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I've just started volunteering at a local organisation and I've been asked to come up with a solution to the following problem. However, networking is hardly my forte so I thought I'd ask here before I went (blindly) down a particular path.

I think the scenario is pretty simple but I'm not sure how to solve it.

Situation:

1) They have three full time staff, each with their own e-mail account which is accessed using Outlook (pop3 - because of limited hosting space).

2) They have shared files on each computer which can be accessed from each computer.

Solution:

1) I've been asked if I can synchronize their e-mail contacts so they don't have to manually update them periodically, or every time a contact is updated/deleted.

2) If all the files can be stored centerally so they are more organised.

I've had a look at Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Server. Both seem daunting (probably because I've never used them before) and I'm not sure if they're overkill for what I need. Are there more appropriate solutions available or should I go down the exchange/server route?

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4 Answers

You should probably be looking at outsourced or hosted solutions. You can find hosted Exchange for a low monthly cost ($5 per user per month).

Exchange server will do what you want as far as the e-mail is concerned, however it's an email platform and not meant for file storage. For that you'd want to look at something like Microsoft SkyDrive, Sharepoint or even something free like Box or DropBox.

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If it's a charity that's using volunteer sysadmins then on-site resources and budgets are probably quite limited, I take it?

This is probably a good case for an outsourced email/storage solution such as the offerings from Google or Microsoft. For a small organisation these can allow you to implement some quite impressive tech (e.g. all the high end exchange features if you wanted) with much less up front cost and support requirements than a traditional self-managed system, which I'd imagine is important for an organisation relying on help from volunteers, where what time you have might be better spent on the more fundamental areas of support.

A solution such as Microsoft's office 365 would give you exchange (and all the shared calendar and contact list goodness that brings, solving problem #1) and the ability to store and share documents online via Skydrive Pro.

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Windows Small Business Server would be a good choice for them - it includes Exchange already, and makes things fairly simple to setup. The biggest limitation on it is the number of users, but even the cheapest version supports up to 25 people. Since you are volunteering I'm assuming they are some kind of non profit - if that's the case, they can probably get Windows SBS quite cheaply.

That will handle their contacts, email and file sharing all together.

I'm also assuming that they have their own domain, and the email is currently the "free email service" that is included with most hosting providers. If that's the case, you'll need to:

  • Setup the server and users (if you buy it already included with the server hardware, it will be preinstalled and save you some time and effort)
  • Make sure they have a static IP on their internet connection at the office
  • Set the DNS records for their domain to have the MX record point to that static IP
  • Setup file shares for them to use
  • Set rules in their firewall to allow at least port 25 TCP to go to the server

An alternative to setting up the email to go to the exchange server directly would be to configure the POP3 connector included in SBS. Either way has pros and cons, so look at both and see which will work better in your case.

You can also download the server software from Microsoft's site for a free 180 day trial - install it on an old PC and play around with it for awhile so you get some practice before doing the real thing, and make sure it meets your needs.

There are other options, mostly linux based - some of them would be cheaper or even work better, but for a novice to setup, it's hard to find something that beats Windows Small Business Server.

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This is why shopping suggestions aren't a good fit for this site. SBS is already a discontinued product. You might be able to buy it today, but it's running on a 5-years-old operating system and is slated for retirement. –  mfinni Feb 25 '13 at 16:10
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and following on from @mfinni - the nearest thing to a server 2012 equivilent of SBS doesn't include exchange. I wouldn't advise anyone to invest in a 'dead end' myself. –  RobM Feb 25 '13 at 17:29
    
Right - if you could buy something that was functionally the same (ish) as SBS under a different name, that would be a different scenario. Right now, MS's answer is to go with hosted email. Which is great for small orgs and some larger ones too. –  mfinni Feb 25 '13 at 18:12
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In your case (and I've worked with a lot of smaller clients) you should definitely go down the route that DKNUCKLES suggests.

I'm personally more of a fan of Google Apps for Business than Outlook but Microsoft's 365 is a decent product as well.

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