Windows SmallBusiness Server 2008

In large companies, it’s not too difficult to create a computing environment that is resilient, serves its users well, and doesn’t break down often. The trick is hiring the right people to build and maintain the network and take care of IT projects as they arise. OK, maybe it’s not that easy, but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare given the right resources.

Things are often very different in the world of small businesses. Many small businesses simply don’t have the resources to build—let alone maintain—a network that adequately addresses the needs of the business. Many small businesses end up with a mismatch of various parts assembled piece by piece by the technician who was available at the given time and offered the right price. No one is really sure how the pieces fit together and why it was done this way or configured differently. Just finding a password for a router can be a daunting challenge.

I doubt I’ve ever met a small business owner who wouldn’t have done everything possible to make their network stable and, more importantly, useful and manageable given the resources to do so. From a software vendor perspective, it’s great to charge a lot for your product and have a niche base of big companies that can afford it. We all know that small businesses drive the economy in many ways. Is it really wise to only target these big companies and leave a plethora of opportunities open?

Sure, there are plenty of free and open-source products that can take the sting out of ridiculous software prices, and in fact I’ve shared their merits here so many times. In fact, I firmly believe in the value of open source in business. However, my view of these benefits begins to fall apart when we consider running an entire enterprise on open source software when resources are limited.

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Open source products tend to be more difficult to maintain than their commercial counterparts, and support can sometimes be hard to find. Even the best engineer needs tech support from time to time, and when that’s not available – especially when a critical system is down – it can be difficult.

In my opinion it makes more sense for a small business to run critical servers etc with mainstream software and leave open and source for non-critical desktops, web servers and even some email servers. A small business can survive a day or two without email but is dead in the water without point-of-sale or accounting software.

Windows servers can be the foundation of a Windows network, let’s face it; Windows is the most dominant operating system out there. Windows servers can also serve Mac, Linux, and UNIX computers, so all in all they’re not a bad choice for a network base. The problem is that they are usually not that cheap.

Microsoft saw an opportunity to cater to the needs of small businesses, offer some high-end products that would push those businesses forward, and of course their own ‘[[[[

Revenues. Small Business Server is a bundle of multiple products and is priced well below what you would pay for each package if purchased separately. Small Business Server was first released in 1997, and to be honest the first few versions were – well, let’s just say “not that great”.

It wasn’t until Small Business Server 2003, released in (you guessed it!) 2003, that Small Business Server really came into its own. Small Business Server 2003 includes standard Windows Server plus Microsoft Exchange Server, Windows SharePoint Server, and a plethora of “wizards” that make managing the server relatively easy for small business owners. The Premium Edition also includes Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft ISA Server. At this point, it doesn’t really matter what those things are, other than that they’re excellent business tools.

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Together, these products form a solid foundation for a network that includes shared calendars, contacts, and tasks. Also included is a team website (also called an intranet) and, for the premium edition, a database server and network firewall.

If you weigh the standard edition against the individual software packages for 5 users, Small Business Server 2003 costs around $575, while the individual packages cost around $2100. That’s about $1150 compared to about $2700 if you license 10 users. Savings continue as users are added.

So what’s the catch? Small Business Server 2003 can manage a maximum of 75 users, domain trusts are not available, and only Small Business Server 2003 can be a domain controller. It doesn’t matter what those things mean, except that very few small businesses would ever tell the difference.

Microsoft plans to release Business Server 2008 in November 2008. If you own a small business and are looking for a new server, Small Business Server 2008 is one of those products that you should neglect to overlook. If you need a server today, you can purchase the 2003 version with Software Assurance and get the upgrade for free. Be careful though, Small Business Server 2008 will only be 64-bit, so make sure to buy the right hardware!