We were recently approached by a solicitors, based in Staines, Middlesex. They asked us to perform a full review of the network, and make suggestions on how to improve the existing setup.

The Problem

The customer was worried the server was out of date, and was running slowly. They had to reboot the server frequently when there was access problems, and they thought that there was a problem with the hardware as a result. The server room was untidy and there were lots of computers setup and running in the room.

Review: Hardware

The customer was using an outdated HP Proliant ML350 G6, and the warranty for the server had expired a number of years ago. Although properly specified, with enough storage space and system RAM, if this main server failed, there would be a long amount of downtime until it could be returned to proper service.

In addition to this, the customer had two physical machines setup for remote access. This was because their LOB (line of business) applications did not support remote access with Microsoft Remote Desktop Services. The machines that were being logged into were also old, and were slow to access.

We recommended that the server be replaced with a newer model, with next-business-day warranty. This would mean that if the server failed, a technician would be on site from the manufacturer the next day the replace any faulty parts. In our opinion, this is absolutely mandatory for the main server in any business.

After reviewing the amount of storage space required, we suggested a Dell PowerEdge T130. These are inexpensive servers, which can still be well specified for small business use.

Review: Operating Systems

The server was running Windows Server Standard 2008, with although out of date did not need to be completely replaced. This is still supported by Microsoft until 2020.

The remote access machines were running retail copies of Windows 7 Professional. Again, these did not need replacement, as Windows 7 is still supported by Microsoft until 2020.

We suggested no change to the operating systems that are in use, but to purchase the server with Windows Server 2012 R2, to allow for a future upgrade of the domain.

Our Solution

It was clear that virtualising the existing environment was the correct way to go. The old hardware being used could be eliminated, saving space, maintenance overheads and energy. The server room would be much tidier also.

Work Carried Out

We installed Windows Server 2012R2 on the new Dell server, and the Hyper-V role was installed. We were then ready to virtualise the existing physical devices.

Working with the customer we identified all of the user accounts and computers that were still in use on the server. We renamed all of the existing client workstations from the automatically generated DESKTOP-3847393 type names, to easily identifiable DESK-1, DESK-2 etc. These computer names were updated in Active Directory, and were physically labelled on site.

Once this cleanup task had been complete, we were ready to virtualise the server. Once this task was complete, the existing server was powered off, and disconnected from the network.

We then had a virtual copy of the server running, with the existing server intact, as a backup of the configuration and data before the work took place. In a worst-case-scenario situation, this could be reconnected and the server returned to service.

We then cleaned up the server, removing HP drivers and proprietary monitoring utilities. This left a much cleaner installation of Windows Server, with just the key software installed to allow the server to function.

After this second cleanup task, we then virtualised the two remote access machines. The physical machines were then turned off, and decomissioned.

So - from 3 physical devices, all unmaintained and out of warranty, to one new physical server, with more memory and storage space.

I am most proud of the fact that all of this work was completed with zero downtime in working hours for the customer. As soon as the server was virtualised, it took over from the existing server.

Improvements made

  • Improved flexibility. If the customer has need for another remote access machine, one can be setup in matter of minutes by remote access, with no need to go on site.
  • Significant energy savings. Only one device needs to be running instead of 3.
  • Improved disaster recovery. If there is a hardware fault with the server, this will be repaired by the manufacturer, next business day.
  • Better Upgrade Path. Additional RAM and storage space can be more cheaply added if required.

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