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Self-Contained Exchange Server - Mixing Cloud and On Premise

Over five years ago I wrote about a self-contained environment I built for a small business where  they had no office of their own. A new client recently contacted me and asked if I had done anything similar recently, but using more up to date technologies. With the growth of cloud tech, Office365 etc, things have moved on.

This particular request was to provide Exchange for a project which was quite sensitive and the client didn't want to put the data in to Office365, but was quite happy to put it in to a private cloud using a dedicated server. It needed to be completely self-contained. No problem, as that is how I build my labs, so it was just scaled up. This is what I proposed and was deployed at the beginning of September.

Hardware
Dedicated Server rented from a major host here in the UK (I can actually tell you where the server is located). Fairly standard specification, dual RAID 1 arrays, 32gb of RAM.

Software
Installed on to the physical server was VMWARE 6.x.

VM Guests
Into that VMWARE server I installed the following guests

  • Pfsense. This provided the firewall for the entire environment, and once the builds were complete, the VMWARE admin console was put behind this as well.
  • Windows 2012 R2 DC (8gb RAM) Fairly obvious one - separating the Exchange server and the domain controller.
  • Windows 2012 R2 Exchange 2016 (16GB RAM) This was the main Exchange server.
    • Exchange 2016 Latest version of Exchange, naturally.
    • GFI Mail Essentials Providing malware, spam and attachment filtering, plus automatic signatures.
    • SSL Certificate - from http://certificatesforexchange.com/
  • Observium monitoring appliance from Turnkey Linux (open source) This provides a good overview of the virtual machines. The host was also kind enough to setup a read only user on the IPMI interface of the server.
  • Windows 10 Pro workstation (4gb RAM) This had Office 2016 installed on it, along with some other tools to allow testing of the implementation from the server itself. It also provides a landing point should one of the end users need to access the server and doesn't have the tools available immediately.

The Windows servers also got the various monitoring tools I use with my Exchange clients. Backup to the cloud, using Exchange aware backup application was also provided.

Microsoft Office

Shortly after deployment, it became apparent that the clients were a complete mixture of Office versions, some of which didn't support the latest version of Exchange. Therefore I proposed, and was accepted, that we used Office365 Business subscription. This provided Microsoft Office for both the Windows machines used by the users, plus their tablets and phones. I integrated the domain I built with their new Office365 subscription providing a single username and password experience - the size of the deployment didn't justify a single sign on implementation. Should someone leave the project, we simply un-licence their Office installation.

Costs?

All numbers correct at the time of writing (September 2016) and are excluding VAT.

  • Hosted Server: £140 a month
  • Per user licences: £25 a month (covers Exchange, Windows Server etc)
  • Office365: £7 a month per user
  • Server management Fee: £350/month
  • Setup: £1500 (includes hosting company setup charge and my time). SSL Certificate: £35/year.

Conclusion

The client has a solution that they can scale up and down as the project progresses, which fulfils their requirements of being a self-contained standalone solution, without the cost of the hardware and software up front. It is also managed for them by Sembee Ltd with responsive monitoring.

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