Small Business Server Migration: 2003 to SBS 2011; SBS 2008 to Server 2012

Windows-Small-Business-ServerSituation at hand: an organization is running a computer network based on a Small Business Server 2003 or SBS 2008 that is approaching the end of life (or already operating beyond its life expectancy) and so there's a need for upgrading to an IT solution that would work for four-six years. There is no universal answer to the question of which platform to choose for the migration. A popular choice is a Small Business Server 2011 which would deliver those years of solid performance (supported by Microsoft) while minimum changes would be necessary for the network, training of personnel and overall IT philosophy. Other folks might find a cloud route more suitable and some would explore a hybrid approach of running an inexpensive Windows Server 2012 Essentials accompanied by a Hosted Exchange. In this article we'd share our perspective on these migration options based on experience of migrating SBS since late 90's.
  1. Small Business Server 2003 migration to SBS 2011
  2. Migration of SBS 2008/2003 to Windows Server 2012 + hosted Exchange
  3. SBS migration to a cloud solution (Office 365 , Google Apps)
  4. SBS migration to a hosted SBS 2011

SBS 2003 (2008) migration to SBS 2011

There are two paths in this scenario. The first is a clean installation of SBS 2011 and manual recreation of user accounts and importing of the data. The second route is performing a migration type of installation of Small Business Server 2011 which would gradually take over all tasks from the old server before the latter would be decommissioned. Let's discuss PRO's and CON's of each approach and then compare them for common office networks.

Clean installation of SBS 2011

  • a fresh start guarantees that the server setup is going to be as good as it gets
  • if there's been a nagging need for a drastic change (domain name, data folder structure) - now is a good time to make it happen
  • this approach typically brings some spring cleaning and re-evaluating important aspects of the network which is a good thing to do every few years
  • it's easy to make a fairly accurate estimate of time required for the migration
  • the old server stays intact. This might be a crucially important factor for certain specialty applications and / or a need to get a reference from the past during a few months of the transition period
  • any scars or illnesses of the old server are naturally cut off
  • a lot of workstation labor is to be expected: disjoining the old domain, house-keeping, joinging the new domain, profile configuration, etc
  • company's network is completely UNAVAILABLE during the transition time (1-2 days)
  • all usera accounts have to be recreated by hand
  • all group policies have to be recoded
  • all permissions have to be set from scratch: Shared Folders, Exchange Public folders, Mailboxes, etc

Migration to SBS 2011 (in-place upgrade)

  • no drastic changes to workstations
  • no signficant down time
  • complex sets of permissions and policies naturally propagate to the new domain controller
  • the migration wizard consists of hundreds of steps and it won't finish until all stages are completed
  • there are strong prerequisites to the condition of the old server resolving which might become a project of its own
  • old problems and unexpected issues might substantially contribute to the amount of labor required to conduct the migration, hard to predict time-frames
  • all group policies have to be recoded
  • all permissions have to be set from scratch: Shared Folders, Exchange Public folders, Mailboxes, etc.
As you see there is a lot to consider. Generally speaking a server network with under 10 workstations would benefit the most from a Clean Installation route as it'd be neat and cheaper. Networks with more than 20 workstations would heavily lean towards the Migration scenario because otherwise there would be a lot of labor around workstations and it'd requrie a two-man job. We'd strongly recommend hiring an IT consultant to assess your situation and identify your best options.

Migration of SBS 2003 or SBS 2008 to Windows Server 2012 Essentials + cloud Exchange

microsoft exchange migrationFor a company with ~5 workstations there's a very appealing network solution of Windows Server 2012 Essentials accompanied by a cloud player - Hosted Exchange. We are looking at ~$1500 server hardware, $440 server OS, $400 AntiVirus and $1200 for Exchange Hosting of 5 mailboxes for 5 years: ~$3500

The situation changes dramatically if you have 20 users, in this case SBS 2011 route is much better (five year span):
$800 SBS 2011 +$1000 CALs + $2500 AntiVirus / AntiSpam + $2000 Hardware < $6500
$440 Server 2012 Essentials + $2000 AntiVirus + $2000 Hardware + $4800 Hosted Exchange > $9200
One could say that outsourcing to Cloud Solutions (aka Hosted Exchange) is much like financing: you'd get lower up-front costs however you can rest assured that the army of marketing gurus at Microsoft or Google would maximize their profit when all is said and done.

Windows Server 2012 Essentials is limited to 25 users max, anything above would require a more expensive Windows Server 2012 Standard and costly CALs. If money is a factor this proposition sounds pretty awful, especially when you consider that new features of Server 2012 like anti-GUI approach or questionable competition with VMware wouldn't benefit a small business what-so-ever. In case you're looking for a cherry on top of 2012 cake: unlike SBS 2011 there's no SharePoint.

Migration options here are very similar to SBS 2011 discussed above (Clean Install vs Migration) and much the same considerations apply. Most likely it'd be a Clean Install path since there would be fewer than a dozen computers.

SBS migration to a cloud (server-less) solution

Two options instantly come to mind here:
The main criteria for the migration would be STORAGE. It's unlikely that you'd be able to squeeze your needs into a 5GB-25GB cage.

Office 365 Small Business Plan comes with 10GB storage in SharePoint and it does NOT permit adding more storage other than 500MB given for each new user (35GB max!). There are other strong limitations discussed here, most important of which: you CANNOT switch plans. So, if a current server carries ~200GB of data that an organization wouldn't want to part with, then Office 365 Small Business is out of consideration. More expensive Mid-size business plan is $15 per user/month. Before one decides to migrate along this route it's important to understand that five years of 10 users with 200GB storage would run over $11,000.

Google Apps is not anywhere as expensive and there are fewer fences and "catches 22". 10 users with a 200GB storage over five years would run about $4000. Of course, Microsoft Office is not included and that would add another ~$2000 unless employees can preserve their productivity using surrogate Office applications in a browser window.

The migration itself would be split into Email, File (and SharePoint for Office 365) export-import operations. In case of Office 265 some tasks like Email migration could be semi-automated as described in this article. In general, however, the migration to the cloud would require a lot of custom labor and IT expertise.

SBS Migration to a hosted SBS 2011

The last type of migration that we'd like to highlight is a switch to a hosted SBS 2011. You could see the features and pricing of SBS 2011 managed hosting here. It's a bit difficult to run a direct comparison with a local server approach because a Managed hosted solution incorporates the cost of the setup, support labor and customer service which constitutes ~40-70% of the price-tag, and the value of Bandwidth and Electrical Power. Our philosophy here was to come up with a product that would facilitate the migration with the expertise of Allora's IT consultants, bring a predictable monthly cost for budgetting reasons, deliver ongoing server support and, most improtanly, provide a cloud solution with all its benefits. (We did a study using 10 years of our accounting data and Allora's pricing was set to make it more advantageous for a client to switch to a managed SBS 2011 hosting vs in-house server over the term of five years.)

Please, don't hesitate to Contact Us and we'd generate a plan that suits your preferences and budget.