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I’m the resident IT Guru for a Non-Profit and we have an Exchange server that has issues and I’m wide open to any suggestions.

The server is an older DELL PowerEdge 1400 with 1GHz Processor, 512MB RAM, and a 20GB SCSI HD, running Windows 2000 SP4 and Exchange 2003 SP2. Unfortunately, when the server was originally setup the OS partition was only 3GB (BIG Mistake on my part) and that’s been maxed out for a while. I struggle with applying patches/updates. Also, I think the Motherboard was surged or something because there are weird hardware problems (i.e. RAM and NIC failures).

Being a Non-Profit I have $0 available budget for fixing this equipment but I do have a small arsenal of old equipment at my disposal. For example the system I’m building is a Dell Optiplex GX150 Desktop with 1GHz PIII, and 512MB RAM and an 80GB IDE HD.

My Question is will there be a noticeable performance decrease using a workstation type PC (the Optiplex GX150) vs. equipment that was designed to be a server (the PowerEdge 1400) even though they have similar specifications?

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Where are you physically? your profile doesn't say –  Chopper3 Aug 23 '09 at 9:40
    
Off topic but have you looked at Google Apps for business the standard is free for certain non-profits. –  JJ01 Aug 24 '09 at 4:31
    
@JJ, I've looked over Google Apps before, but I never came across their charity offer, do you have a link? I have a small client that would be perfect for. –  SpaceManSpiff Aug 24 '09 at 11:35
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5 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Don't touch linux. I hate how people jump right into "Go with Linux" as soon as you are having issues with a Windows machine. There is nothing wrong with Linux, but learning it by installing it as replacement for a production mail server is not the way to learn it.

Unless you are 100% comfortable with Linux, it will just be a bigger pain then its worth and your users have to give up the groupware of Exchange. Since you are non-profit I suspect your users are very non-tech and staying with Exchange/Outlook will be better for them as you said yourself. They also won't like the gmail as much I suspect since the free version (atleast what I've been using for a custom domain account) includes advertising and you need to then move all the email into it. Since you have Exchange and all the licenses already, I'd stay with that and just re-jig your hardware. You and your users will be happier.

Spec wise, 11 users (and the previous 30) will have no issues on either of those. For reference, I ran a 100 user Exchange server, with 40 users active at a time off an older AMD desktop with 512 megs RAM and an IDE drive. This was a temp server while I rebuilt the production one. No one batted an eye for speed, ran great for 4 weeks until I moved it back to the real server.

Here is what I would do,

  1. Spin up the OptiPlex Workstation, setup Windows and Exchange on it.

  2. Move all the mailboxes there, ensure all users are active and referencing the new server (if you leave them both online this will be done automaticly when they log in)

  3. Once that is done, un-install Exchange from the PowerEdge, by un-installing this will remove it from the Exchange Organization cleanly

  4. Remove the PowerEdge from the domain.

  5. Reformat the PowerEdge, make the SCSI drive one large C:

  6. Join it to the domain, reinstall Exchange on it.

  7. Move the mailboxes back over to the PowerEdge server.

  8. Uninstall Exchange from the OptiPlex one everyone is on the new PowerEdge

  9. Remove the OptiPlex from the domain

At this point if the mailboxes are small enough you can leave it like this. But if you can this might be your next steps.

  1. Put the 80 gig IDE into the PowerEdge (I can't remember if the 1400's have an onboard IDE or not, if they do this is easy then)

  2. Format the new 80 gig Drive, and then move the mailbox store to the 80 gig drive.

  3. Once done you now have a 20 gig system drive and an 80 gig data drive.

  4. Setup an automatic backup of the mailbox store to another computer should your data drive fail.

Given the limited money you have and equipment this might be your best way to go.

If you have any $$ at all, add in a RAID 1 card to the 1400 and add 2x 250gig drives, instead of the old SCSI, this would be step 4 of the first part. The rest of the 1400 will last forever, the hard drives are the weak points. The speed and memory of the 1400 will be able to handle what you need. I have a 10 year old HP server that still works like a champ, I dropped a couple of new hard drives in it and its still going strong. Also this was at a not for profit place, so I can relate to the limited budget.

Edit:Long Term For you.

Look at TCO when you are considering what to do. Here is a basic example making assumptions for numbers.

If you take 12 hours to do all the troubleshooting with windows at say $20 per hour that is $240 it will cost your charity. Even if you are an employee you need to count your time as a cost.

Now if you switch to Linux (an OS you don't know so add the learning curve), you need to look at that too. So lets assume you're good and it will take 24 hours to get everything moved to a Linux box and completely online (remember to ExMerge all the mailboxes too). That's about $480 at this point. But also add in any user re-training for the new web client you will be using plus the IMAP setup on Outlook for them. It will likely be more, say add another 1 hour per person x 10 people @ $15 per hours is another $150 you need to factor in. On top of that, add on more time per week for your day to day operations since you will still be getting comfortable with it. All that time you spend on it, is time you don't spead on your other jobs at the charity, hence its a cost.

If you get charity pricing from MS, then say the Cost of License + Your Time is Less then the cost of Learning Linux then it makes more sense to purchase a new License for Windows 2008 (you can use Window 2003 though which will still run on that hardware).

So end of the day, call up CDW get the charity pricing for the Open Licence, then you've got until July 2010 to have the charity save up enough money to purchase that, and in the long run you'll find that much cheaper then going with Linux. I've done the evaluation before, Windows Charity + My time is always cheaper then Linux + Learning Curve + Risk.

I don't know Linux enough (wish I did), so if I got it on a server and it crashed later, I'd be calling in a Linux guru at way more per hour then I make and the charity would take a serious hit (unknown risk). I have yet to encounter a Windows problem I haven't fixed or worst case $260 I can open a ticket with MS (known risk).

And if you do have time, learn Linux, Start it out in a non-critical role so if it crashes on you, you don't need to spend money on someone to get it going again. I am running one linux server that is a backup file server, not the primary one the users use. So if it goes down the primary is still online and I can spend the time figuring it out. Once I'm comfortable with it, I'll likely move it to the production file server so I can free up that Windows license for something else. But until I'm comfortable with it, I can't risk it going down and me not knowing my way around the server. If the IT is a secondary role for you it will be hard for you to spend enough time with Linux on company time, unless you spend time on your learning it. Never a bad idea, but I've been there and I don't like losing that much of my home life to the computer.

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Thanks for the helpful information SpaceManSpiff. I didn't even think about adding the new server to the organization. I was planning on using ExMerge on every mailbox. Sounds like your suggestions will be more seamless to the users. Once the new server is online I'll be able to safely troubleshoot the 1400 hardware problems. –  PC Dude Aug 23 '09 at 10:54
    
I didn't suggest he learn it to replace this machine after he said he was unfamiliar with it, but long-term if your budget is always $0 there is no better FREE solution. Also, he said he was having other hardware issues with his PowerEdge and had no money to replace them. Your solution is def right for how to move Exchange back and forth between machines, but long-term he's going to have to do something else if there is no money available. –  MDMarra Aug 23 '09 at 13:02
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Server 2000 is also EOL in July 2010. In less than a year he will either have to buy a new server OS (not cheap), run a mail server on something that will receive no more updates (terrible idea) or go with an alternative solution such as a third-party service or a free solution. –  MDMarra Aug 23 '09 at 13:08
    
Charities have some sweet pricing from Microsoft. Call up a reseller like CDW, tell them you want an Open License Quote for Microsoft Windows 2008 Standard, plus 11 CALs. Tell them you are a charity, you need to be registed in your state. You'll really like the pricing. Can remember the Windows cost, but as an example Office Premium is about $120 each. Reg $600+. So upgrading to Windows 2003 might just be do able. –  SpaceManSpiff Aug 23 '09 at 13:23
    
And yes there is better then free, you need to look at TCO. –  SpaceManSpiff Aug 23 '09 at 13:24
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Man, that's really like the lesser of two evils. The SCSI hard drive is going to respond better to multi-user access, such as Exchange, but that's a pretty brutal setup with an un-mirrored single 20GB drive.

Honestly, how many users are supported? You might be better off getting a little creative here. If it's only a few users, why not use a free service like gmail or using an open-source solution? Maybe cluster a few older desktops running CentOS or something if you really need it in-house.

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About a year ago we were supporting 30+ mailboxes, but with recent funding/cuts we currently only have 11 mailboxes. My main problem is that the staff here are pretty hooked on Outlook/OWA and some of us have mailboxes that contain nearly 10 years of archive. I have been looking at GMail. Don't hate me, but I don't know anything about Linux. –  PC Dude Aug 23 '09 at 0:16
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I'd reaaaaally suggest getting your feet wet with Linux, at least to play around with. If your budget is consistently nothing, or close to nothing, then Open Source software will quickly become your best friend. –  MDMarra Aug 23 '09 at 0:25
    
Thanks a bunch for the input Mark. I'm going to continue work on my replacement, but consider this a temporary fix. Hopefully the IDE won't crawl us to a halt. I'm reading the Wiki for CentOS now, I think it really is time to consider Open Source. –  PC Dude Aug 23 '09 at 0:29
    
FYI, CentOS is almost line-for-line the same as Red Hat. So if you stumble anywhere in that documentation, check out the docs for Red Hat. Also, Ubuntu is kind of the "new guy" but they have a great community. That may be a better starting point just because their forums are fantastic. –  MDMarra Aug 23 '09 at 0:35
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Gee, I've thrown out computers with better specs than yours. Is there a computer recycling depot anywhere near you? You might find them willing to donate some parts at least. How about advertising on Craigslist for donations of equipment?

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As a thought, does the group has any relation ships with other companies or supporters? Maybe you can get one of their old servers with a RAID raid and be able to mirror some a couple of drives. I've gotten free good printers this way for a charity when other companies upgraded old B&W ones to color. –  SpaceManSpiff Aug 23 '09 at 6:21
    
Really, look into this. We have about 12 identical GX150's sitting on a shelf in my department that we would probably donate to a non-profit in a moment if the situation presented itself. –  prestomation Aug 23 '09 at 16:46
    
@prestomation, You can sometimes get a current market value charity receipt for those donations too depending on where you are located. If its in good condition it doesn't hurt to do a quick online ad. Will save you disposal time as well. –  SpaceManSpiff Aug 23 '09 at 18:07
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I've been running windows 2000 server on 700Mhz PIII for several years now just fine. It will depend on what your load is whether or not your desktop machine can handle it.

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Given that you're not hammering the mail server with so few users, you probably won't notice much of a performance different. It entirely depends on your network load. People use systems that are lesser-powered than you describe as home file servers (although I don't think I'd stream content from it).

Another thing to remember is that if you don't have RAID in that new system, you may be asking for trouble...that hard disk is gonna fail, and unless you have backups...I know you don't have a budget but you should be able to get a hard disk for not much cash at all and add some redundancy in there (if you don't have hardware RAID, software RAID should suffice...again, if you're not hammering the disk and network and have only a few users, you should be okay).

I would, as MarkM suggested, look at Linux. No licensing, offers mail and other features, and personally unless your clients are using Exchange for the full feature set you're investing in overkill. It will also perform better on the given system specs. If your users aren't into all the contact lists, calendering, etc., you've got a really bloated mail server taking up extra space and resources that you could run Linux with Postfix on and gain more speed and performance; you can also get better software RAID performance and there are plenty of backup options (plus it might be easier to administrate from your desktop or remotely).

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Since he already has Exchange there are no licensing costs with this. Doesn't matter if he's on Exchange or Linux an un-mirrored system still has the same single drive issue. –  SpaceManSpiff Aug 23 '09 at 6:19
    
My suggestion with Linux was to set up a cluster of older computers to host whatever software he needs. This will provide redundancy and potentially load-balancing for pretty decent on old desktop hardware. If you don't like an answer that's fine, but you shouldn't downvote it unless it's clearly wrong. –  MDMarra Aug 23 '09 at 13:04
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This is a subjective question, I voted it down, because based on what he has, software, hardware and SKILLS going with Linux is wrong. He's in a pinch, go with what you know. Now is NOT the time to learn a new OS. –  SpaceManSpiff Aug 23 '09 at 13:43
    
There is certainly a time and a place for both Windows and Linux. I run mostly Windows servers with a few Linux ones here and there. I am not an OSS evangelist, but if the options are squeak by on an almost EOL OS on non-redundant hardware or begin to dabble in Linux to plan for the future, it's worth looking at. I never suggested that he switch to Linux after he replied and said he was unfamiliar with it. I suggested that he play with it as an option for the future. This is the exact situation that FOSS exists for. If he had money I'd say 100% of the time, stay with MS, but that isnt the case –  MDMarra Aug 23 '09 at 14:00
    
@spacemanspiff: He'll run into issues soon enough considering that Exchange2000 loses support...when? He'll need updates still for security, wouldn't he? –  Bart Silverstrim Aug 23 '09 at 15:15
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