Do I have to have a server in my office?
In the olden days, there was this thing from Microsoft called Active Directory. It is still used today. You join workstations to an active directory server. This causes your workstations to be managed using a domain administrator account, your end user can sign on once with a domain username and password and are then granted access to network shares, printers and various other things through group permissions within the Active Directory. For redundancy and/or load balancing, you could have more than one Active Directory server on your network, either at your primary site or scattered around both at your primary site and at satellite offices. Active Directory also allows what is called GPO (Group Policy Objects). An Active Directory Group Policy allows things like pushing out software applications to computers remotely, restricting various things from being changed on the workstation by one or more users, automatic mapping of network shares and printers, etc.
Today, we can accomplish each and every thing I just mentioned from the cloud. If you subscribe to Office 365 for your email service and Office licenses, it includes a free basic Azure service. With Windows 10, this allows you to have your end users sign in using their Office 365 account credentials on your email domain. For example, if you have a website and email domain called mybusiness.com your end users would login to Windows 10 with their full email address for the first time @mybusiness.com and their Office 365 password. That takes care of the single sign on issue of being without active directory. It allows your administrators to reset passwords for your end users remotely without having to go to their workstation. If I was setting up a network without an Active Directory server, I would much prefer this setup over local, unmanaged accounts on individual computers that cannot be remotely locked or have the password reset remotely. It will save a lot of time and headache and you don’t have to fork out thousands of dollars for a Windows server.
Next up, network shares. Where do you share files between users? Fortunately, Office 365 has the answer for this too. It’s called One Drive and is secure encrypted cloud storage for your data. Each mailbox is granted 1TB of cloud storage and the One Drive client is integrated into Windows 10, allowing you to pick and choose what folders are synced locally and which ones remain in the cloud not tying up precious space on your PC. We do recommend at least a 500GB SSD on each of your local workstations. Fortunately for you, the price break on SSD’s has shifted making the 500GB SSD the best bang for your buck at the moment. Alternatively, you can also get a SAN device like the Western Digital Cloud drive to share out folders, but you would end up with another set of usernames and passwords if you want to secure it, so One Drive is the best option here. Another option is a Linux based file server. We can do that too, but again the One Drive option is still most ideal since it already utilizes Azure authentication. And we offer backup solutions for the cloud as well. Yes, if you want to be able to roll back to a previous date on your cloud drive, you need a backup service.
Okay, so what about GPO, software deployment, etc? Well, we got all that covered too. Our Remote Management and Monitoring software is cloud based and it allows us to impose a whole plethora of policies, execute scripts remotely, etc. There is pretty much nothing that a local Active Directory has to offer that we can’t accomplish with our cloud based management software and best of all, it works regardless of where your machines are physically so long as they have a working internet connection.
So no, we don’t have to sell you a multi-thousand dollar server to manage your network. Yes, things have changed a lot in the decades since Active Directory and Windows Server first hit the market. You can take that money you would have spent on a server you don’t actually need and spend it on a decent firewall for your network. We can help you with investing wisely in your network infrastructure.
One important thing to take into consideration is if you are using a proprietary application that might require a local Windows server such as Jobboss, QuickBooks, etc. In these cases, it might be a good idea to look at the cloud versions that most of these applications now offer.