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Small Business Server 2011 Essentials & Integrated Office 365 – Big Business Tools for the Small Business

I recently installed Microsoft SBS 2011 Essentials with Office 365 integration and was more than pleasantly surprised with the outcome of integrating the two products.

A Little Background

I have been working with Microsoft Enterprise servers for many years of my career, but moved into the Small business Server space a few years ago as a solution for my small business clients.  Microsoft Small Business Servers are designed specifically with the needs of the small business in mind.

Key benefits of SBS include:

·         Simplified Small Business IT

·         Increased Business Productivity

·         Protect Business Data

·         Reduced IT Costs

For a full list of features visit the Microsoft SBS website.

Microsoft Office 365 was released in June 2011. Office 365 provides Microsofts business productivity products, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, and Office Web Apps as cloud services.  This reduces the need to host these services on-site, greatly reducing IT costs.

  • Exchange Online: enables the sharing of email, contacts and calendars
  • SharePoint Online: allows the users to securely host their documents from any internet-connected device.  Also included are templates to easily create and host your public facing website
  • Lync Online: a real-time collaboration tool
  • Office Web Apps: a web-based Office suite

Client Details and Requirements

The client, for this installation, has a small office with 4 full-time employees.  They use a custom third-party application that requires a “server” type of installation, which was installed on a Windows 7 computer.  They share files in the office, but email, calendars, and contacts were not easily shared.  They wanted to be able to effortlessly share email, calendars, etc., between staff members and be able to access company documents from outside the office. 

The Solution

We decided to implement Small Business Server Essentials with Office 365.

SBS Essentials is a slick little operating system designed for the small businesses.  It is easy to setup and once configured, very easy to manage.  It provides the security and the basic functionality of its big brother, Microsoft Server 2008; but in an easy to use, slimmed-down package.

SBS Essentials offers:

  • Remote Web Access
  • Data Backup and Restore
  • File and Printer Sharing
  • Easy connection to the Microsoft “cloud”

For more information, please visit Microsoft SBS Essentials webpage. In late 2011, Microsoft provided an Office 365 integration module with SBS Essentials.

The Implementation

We moved all their email and webhosting to Office 365. This provided the sharing required, plus real-time collaboration using Lync and SharePoint for securely sharing documents.  The client can also rebuild and maintain control over their website, which they didn’t have before. 

The Office 365 Outlook integration provided a seamless Outlook experience for the client, whether they were using it on the desktop, laptop or web.

We moved the 3rd party application to the new SBS server, which has increased performance of the application itself, since it is now being hosted in a proper server environment on appropriate hardware.  All the computers in the office are backing up to the server, and file-sharing was enabled.  By far, the most beneficial feature for this client is the Remote Web Access feature (which was very easy to setup).  The client can securely access her desktop from her laptop with a click of the mouse.  She is currently on vacation, easily accessing her office desktop and server.

Final Thoughts

Combine SBS Essentials with Office 365 and now you can leverage some of Microsoft’s most powerful big business tools into your small office.  Your small office can now be on the same playing field as big business without the IT costs and frustrations. Well done Microsoft.

Example of a Typical Small Business Office Network Implementation

Background

A 10 year old company specializing in custom medical devices sold worldwide. At the time of this writing, the company had 10 full time employees. Five employees worked in the office on desktop systems connected to a hub and router.

The other five employees were outside sales reps all using company laptops. Two of the sales reps came into the office weekly. Two would be in the office a few times a month. The fifth lives in another province and is only in the office once a year.

The office has a business Internet connection. The connection was and still is a satellite and is prone to disruption. Satellite is the only cost effective and viable option at this point in time. Fibre will be available in the area in a few years. The office was hard wired with Cat 5 cable and two access points available for wireless connectivity.

Users had individual copies of pricing spreadsheets and quotes. When a user needed a file, the file was either emailed or copied across the network to a shared folder on the users’ desktop system.

A desktop computer served the CRM then shared via the network to the other users in the office.

A convoluted backup solution was in place. The backup solution was never tested. This was discovered after a hard drive failed and we were unable to successfully restore the users’ data.

Also, installed was one network printer, one NAS (network area storage) and a standalone fax machine.

The client requested we keep costs to a minimum to remain within their budget. They did not require or want a large, complicated system and do not have the staff or resources to manage it after implementation.

Requirements:

  • Easily share files between in house users
  • CRM must always be available
  • Reliable backup

Optional:

  • Easy access of non-confidential files (mostly customized drivers and documentation) for the outside sales reps and clients.
  • Allow all employees access to the critical files and CRM from outside the office.

Solution:

Requirements Met:

We installed a server operating system on a spare computer. This computer met the minimum requirements but had limited disk space. I expected this solution to meet their needs for 18-24 months. This was 3 years ago, and we are only now looking at upgrading, due to hard disk space limitations. The server houses all the shared files and the CRM which all users can access depending on their permissions. All sales reps have an offline CRM database on their laptops which they update daily and then sync with the office.

Critical files on the server (in this case financial files) are backed up to an USB key daily and rotated off site. All additional server files are automatically backed up to an external drive daily. Weekly backups are moved off site. Desktop systems have native OS backup software installed. These backups are kept on a NAS. Weekly, a staff member manually moves the backups to an external hard disk and keeps it off site. This requires a few hours, but can be done in the background. Once the office has a faster, more robust Internet connection, cloud bases backups will replace the current in-house solution. Until then, the current implementation is working well, and most importantly, when files had to be restored we were able to do so.

All users with laptops are responsible for their own backups on an USB drive.

Email and website hosting are outsourced. We choose this option due to connectivity issues at the local site. It would have also added additional costs to host internally in both hardware and administration.

Optional Met:

User can access files and the CRM database via a VPN connection. The server software controls the remote access permissions. Each employee has an account and permission to various files and/or options.

A networked printer and a networked multifunction device have since been added. The stand alone fax was removed.

In addition, an unused Windows XP system became a FTP server. The internal users can add non critical or non-confidential files to the FTP site for clients or other outside sales reps to access. Clients and outside staff can only download from the FTP server. Uploading is strictly controlled.

In order to keep the costs down, older equipment was re-purposed where possible. Printers and a new fax machine had already been budgeted. Total cost less than $1000 for the server operating system.

Current Status:

The users are very satisfied with the current implementation. As stated above, the hard disk space on the server is running low and we are in the process of adding additional hard disk storage to the server. We have looked into upgrading the current satellite Internet connection, but due to location of the office it is cost prohibitive. We will re-evaluate the connectivity issues in a few years when fibre will be available in the area. I suspect, within the next couple of years, the company may have move to a larger location in town as they keep growing. If a move or the employee growth trend continues, it would then be an opportune time to re-evaluate their needs. If and when this occurs a new server with an upgraded operating system and a more comprehensive backup plan would be added.

This outlines the basics of a typical small business office and what can and needs to be done to meet the needs of the users. As you can see from the above example we worked within a limited budget and provided the functionality they required.

PS Since this was originally written some of those expected growth changes are planned this year. I’ll do a follow up post as this company moves forward.

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