Microsoft offers small businesses a choice
According to research firm IDC, small business is currently one of the biggest growth areas for IT. In the small-business market segment, IDC predicts an 11.6 percent annual growth rate in server deployment, with a corresponding 19.3 percent annual increase in broadband usage through 2006. This growth will be fueled by the continued reduction in the price of server hardware and an increase in the availability of affordable broadband services. Microsoft's most recent Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 release targets the needs of this emerging small-business market. Designed for businesses with 75 or fewer workstations or users, SBS 2003 is the fourth generation of Microsoft's SBS product line, and it boasts simpler installation, configuration, and management than any previous SBS version.
SBS 2003 Standard Edition vs. SBS 2003 Premium Edition
Unlike earlier versions of SBS, SBS 2003 comes in two versions: SBS 2003 Standard Edition and SBS 2003 Premium Edition. Web Table 1 (http://www.winnetmag.com, InstantDoc ID 40708) lists the components of each edition.
Both versions of SBS 2003 include Windows Server 2003 (with its integrated Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services feature), Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, and five Client Access Licenses (CALs). To this base of core components, SBS 2003 Premium Edition adds Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Service Pack 3 (SP3), Microsoft FrontPage 2003, and Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000.
The choice between the two versions essentially boils down to whether you need SQL Server. Although a firewall, such as the one that ISA Server provides, is essential, many broadband routers already incorporate firewall capabilities. SBS 2003 Standard Edition includes a basic firewall, but it isn't as full featured as most commercial firewalls. If you need SQL Server, then the bundled pricing of SQL Server 2000 as a part of SBS 2003 Premium Edition makes the premium edition a good buy. However, if you don't need SQL Server, then SBS 2003 Standard Edition is a better choice. The budget-conscious small-business owner could also choose SBS 2003 Standard Edition and add Microsoft Access, Microsoft Data Engine (MSDE), or a freeware database such as MySQL along with a third-party firewall for functionality comparable to SBS 2003 Premium Edition for less cost. In addition, you can often gain a performance advantage by installing the database on a different server from the server that's running Exchange.
Installation and Initial Setup
I tested SBS 2003 Standard Edition; it came OEM-installed on an HP ProLiant server with a 2.4GHz Intel Xeon processor, 256MB of RAM, and dual 18GB hard disks. Using an OEM installation meant that HP had preinstalled the setup files to a partition on the hard disk, eliminating the need to install the software from CD-ROM or DVD. The setup process began automatically as soon as I booted the server. Microsoft's goal for the OEM-installed version is to get the system running in less than 30 minutes. Although I began my installation without first locating the preinstallation checklist supplied on the installation poster included with the server, I easily managed to get the system running within the 30-minute time frame. The setup prompted me for an IP address, a gateway address, and primary and secondary DNS server addresses. In my case, my network had an existing DHCP server, so the SBS setup automatically recognized that server, which supplied several of the important network settings. Even so, you need to know your network's infrastructure to complete the setup process. All in all, the setup for SBS 2003 resulted in the fastest setup for Active Directory (AD) and Exchange that I've ever performed. I gave the system a name of WinNetMag, set the AD domain name to WinNetMag.local, and named the Exchange 2003 server WinNetMag. I didn't need to perform any extra manual steps, such as running Domainprep or Forestprep, that the typical Exchange installation requires. After setup finished, AD and Exchange were both running and ready to accept new users.
Client system setup was also a snap using the Web-based client computer deployment tool. After the server setup finished and I added some users on the client system, I pointed my Web browser to the SBS server's intranet connection URL, which on my test setup was http://sbs2003/connectcomputer. Connecting to the URL caused an ActiveX control to download to the client. When I clicked the Connect to the network now link from the client's browser, the server downloaded the preselected client components and set up various client configuration settings. The default applications included for installation on the client are Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 6.0, Outlook 2003, and the client OS service packs. You can add other applications to this list as well. The settings that were sent to the client included the ability to prohibit users from modifying the installed applications, as well as the tools needed to set up ActiveSync and configure Remote Desktop and printers.
After the server setup is complete, the SBS server displays the To Do List, which guides you through the required system configuration tasks, as Figure 1 shows. Using the To Do List, you can connect SBS to the Internet, add user and computer accounts, set up inbound and outbound mail, and configure backup and system monitoring. And, as you might notice in Figure 1, SBS 2003 requires you to activate the server.
I noticed when completing the items on the To Do List that the list doesn't automatically check off completed items. After I'd performed a couple of the items more than once, I realized that I needed to manually check the Done box.
The first real task you must perform on the To Do List is to set up your Internet connection and email configuration. The Configure E-Mail and Internet Connection Wizard guides you through the process of selecting what type of Internet connection you want SBS 2003 to use. At first, this process seems simple enough as you select between a broadband and dial-up connection; however, as the wizard progresses, it asks more complicated questions that require a fair amount of networking knowledge. For example, as Figure 2 shows, when you configure the DSL connection type, you need to know whether you have a local router device with an IP address, a connection that requires a username and password (Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet—PPPoE), or a direct broadband connection.
The wizard displays a network diagram link that visually describes each connection type and helps you pick the right one. The types of information that the wizard requested made it clear that the configuration, albeit simpler than any prior version, is still too complex for the typical small-business manager. All these settings are relatively easy for an experienced administrator to provide but will be a mystery for most business managers. Microsoft's real target for the SBS 2003 setup is the consultant, the Value Added Reseller (VAR), or the Value Added Provider (VAP).
After you configure the connection type, the Configure E-mail and Internet Connection Wizard helps you configure your SBS 2003 server's email connection. The wizard lets you configure the traditional Exchange deployment in which Exchange 2003 sends and receives SMTP mail for employees who use the company's registered domain name. You can also configure Exchange to use a POP3 connector to retrieve employee email from MSN.com, Hotmail.com, or any other email service provider that supports POP3.
To use the direct Exchange connection, you must use an MX record to register your Exchange server in your ISP's DNS setup. The POP3 connector lets Exchange connect to an email server hosted by your ISP. In this later scenario, the POP3 server will periodically use the POP3 protocol to connect to the ISP's email server, download all the messages from one or more POP3 accounts, then automatically forward the messages to the appropriate Exchange mailboxes. After you complete the Internet and email connection configurations, SBS can begin to send and receive email.
Next, you can complete the Configure Remote Access Wizard to set up the SBS 2003 server's VPN and firewall features so that you can remotely access and administer the server. After you successfully complete the Network Tasks section of the To Do List, the system's Internet connections and email will all be working.
The Management Tasks section of the To Do List lets you perform the initial administrative-oriented tasks such as adding users and printers. However, most administrators will primarily use the Server Management console, which Figure 3 shows, to perform the ongoing management of the SBS 2003 system. The Server Management console is automatically displayed when SBS 2003 first starts, or you can access it later by selecting the Server Management option from the Start menu.
Designed with an eye on being managed by a remote VAR or VAP, SBS 2003 includes several remote management features. One of these new features is the Remote Web Workplace, which Figure 4 shows. You access the Remote Web Workplace remotely by pointing a Web browser to the address http://www.registered domain name.com/remote. The Remote Web Workplace lets you connect to the server so that you can perform local management and connect to client desktops to perform troubleshooting. For remote desktop connections, the client desktop systems must be running Windows XP. The SBS 2003 server acts as a proxy by redirecting incoming remote connections to the locally networked client.
As the URL in Figure 4 indicates, Remote Web Workplace connections use HTTP over Secure Sockets Layer (HTTPS), which reduces the need to set up a VPN connection to create a secure remote link. The Monitor Help Desk option lets you access SBS 2003's Help Desk feature, which uses SharePoint Services. Using the Help Desk feature, you can view and respond to existing call tickets as well as generate reports and enter new items. To help the remote administrator monitor and manage the system, SBS 2003 comes with several predefined reports that list system alerts and detail server usage such as disk quotas. You can generate the reports interactively or set them to run on a predefined schedule and be emailed to a remote administrator. The Use Outlook Web Access option shown on the right-hand side of the Remote Web Workplace screen launches Outlook Web Access (OWA) and connects the browser's HTTPS session to the SBS Exchange server.
Exchange and SharePoint Services
Two core components that are present in both SBS 2003 Standard Edition and SBS 2003 Premium Edition are Exchange 2003 and SharePoint Services. The version of Exchange 2003 included with SBS 2003 is essentially identical to the standalone product. The only difference is that Exchange in SBS 2003 is limited to 75 users and the management of the product is made simpler by the addition of SBS wizards, which can simultaneously add users to Windows as well as set up mailboxes in Exchange 2003. Likewise, the version of SharePoint Services included with SBS 2003 is essentially the same as the service that ships with Windows Server 2003. SharePoint Services lets you easily create Web-based share points. These share points can be thought of as the next generation of a Windows file system share: End users can set up share points to share documents with other users. However, their Web integration also extends the file-sharing capability. For example, with SharePoint Services share points, you can manage who checks in and checks out a document, review document usage, and run Web applications. SBS 2003's built-in Help Desk function is an example of how you can use SharePoint Services for more sophisticated Web-based collaborative applications. Although all client systems can use SharePoint Services shares, to make the most of SharePoint Services, the client systems must be using Microsoft Office 2003, which includes built-in options for using SharePoint Services share points. Figure 5 shows the interface for using SharePoint Services to set up a collaborative share point.
The licensing cost for SBS 2003 Standard Edition is $599, and the licensing cost for SBS 2003 Premium Edition is $1499. The base licensing for SBS 2003 includes all the server components, and no additional licensing costs are required for the server. In addition, SBS 2003 ships with five CALs—if you plan to attach more than five clients, you must purchase additional CALs. You can attach up to 75 clients to SBS 2003. If you need to attach more than 75 client systems, you must upgrade to the standalone versions of the server components. Fortunately, Microsoft provides an upgrade path for those businesses that outgrow SBS 2003. However, upgrading to the standalone editions of all the products contained in SBS 2003 is a costly and involved move. At the time of this writing, Microsoft hasn't established final costs, but the company did say that the cost to upgrade SBS 2003 to the standalone servers will essentially be the cost of the new server licenses minus the cost of the SBS 2003 license.
Meeting the Needs of Today's Small Business
SBS 2003 makes the process of setting up the most commonly required Windows business components such as AD and Exchange easier than ever before. Even so, Microsoft has built this latest version to be installed and maintained by a consultant, VAR, or VAP. A reasonable degree of technical networking expertise is required. After the system is configured, a local business manager can perform most of the common maintenance tasks. Likewise, SharePoint Services makes the task of setting shares easy and user-friendly.
For businesses that are close to the 75-user limit or have more than 75 users, the complications of upgrading SBS 2003 to the full version of the constituent standalone products make it a poor choice. For business with fewer than 75 users and with some room to grow, Microsoft's aggressive licensing makes SBS 2003 a compelling solution.