When Microsoft shipped Windows Server 2003 Release 2 (R2) in late 2005, Small Business Server (SBS) customers were no doubt wondering when Microsoft would ship Windows SBS 2003 R2. Shortly after you read this article, Microsoft will ship the SBS 2003 update, which includes some much-needed security and management improvements. Here's what you need to know about SBS 2003 R2.

It's Not Like Other R2s
If you're familiar with Windows Server 2003 R2, you probably already know that this release includes a number of high-end functional updates that aren't really appropriate for small businesses—for example, Distributed File System (DFS) Name-spaces and DFS Replication, the File Server Resource Manager (FSRM), Storage Manager for SANs (SMfS, or "simple SAN"), new storage quota types, Services for UNIX (SFU), and Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS).

Although SBS 2003 R2 doesn't include any of these features, it does include some of Windows 2003 R2's minor features and the latest Microsoft Management Console (MMC) version. But let's focus on the new features specific to SBS 2003 R2.

New SBS 2003 R2 Features
First, SBS 2003 R2 includes all the fixes and patches that Microsoft added to Windows SBS 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1). It also includes the latest service packs for the various bundled servers or, where appropriate, entirely new product versions, as is the case with SQL Server. Now that Exchange Server 2003 SP1 has been included, SBS 2003 SP1 supports as much as 75GB of mailbox storage—a dramatic increase from the previous 16GB limit. This update also provides support for the Direct Push Technology email service for Windows Mobile 5.0 devices.

Second, in the SBS 2003 R2 Premium Edition, Microsoft has replaced SQL Server 2000 Standard Edition with SQL Server 2005 Workgroup Edition. SQL Server 2005 Workgroup has many of the features you'll find in SQL Server 2000 Standard. The missing features—including Analysis Services and Integration Services—are items that small businesses wouldn't need or use, Microsoft says.

Features Unique to SBS 2003 R2
In addition to the aforementioned upgrades, Microsoft has added some unique features to SBS 2003 R2. The most important new feature is the integration of Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), which lets small-business users automate patch and update management for all their servers and PCs, and receive daily reports about the health of the network. The WSUS integration goes well beyond the functionality you'd obtain by installing WSUS separately on your existing SBS implementation.

SBS 2003 R2 provides full patch management services for Windows 2003, Windows XP, Office 2003, SharePoint, SQL Server 2000 SP4 through SQL Server 2005, and ISA Server 2004 SP2 and later. Also, SBS 2003 R2 provides partial patch management for Exchange 2003, but critical fixes are supplied only through WSUS.

The WSUS version included with SBS 2003 R2 provides a highly visible and easily identifiable green check mark for software health in several places. This check mark, which appears in the daily reports and on the SBS 2003 R2 Server Management console, specifies that WSUS has updated all networked servers and PCs with the latest patches. If the check mark isn't green, you'll see a yellow or red warning, depending on the magnitude of the problem, along with a message about how to fix the problem. For example, when a patch is pending, you'll see a yellow check mark with instructions. After you install the missing patch, the check mark will turn green.

Upgrading to R2
To entice customers to purchase a new server with SBS 2003 before the R2 version is available, Microsoft is offering a special Technology Upgrade Program. Customers who purchase a new server with SBS 2003 preinstalled between March 1, 2006, and 60 days after the SBS 2003 R2 release to manufacturing (RTM)—scheduled for delivery in 2006—will be able to purchase the R2 version for the price of shipping and handling. Meanwhile, Software Assurance (SA) customers will get SBS 2003 R2 as part of their contract, while existing SBS 2003, SBS 2000, and SBS 4.x customers will be able to purchase a special version upgrade to SBS 2003 R2.

Recommendations
SBS has always offered a superb level of integration between the server products it includes and the unique management tools it offers, and SBS 2003 R2 seems like the best version yet. If you're already running SBS 2003, installing R2 is an easy decision. But if you've been putting off a purchase, now is the time to consider taking the plunge. The only downside to SBS is that Microsoft's enterprise customers won't get management tools as nice as those that SBS offers. Hopefully, that situation will change in the future.