the actual network usage, such as domain services and file sharing.

    What kind of file sharing are you going to need? If you're transferring the occasional few spreadsheets and documents you are looking at a whole different utilization than needing continual transfer of huge database files, artwork files, etc.

    For a basic office server capable of handling the demand you are looking at, I'd recommend an HP ProLiant ML110 G7 server. I've used these personally at several small business around here, and have recommended them on here as well as they are a tremendous value, offering a huge level of customization at a very low entry price point.

    For a RAID configuration, I don't know if RAID 5 would be that beneficial for you actually. There are some performance hits, and in the possibility of a failed drive the performance can be quite horrendous while the array is rebuilding. I'd recommend a set of fast SAS drives (or SSDs if you wish) in RAID 1 for the host OS and for running the virtual machine primary VHD. Something in the neighborhood of 250 - 450 GB should be great. Then put another set of high-capacity hard drives in, like two 2 TB Western Digital RE4 hard drives in RAID 1. Either create your data VHDs on this set of drives or pass the entire array directly through toy our VM for use as a data store and shared files.

    The benefit of this configuration is it is less complex. If a hard drive fails, or your entire server even goes down, your data is not relying on the RAID controller at all. You can pull out one of your hard drives, connect it to any other computer, and you have access to all the data since it's not striped or segmented like in a RAID 10 or RAID 5 array. This makes data recovery in the event of a real terrible problem much less of a headache than it would be with more complex RAID configurations.

    Definitely consider a hardware RAID controller no matter what server system you go with. The ML110 G7 comes standard with an integrated SATA RAID controller, you can add in a card rather easily. I purchased a SmartArray P410/512MB Cache with FBWC from Amazon for $300 last week. For running a single VM 8GB of RAM should be enough, allocating half to the VM and leaving the rest of the host. However, the ML110 G7 can support up to 16 GB (I've seen reports of 32 GB working as well) so there's plenty of room to grow and support future VMs if you need to run more. You can also purchase configurations of the ML110 G7 that support redundant power supplies. I know for a lot of people that might not be a big deal, but around where I live there are a LOT of power issues and it has save a lot of businesses from complete down time due to a failed power supply.
  2. Thanks a bunch for the advice!

    Didn't really think about if the raid 5 went down how long it would take. I've set up plenty of RAID 1's and have had on two occasions for time constraints plugged them into another computer to get files people needed.

    As for the the file sharing, it's primarily going to be small documents and file transfers. Nothing huge.

    Also why are you running a virtual machine and what are you splitting up by doing so? Also what are the benefits of doing so instead of just having everything run in one? Does licensing come into play with this as well? Will I need to purchase an additional license to run a virtual machine? Sorry I'm not that familiar with them.

    Are you basically just running the virtual machine to separate the OS hard drives from the virtual machines hard drives? Which are all physical drives? So for example...two physical drives in RAID 1 for just the OS. Then running the VM use two other physical drives for storage purposes? Why can't you just run the OS with two hard drives setup in RAID 1, then create a seperate RAID 1 for storage purposes only with another two hard drives? I've never tried running a RAID 1 with 4 hard drives. Is that the reasons for buying another hardware RAID controller?

    Also price is a concern so as cheap as possible would be the best thing. This seems to be a good thing. Other than hard drives, memory, and OS, do I need anything else?

    As for operating systems, what's the main differences between SBS essentials, Server 2008 R2, and Server 2012? The price of these are obviously quite different. SBS essentials is under $400, while Server 2008 R2 and Server 2012 are over $600. For the most part does SBS essentials do everything Server 2008 do? I've used 2008 before and I'm fairly familiar with it.

    Thanks again!
  3. The use of a virtual machine for this type of scenario isn't really mandatory, but today where virtualizing your systems is so common and easy, I'd still recommend it. The way that you would do this is to install Server 2008/2012 Standard on the physical machine (Yes, you'd need the full Standard version, SBS does not do virtualization from what I understand.) You then run a virtual machine that does all your actual server needs. Nothing but the virtual machine would be running and installed with the host OS, your actual domain services, file and print sharing, etc. are all done through the Server 2008/2012 Standard instance in the virtual machine.

    First off, you do not need to purchase additional licensing for this. Both Server 2008/2012 Standard have a license key that can be used for one physical server with up to two processors, and can also be used for one virtual machine (two in the case of Server 2012.) There are some key benefits to running virtual machines. The biggest in a small business environment that you might see is portability. What this means is if you have your entire server saved as a virtual hard drive file, and is all just a virtual machine, it doesn't matter what the actual hardware is behind that server. Without virtualization, if your server were to completely die, you'd most likely have to have a backup image of the installation hard drive, and clone it over to identical or similar hardware for it to run properly. In the case of virtualization, you can use almost any computer no matter the hardware type, running Server 2008/2012 with Hyper-V, and just turn on the virtual machine after you have copied the VHD file to the new computer.

    We've done this before in the past for some people who have had their systems go down or needed to upgrade servers. Instead of having a down time of days, it's literally reduced to hours or even minutes. It sounds a little confusing, so please let me know if you need me to clarify a bit how this works.

    My recommendations above for two separate sets of RAID 1 hard drives is just from personal experience and preference. Here's the way I usually do it for a basic server with a virtual machine.

    Your primary RAID 1 array would be two 10k or 15k SAS hard drives, or some SSDs if you choose, which you would install your host operating system (Windows Server 2008/2012 Standard) on. On the host operating system, you would install the Hyper-V role and create a new VHD file which will act like a virtual hard drive for your new virtual machine, and this VHD will reside on and run from this primary array as well. Basically, it's just a regular file stored in a regular folder.

    The second set of drives in a separate RAID 1 array would be two high capacity SATA drives for storage. Since you're not needing high performance throughput for huge data files, streaming data, database access, etc. then normal SATA hard drives will offer plenty of performance at a great cost compared to SAS. This set of drives you can either create a new VHD file (or files) for storage and attach them to your virtual machines as needed for data storage, or pass the entire array to your virtual machine directly to use for storage. I usually keep the actual server and program data on a separate partition or drive from your operating system for flexibility. For instance, if I create the first virtual machine to run Server 2008 Standard, and then decide that I want to upgrade to Server 2012 Standard, I don't have to worry about copying any files or doing anything really with the actual shared data. All I have to do is install the new OS on the primary VHD, and then attach the data storage RAID array directly to that VM and all the files are accessible again. It takes a lot less time and keeps things more organized for me it seems.

    The HP ProLiant ML110 G7 server that you linked to is the exact same one I currently have sitting back on our tech's bench to get finished up for a customer for a local business, it works great, and for what you get they are a great value. I might suggest you look outside of the HP website though to do any ordering as they tend to be quite a bit more expensive directly than ordering through other resell partners like

    On a server system like this, you will need to purchase hard drives, additional memory, your OS licensing, and it's recommended to also get a dedicated RAID controller as again the one that is built in with these entry level servers is just a basic software SATA RAID controller. There are a couple things to keep in mind about ordering hardware for these servers. First, while you can use any brand of hard drives in the HP ProLiant ML110 G7 server, you will need to also purchase the HP hard drive caddy for each hard drive separately, as these servers have hot swap bays for hard drives but do NOT come with caddies. These caddies can be found at quite a few different online retailers for as cheap as $15 a piece though. Also, you will want to be sure you are ordering DDR3 1333 ECC Unbuffered RAM for the server to add memory with the existing RAM.

    If you want the greatest performance capabilities from this server model, I'd recommend looking at the next line up, though, which sports a quad-core hyperthreaded Xeon processor and comes standard with 8 GB of RAM and 460 Watt redundant-capable power supply.
  4. Now do I really need SAS drives vs. SATA? For the most part is it really that much faster?

    Can I get away with the software driven RAID controllers on these computers? Dropping an additional $300+ on a card is kinda pricey as I'm trying to keep cost as low as possible.

    Also are these the trays needed?

    The majority of the machines are going to be laptops and I've never dealt with a Domain controller for laptops. Now if the laptops are joined to the domain and they are removed and taken home are they still able to login through their credentials used for the domain or do they need a local login? Are the credentials saved on the computer? Also for the mapped network drives. If for example I redirect My Documents to a folder on the server, what happens when the device is taken home? Are the files still saved to My documents but synced to the server or are they not able to access their My Documents? Is there anyway to have it so they can still access that folder offsite?

    Thanks again!
  5. There is a performance difference between SAS and SATA drives. To get the best longevity and speed that you might need in the future with expansion of the business and demands being placed on the server, going with SAS is going to give you more responsiveness with the actual VM. However, for the size of network that you are talking about and the type of services that you are using I think you would be OK with using SATA drives for the primary RAID. I'm actually trying out using some 300GB 10k VelociRaptor drives in this current ML110 G7 server here as they don't have the budget for SAS either.

    You can still use the software RAID onboard the system in RAID 1 arrays within Windows Server 2008/2012, it is still supported, but not really recommended. First, the performance is going to be horrible for virtual environments, and second there is a greater chance of the array failing or not working properly compared to a dedicated RAID controller. Don't get me wrong, I have used the onboard software RAID controllers to create basic RAID 1 arrays on several different workstations, but they are always more prone to issues than a hardware RAID controller, and that is the last thing you want happening to your primary server!

    The drive trays that you linked should be the proper G7 drive caddies, correct.

    Working with laptops in a domain can be an absolute nightmare! Especially if you are new to domain networks. Now, there are work-arounds to do everything properly, but honestly I don't know them and it's far from efficient in a small business I feel to try and figure it out. Generally, if you join a laptop to a domain, and then take that computer off-site, the laptop may throw a fit logging in because it doesn't have that domain controller access anymore, and you might have to use a local user account instead. However, a computer that doesn't have access to the domain controller SHOULD still allow you to log in with the domain user account access IF the user account had been logged in previously as it saves the user account profile information on the local machine.

    Setting up folder redirecting is probably the most nightmarish parts of the whole laptop-on-a-domain thing that I've come across. If you simply do folder redirecting, and move the My Documents folder off to a shared storage location on the server, then when that computer goes off site the entire My Documents folder would not be available. There are ways of setting up folder redirection and offline file synchronization using group policy settings, but after trying this out at one office we have had several issues and will be migrating them back to local storage instead of redirection due to the occasional loss of data. My recommendation would be to not use any sort of folder redirection on the laptops, but you can still configure mapped network drives to files on the server. They will not have access to these mapped network drives when the laptop is out of the office (unless you set up some sort of remote-to-site VPN access) but they should still have access to files necessary on their local machine.
  6. I also forgot to ask. Since they're mostly laptops, I was also asked for wireless access for them. How about would I be able to give them access? Would I just have to set up an access point as one would normally? Is there anything different? Would they still be able to connect to the domain and mapped network drives?

    I've used WRT54G's with DD-WRT just for simple Access points and they've worked well for the most part. Probably going to look into something faster for them though.

    This is what I've done:
  7. To give your office wireless access, all you would need to do is set up a wireless access point (you can use a standard wireless router, too) and just make sure it's on the same network as the rest of your computers. If you are looking into wireless, be sure you also have the security policies in place. Not just on your wireless signal, but that employees are using approved devices to have access on the wireless network and not additional devices. This can get kinda sticky for organizations depending upon their own internet and computer usage policies.
  8. On a different topic before setting things up for the actual server I decided to setup a test server. I have server 08 standard and setup active directory users as well as dhcp and DNS server. Now I'm having a lot of trouble getting my laptop to join the domain.

    The dhcp is working it is showing my laptop and the IP it assigns. I can also ping the server by ip , computer name, as well as fqdn. When I go to join the domain on my laptop it won't connect it keeps failing. I've tried disabling ipv6, the DNS on the server is pointed to its own static IP as alternate is I've also tried manually assigning the DNS server on the laptop to point to the server's IP I don't understand what is wrong or what to do from here I've never had this happen before.

    Something tells me its DNS related, but why am I able to ping without any issue?

    The server and laptop are also just both plugged into an unmannaged cheap internet access yet. Don't know if that matters.

    Thanks again for all the help!
  9. Solved:

    Turned out TCP/IP NetBIOS Helper was disabled on my laptop. Started that and it joined with no problems and everything is working like it should.

    Thanks again for everything!
  10. Hey sorry to be a bother again.

    But can't seem to find any info on the HP servers actual case.

    Basically I'm considering throwing in one of these:

    With two SAS drives and two SATA drives as you mentioned.

    Now I have a question with actually connecting them. I know it has mini-sas and I'll need a breakout cable but do the hotswap drive slots take just the standard SATA and then provide power or do I need one of those mini-sas to sas with a molex attached to them?

    Basically do I need one of these:
    or these:

    Thanks again!
  11. The LSI card that you linked to is basically the same thing as the onboard controller, only with added support for SAS, so it may not be worth it for you honestly. If you are unable to afford the jump to a true hardware RAID controller with onboard cache, like the P410/256 MB or P410/512MB which can be found for between $200 - $300, then there's not going to be enough cost/benefit difference to warrant spending the money on that card and SAS drives, and can just use SATA with the onboard controller.

    The HP ProLiant ML110 G7 comes with a mini-SAS to mini-SAS cable which connects directly to the back plate of the hard drive cage. There are no individual fan-out cables. This is kinda nice as you don't need to worry about purchasing any additional cables, you just need the card and then move the mini-SAS connection currently connected to the onboard controller port to the port on the new dedicated RAID controller.

    This is one of those little things that just isn't hardly documented anywhere, and I'm not sure why really, it is a decent item to consider when someone is going to be configuring their own new server!
  12. Sounds good.

    Now we're going with Windows Server 2012 and I'm looking at licensing. I've never been the guy in charge of CALs with my limited experience with dealing with servers.

    So from what I understand I need some of these:

    Basically these:

    Now how does the licensing work? Do I need to register them on the server or is it just for legal reasons and have them keep them in a safe or file?

    Also I need to setup VPN which I have very limited experience with. I'd like to be able to have the laptops be able to sign in through VPN and access a mapped network drive. He has a website and a domain name registered through godaddy that he is having someone else host. Is there any possibility I can use that domain name or does he need another one because it's being used for a separate web server?

    Also is setup for the most part the same as Server 2008 other than the new metro GUI changes?

  13. The CAL licensing I am actually not too sure about. From my understanding from using previous versions of Server 2008, it comes with a certain number of CAL licenses included, like 10, and I've never needed more than that. For that, you will need to get some information and help from someone else unfortunately. Also, it may be possible that the professional version of Windows 7 comes with a CAL technically as part of the OS, but this is just something I've heard at random and don't know the validity behind.

    When it comes to VPN networks, this can get tricky and there's just several different ways to do it. My first experience trying to set up a VPN network was using a CISCO ASA5505 firewall appliance and after three years and contacting three difference CISCO certified technicians we were never able to get a VPN tunnel to work. I have switched to using Sonicwall firewall routers, and their configuration for VPNs are SO much easier. I have only ever made site-to-site tunnels before, but I know it is possible to configure remote-to-site tunnels where all a user needs is a program installed on their laptop to log in to the firewall and thus get access to the VPN network.

    I haven't done this myself, but I know there are guides online, and you can get support direct from Dell/Sonicwall for this type of thing.

    Basically, to get VPN working you need some kind of VPN capable router or firewall. And not just a "VPN Passthrough" supported router, but one that can actually create site-to-site or remote-to-site VPN tunnels. If you have a registered domain for your website, you can create a new @host entry in the website DNS list which points to the outside IP address of your router. For this of course you will need a static IP address purchased through your ISP which is usually a monthly additional cost. This way, someone needing to get remote access could point to your outside firewall with a website name like

    If you don't want to go through the mess of configuring your website DNS and the additional monthly fee of a static IP address which can get expensive over time, then you can look at other solutions like dynamic DNS services. is one that offers a single free basic dynamic DNS name, and that way you just have to run a service on one of your computers which keeps outside internet DNS entries updated with your changing dynamic IP from your internet provider.
  14. I'm in a bit of a real pickle right now and need help ASAP.

    I have been told and have read plenty of times that System builders can purchase Server 2012 OEM disks. Now I'm not a big builder but I am building the server for a friend and it will only be installed on one machine. Now did I buy the right version or is this only for big name companies like HP, Dell, etc?

    I have the disk and I am having problems installing it. When I press install I get a window that pops up telling me "Load Driver : A media driver your computer needs is missing. This could be a DVD, USB or Hard disk driver. If you have a CD, DVD or USB flash drive with the driver on it, please insert it now. Note: If the installation media for the Windows is in the DVD drive or on a USB drive, you can safely remove it for this step."

    I've updated using the included CD's that came with the server and still have problems. I can't get it to install. What am I missing?


    So I downloaded the latest Service Pack which supposedly adds support for Server 2012 checked the MD5 all turns out ok, burned and verified the ISO. Was able to boot up to the point where it asks for automatic and interactive for the Service. If I select either one of them it fails and gives me the error:

    Warning!!! Unable to mount the filesystem
    Dropping to a shell. Good luck!
    /bin/ash: can't access tty: job control turned off

    I've tried multiple DVD's just to be sure and I still can't get it to work.

    I can't even install Server 2012 yet. Any help is greatly appreciated.
  15. I have not had any issues before installing Server 2012 using the normal OEM installation disk. However, you might need to load up a driver for the RAID controller from the vendor's website and put it on a flash drive.

    What RAID controller did you end up going with? You should go to their support site, look up the model, and find the driver download page. Look up the OS in the list, or if nothing else try the Server 2008 R2 driver, and download it to a flash drive. If it's a compressed file you'll need to open it so that you have the base .inf file for the driver.

    When Windows is loading, it might ask you to install additional drivers. At this point you'd put in the flash drive, select Browse, and go to the folder with the .inf driver files and select your driver and controller. That should allow Windows to see your adapters and drives properly.
  16. It was the Raid controller driver. Got it to work. Almost everything is up and running. I setup Hyper-V, AD DS, DNS, DHCP and everything seems to be working except mapping network drives for basic users which I think is a permission issue. It's working for administrative users though.

    Then when I go to bring it to the office I have to install the Print server. Setup their router and figure out VPN.

    I want to say thank you very much, without this site I probably wouldn't have gotten to where I am right now.
  17. Well I have a bit of an issue right now. I got the server setup at home and everything was working. Moved it off my router and over to theirs, disabled DHCP on their router which is still the same IP as mine and now DHCP doesn't seem to be working on the server anymore.

    I have three laptops right now hooked up to the network and the first thing I noticed when connecting was that the assigned IP's were outside the scope of the DHCP server. Also they're not showing up in the Leases.

    The scope range is - The IP's on the laptops all were out of the range. Like or I have internet access on all the laptops, can ping the server and domain, I can even connect to the domain. It's just for some reason the server isn't pushing out IP's. Technically everything works and I can connect to the domain and see network shares...but this isn't right for some reason.

    The router is a Verizon Fios Actiontec MI424WR, I went into the settings and disabled DHCP for the network and for some reason the laptops are getting IP's outside the scope and from somewhere other than the DHCP server.

    I'm thinking I might just try using my router inbetween the FIOS router to see if that fixes it. Plug the FIOS router into my WAN port and have it act as sort of a modem to my router.

    Any help is greatly appreciated.

  18. I have never set up the DHCP to run off the server before. From my understanding, you have to configure your router to have DHCP pass through or configure it to point to your server to handle all DHCP leases or your computers, which are connecting to your default gateway at the router, have no idea how to get a DHCP IP address lease.
Ask a new question

Read More

Servers Components Product