May 16, 2012
Hello all,

I'm looking for some advice/opinions on operating a small business entirely reliant on hosted/cloud services, with no local servers. Particularly, I'm interested in matter of user control/management.

We are looking at IT infrastructure for a new small business, with at least two office locations and circa 15 staff.

Those of us starting it up are coming from a very similar company, which uses traditional Windows Servers in each office (With independent fileserving, backup and domain controllers), but with VPN connecting the two for collaborative file sharing and accessing the exchange server at the main office.

This doesn't work too well for interoffice collaboration, which will be even more important in the new set up. We also want to explore better alternatives that reduce capital outlay and allow for scalable costs.

As we will be outsourcing support; we have been approaching IT support providers to supply and support a solution. Thus far, all seem to still be recommending the above and most seem reluctant to embrace alternatives (Possibly with good justification, but their answers aren't compelling at the moment and seem to more about doing themselves out of lucrative server support contracts).

What we are considering as a low cost option is making most use of hosted or other cloud based options. We were considering something like:

i) Hosted exchange for e-mail and calendar (Seems pretty straight forward);

ii) Some form of hybrid cloud solution, like that offered by Egnyte, with local caching/mirroring on low spec NAS boxes and synchronising between offices through a central 'cloud' file store. This isn't as robust for collaborative working as Windows Servers (file lock issues), but we can manage that;

iii) Rely on the cloud storage for day to day backup and file versioning, but maybe do periodic backups to external drives to take off-site, for piece of mind.

We will need to handle up to around 0.5TB of data and say 15 users across two offices in the medium term.

By taking this approach, we would have no Windows servers at all. The only function this loses that I can't seem to envisage a replacement for is user management. Without AD, I'm assuming that file access and e-mail would need to managed separately, with multiple credentials. On the face of it, this is small price to pay to avoid costs and hassles of servers.

I'd like opinions on other complications to the approach we are considering, or possible alternatives. Is hosted AD, without local replication, a complete non-starter?

I'm reluctant to go for a solution that requires and local servers (Beyond appliances like the NAS boxes). Even a simple a LDAP box introduces support burdens. I don't suppose there are any AD or LDAP standalone physical appliances are there; or maybe routers/firewalls with this function?

Any help, very much appreciated.




Dec 1, 2011
Considering the circumstances you’ve outlined, it seems that one of the products best fit for your situation is Windows Intune. As a cloud based management solution provided by Microsoft, it would allow your outsourced IT departments to have online access to remote into your systems, manage updates, software, and security. The upcoming version even includes the ability to manage mobile devices in addition to PCs as described in this blog article by Eric Main from Microsoft.

Given your scenario and the reaction you’ve gotten from the support staff you are looking to outsource to, this might be a solution you could procure yourself and thus present it to them. There is a free trial available right on the product page which would allow you to set it up and bring it to the table without cost. You could also use the Windows Intune Resource Zone which is located on the Springboard Site on TechNet as a resource for IT professionals looking to learn more about Windows Intune. You might even mention the case studies done by Microsoft which illustrate how well Windows Intune works as a method for outsourcing IT to an IT services company or perhaps throw in the ROI calculator that can show, in fiscal form, how your business can benefit annually.

Bear in mind that Windows Intune has some great additional perks as well if you chose to take advantage of them. Access to Windows 7 Enterprise, included in the base subscription, allows you to run a single operating system across all of your hardware including the advanced features designed to make enterprise management of PCs more powerful and more efficient, and the ability to add rights to the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack.

For online Exchange hosting, you may also want to consider Office 365 which is similarly manageable by offering administrative controls for the Exchange mailboxes in addition to the ability to create, edit, share and store documents with Office web apps all online.

Windows Outreach Team – IT Pro