Rolling out Microsoft Virtual Server and SBS with Exchange

As a few of you know, I've been getting increasingly annoyed with having to move my Outlook .PST file around between computers when I was on the move. The last straw was a couple of weeks ago when I lost a few days worth of e-mail because I had thought the changes had synced back to my desktop, when in fact they hadn't.

So I decided I was going to look at running Exchange. This is something I've done on and off for a year or so now, without ever getting somewhere. This time around I looked at renting an Exchange server, but at around £10 a month the cost would mount up pretty rapidly, I'm spending too much on internet servers at the moment anyway, and if I ever wanted to add more users it's another £10 a month.

I've had my eye on Windows Small Business Server for a while, not only for its ease of use, but its relative cheapness compared with buying Server 2003, and the Exchange 2003 on top. Dabs has SBS for £250 which is a £100 less than I was expecting, the same cost as renting for about two years, with far more control over it and no limits.

So I fire up Virtual PC on my desktop, to give Small Business Server a trial run. After a couple of hours and installing and setting it up it was all up and running. Outlook was syncing with Exchange, the webmail interface was working great.

Here's the problem though. My server at home runs Windows Home Server, which I am extremely happy with and don't want to replace completely with Small Business Server.

Now this server only has an Athlon Thunderbird clocked at 1Ghz, these processors don't support hardware virtualisation, I've previously tried using Virtual PC on it, however that maxed out the CPU and performance was terrible. So I was thinking I would have to upgrade to one of the Athlon 64 processors and motherboards I have lying around spare here. Not a problem but obviously it's a couple of hours work.

So anyway, I decided to download Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2, and throw on it just to see what would happen. To my surprise performance was great, CPU usage hovered around a couple of percent!

Virtual Server doesn't run as a client application at all, but as a service, and gets configured over a web page (I believe the host OS requires IIS).

Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2

So after copying the virtual hard drive I had been using to test Small Business Server from my machine to the server, it was all up and running within 5 minutes.

I was actually surprised about how well Virtual Server fits together, the configuration page works great, and lets you operate the server from the web page, if you don't want to use Remote Desktop.

There are some cases where using a Virtual Server is just obvious, not only because you're out of physical machines, but for safeguarding information, that whole server is just a 6GB file on a hard drive, and can be backed up just as easily as any other 6GB file. So in the event of a hardware failure, it can be copied to another machine and booted up within a matter of minutes.

So its all up and running now, Outlook can be open on my desktop and my Tablet without hell fires being set lose, all syncing back to the server, my phone can connect with Exchange and grab the latest stuff from it. I've got Outlook Web Access now for when I don't have one of my machines on me and I need to add something to my calendar or send an e-mail etc.

Great stuff, of course what I'd rather see is a mini-Exchange plugin for Windows Home Server. But I'm not holding my breath for that one.

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