Now that Windows Server 2003 has reached its end-of-life, many small business are planning their next generation IT. Although a great solution in it’s day, Windows Server 2003 and it’s more recent replacement SMB Server 2011 as the hub of an office network, coupled with Exchange Server 2003/2010 for email, is an architecture that can now be improved on.

With the evolution of cloud computing made viable via fast broadband, virtualization, VOIP & unified communication, Office 365 and Microssoft Azure small businesses can now take advantage of world class IT technologies that previously would have been out of their price range. The emergence of the functionally rich Office 365 product set further underpins a move away from total dependance solely on an on-premise server.

Hybrid Cloud could be the way ahead for your organisation!

Here is an example solution as a base template architecture:

  • An in house server running Windows 2012 R2
  • Desktop PC’s running Windows 7/10
  • Office 365
  • Mobile devices running the Office 365 app.
  • Windows Azure backup
  • Hosted Lync Voice for telephony (to be replaced by Office 365 plan E5 when fully rolled out).

1. Windows Server 2012 R2:

In my travels talking to small businesses, the feedback I am getting is that there is a preference to retain an in house server for line of business application(s) data storage, print & file serving, folder redirection from User PC’s etc. Don’t discount using a virtual server instead though, which takes away the overhead of system management.

We can home in on Windows Server 2012 Essentials R2 because I feel it is Microsoft’s best small business server offering to date. It copes with up to a maximum of 25 users and 50 devices. Should your Business need a server operating to system that can handle more than 25 Users, then Windows Server 2012 Standard R2 running the ‘essentials experience’ will also give you the benefits listed below.

These are some of the top features of Windows Server 2012 Essentials R2:

  • The ability to be installed as a virtual server, enabling the use of  ‘hyper-v replica’ for disaster recovery.
  • Complete integration with Microsoft online services such as Office 365, Windows Azure and Windows Intune.
  • Built in bare metal backup routines for client PC’s.
  • Low cost, only circa £300!
  • Low cost host computer requirement, I’d recommend a minimum of 8GB RAM, 3.1 ghz 64 bit (can be easily sourced under £1500).

2.  Desktops running Windows 7 Pro / 10

No problem sticking with Windows 7 Pro although now that Windows 10 is stable that is where you should be heading.

3. Office 365

This really is a fantastic way for small businesses to go. At only £7.80 per month per User via the Business Premium Plan, it provides so much!

  • Each User can download up to 5 copies of Office 2016 Pro to their devices, PC, Laptop, Mac, Ipad, Smartphone etc.
  • Each User has a 50GB Exchange account assigned. It is easy to point your domain name’s MX records to Office 365, giving hosted email for your Business via Exchange Online.
  • Each User is assigned 1TB of personal cloud storage via Onedrive for Business, which they can easily sync to their devices.
  • Sharepoint Online is included, providing the ability to create an Intranet for your business. 10GB is assigned (plus a further 0.5 GB per user subscription) to store all those Business documents you need share and collaborate on as a Team.
  • Skype for Business is also included, giving instant messaging and video conferencing for your Business.
  • You don’t have to be working on a device with Office 2016 installed! You can log into office 365 and work with Office Web Apps.

4. Windows Azure Backup.

Windows Server Essentials R2 has very powerful and flexible backup routines that can output to local storage devices and also to the cloud based Windows Azure backup service. This service is low cost, the first 5Gb is free, then each extra GB is charged at a maximum of £0.32 per month ranging down to £0.18 per month depending on the volume required.

5. Hosted Sype for Business Voice (formally Lync).

Although Skype for Business Online, which comes as part of Office 365 is a unified communications product, the Business Premium Plan doesn’t include connectivity to PSTN (the newly released E5 plan does and is worth investgating as an alternative to the 3rd party hosted service I’m recommending here, although, in my opinion, cost purts it out of the reach of SMBs).

To fill the gap until the PSTN connectivity offered in the office 365 E3 plan becomes finacially viable to SMBs , several providers are offering a low cost hosted Sype for Business to PSTN service which can integrate with Office 365.

This is an amazing opportunity for small businesses to ditch their in-house PBX systems and take advantage of full unified communication including voice telephony and VOIP  through Hosted Skype for Business Voice integrated with Office 365. You will be able to click on a phone number held in a Contact Card either in Skype for Business, Outlook 2016 or Sharepoint and phone them from your computer or any other device with the App installed! No matter where you are in the world, it will look as if the call is being made from your office!

Conclusion.

I hope this article has opened your eyes to the opportunities available to replace your aging IT infrastructure with a modern architecture that will support your Business into the future.

Hybrid Cloud is the way ahead!