Tips for IT pros who work with small businesses

Awhile back, a fellow IT pro named Tony Gore shared some tips with us on how to succeed as an IT consultant. Tony is full of hard-earned wisdom like this so I’m sharing some other tips from him that can help IT pros who work with small businesses. These tips don’t always use the latest hottest technology, but they’ve been proven to work where it counts — in the trenches. As usual, all such tips are presented “as is” with no warranties or guarantees so use at your own risk —in other words don’t put your brain into low-power mode when you use them!

Using WSE for client backups

Tony says, “For anyone with more than a couple of PCs, consider getting a copy of Windows Server Essentials 2012 R2. This will do client backups automatically. For those of you not familiar with it, WSE 2012 R2 is a partial successor to the Windows Small Business Server, which has been killed off — it is Windows SBS with Exchange taken out. Additionally, it gained some of the functionality of the old Windows Home Server — the main one being the backup ability. Sensibly, Microsoft has done away with client licenses. It doesn’t require much hardware to run on. Mine is running on an HP dual core AMD microserver. Paired with Office 365 it is an ideal home professional/home office/ small business setup. The more problematic admin stuff is taken care of by the hosted Office 365, and WSE 2012 R2 is then a bit like a NAS, but with Active Directory — local user management is where many NAS’s fall down.”

Migrating from SBS to WSE

small businesses

For small businesses that are still (ack!) running Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS), Tony offers these suggestions:

“There are good migration instructions for SBS 2xxx to WSE 2012 R2, but they assume that you are making the change in one go, and/or having a second server for on-premises Exchange. I could not find anything that covered what I have done for myself and a couple of customers, namely switch to Office 365 for email etc. some time ago, thus preempting WSE 2012 R2 with hosted Exchange. Most of the instructions require you to fix any issues with your SBS server before you start. However, you may well be migrating because there are non-trivial problems gained along the way that you couldn’t fix. So, if your user base is not large, maybe you actually want to move to a clean, problem-free new installation of WSE 2012 R2.

The key problem with this is that you have to disconnect the client PCs from the old domain and then use the WSE 2012 R2 connection utility to join to the new domain (which may well be the same name as the old one, but as we all know, the SIDs means that they are not). As well as the tedium in this, you normally end up losing your user profiles (along with their desktop settings, etc. along the way). I managed to find a short way of doing this, although I am sure someone will improve on it. But for those interested, here it is:

  1. Download a copy of User Profile Wizard 3.9 from the ForensiT website. This is a tool that will rewrite the ACLS in a profile for you.
  2. Assumption: The client admin login is a domain one, or you can’t be sure of the details. Either verify that they work, or follow these instructions to be on the safe side, but if you have a machine administrator login that works, you can skip steps (3) and (4). Another assumption: Any users to be migrated already have user accounts set up on the new WSE 2012 R2 server, for example by integrating it with the Office 365 account and having it bring down all the usernames so that it can link local and cloud accounts.
  3. Log on to the client machine as an administrator (note that if you have already swapped the servers over, you will have the new server on the network and the old server disconnected; therefore the domain\admin will not log on — certainly if the domain name is unchanged. The workaround: Disconnect the network, log on so that it uses the stored offline cached credentials, and then reconnect the network after you have logged on. If the screen lock kicks in for any reason, you will also need to disconnect the network whilst you unlock it).
  4. Now create a local machine user, for example “MyAdmin” and ensure it is in the administrator group for the local machine. If you already had a local administrator, reset the password so that you know what it is — frequently local admin passwords are not what you think they are. Now do a “switch user” and logon with machine\MyAdmin and check that it has administrator rights. To do this, right click on command prompt and “run as administrator.”
  5. Now create local users of ALL the users whose profiles you want to migrate, for example create users Tony, Mitch, etc.
  6. Now use the User Profile Wizard 3.9 to change the permissions of the domain users to be migrated to the local user (only works if the local user actually exists — hence the reason for step 5). The length of time depends on the size of the profile. I know it works with a profile of 17.9GB.
  7. Now use the system settings to move from the domain and join it to a workgroup, for example “MYWORK.”
  8. Restart the PC and run http://<servername>/connect and follow the instructions. Choose the option to migrate all users and you will be able to then select how the PC user accounts (that you migrated) map to the domain accounts on the new server.
  9. After the PC has restarted, you can now log in to any of the migrated accounts. Some, such as Outlook, will require you to enter (and optionally save) the passwords. Drive mappings may be broken, for example if the new server has a different name than the old server. But other than that, everything works.

This is all slightly tedious, but it is low risk. You don’t get partway through a migration and then find you can’t go back and you can’t go forward. The new server does not have any inherited problems, for example in Active Directory. And apart from drive mappings, your users kept their profiles intact.”

DNS and WS 2012 R2

Regarding DNS and Windows Server 2012 R2 Tony advises, “If you are using WSE 2012 R2, then it still likes to run as a DNS server, but it is advised not to run it as a DHCP server. Thus, I normally add the DHCP role to the firewall (Netgear UTM series, but most routers have the facility) and set the primary DNS to the fixed IP of the WSE 2012 R2 server and the secondary DNS to either (Google) or the gateway — some DHCP servers automatically add the gateway as the third DNS. What this means is the clients all use the WSE 2012 R2 for DNS and can thus resolve everything locally they need to, but if the WSE 2012 R2 server is not available, they can still keep using Office 365, OneDrive, and any other cloud and Internet services such as hosted CRM. This now means that a local server problem is no longer a show stopper. Yes, some things will not be possible, but the whole office does not grind to a halt.”

Migrating HDDs to SSDs

Finally, Tony has the following tip about migrating hard disk drives to solid-state drives:

“To speed up a PC and give it a longer lease on life, many people are putting in SSDs. I have even done it with brand new machines before deploying them, as manufacturer-supplied SSDs are significantly more expensive. However, the SSD is typically smaller than the old spinning disk, even if most of the old disk was empty.

Some of the SSD manufacturers provide migration tools, but I have had problems with these on machines without an optical disk and with secure boot. Secure boot prevents you booting the disk migration software from an external USB DVD drive. Some of the alternative software cannot cope with a target disk smaller than the source disk. I found the best way to do this is to use an older PC with an internal optical disk and pre-secure-boot-era, disconnect any disks in it and connect the source (spinning) and target (SSD) disks, booting the migration software from the internal optical disk.

The reason I ended up doing this is that because with secure boot, the laptop did not boot from the USB optical disk, it then decided it was in repair mode running from the old (spinning) disk now in an external USB housing, and immediately it started to change things. For safety, I ended up the first time doing a clean install onto the new SSD because of this. So this is why I suggest that unless your machine really will boot from either an internal or external optical disk — try BEFORE you start to install the SSD, then doing it as outlined above in an older machine may save you a lot of work.

Be careful to choose the right SSD. There are different types of memory used in SSDs, and one type is more expensive than another. So, I use Intel SSDs in a server or NAS where I want the OS to run from an SSD, as although more expensive, these have a longer life by virtue of the technology used to make them.”

Got tips?

Do you have any tips for IT pros who work with small businesses? Share your expertise with hundreds of thousands of readers of our TechGenix website by entering your comment below.

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