The idea of an integrated server product for small businesses with 75 or fewer clients seems straightforward enough. However, our survey on Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 showed that readers have questions about limitations on the number of servers and domains that SBS allows, how to transition to the standard versions of the servers when a company outgrows SBS, and the features of SBS 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP1).

Of the 515 survey respondents, 347 were familiar with SBS 2003. About 77 percent of the 89 individuals who are consultants, about 76 percent of the 166 people who do both internal IT and consulting, and about 58 percent of the 260 respondents whose job involves only IT were familiar with SBS 2003. About 36 percent of consultants, 31 percent of those who do both IT and consulting, and 5 percent of IT-only respondents currently use SBS 2003. (It's not surprising that SBS 2003 usage would be higher among consultants than among IT staff, especially considering that 82 percent of the IT-only respondents work in companies that have more than 75 PCs.)

I found it interesting that all three groups raised similar questions, though the IT-only group, not surprisingly, was most interested in upgrade options and multiple-domain integration. I discussed the results with the SBS development team's Eugene Ho (director, SBS Product Development), Derek Brown (director, SBS Product Management), and Tracy Daugherty (SBS group program manager) to get their responses to the data and readers' questions. In light of readers' interest in such factors as upgrade options and multiple servers and domains, Tracy emphasized, "The majority of your readers typically work at or with companies close to or above the 75-user limit of SBS 2003. But the SBS team has seen from extensive customer research that the majority of companies in the small business space have no servers and typically have about 10 to 15 users. So, your readers really are much more enlightened than the typical SBS customer, and the survey results definitely show that."

SBS Servers and Domains
SBS 2003 integrates Microsoft technologies in a package that runs on one server. The Standard edition includes Windows Server 2003, Windows SharePoint Services, Exchange Server 2003, Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, Shared Fax Service, and Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS). The Premium edition adds Microsoft SQL Server 2000, Microsoft Office FrontPage 2003, and Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2000. Both editions ship with 5 CALs; you can buy additional device or user CALs in increments of 5 or 20 up to a maximum of 75. Many readers asked whether Microsoft plans to let users install SBS 2003 across multiple servers instead of having to run everything on one machine. The answer is no; all of SBS 2003's server applications must be installed on the same physical machine.

Tracy was concerned that "several people commented they could have only one server. In fact you can have other servers" in addition to the SBS 2003 server.

Eugene added, "We need to do a better job educating people on how easy it is to add another server to an SBS 2003 environment. You certainly can add another Windows Server easily and have it be a member of that domain. It can be a backup domain controller if you want, but typically we see it running a line-of-business app."

So, although the entire SBS 2003 suite must run on one machine, you could, for example, have a separate Exchange machine. But then you'd have to buy an Exchange Server license for that machine. You'd also need to devote an SBS CAL to the Exchange box to enable it to interact with your SBS domain, and you'd need Exchange CALs for clients that require access to the Exchange server. Thus, with this approach you forfeit the cost savings of buying all the server applications in SBS 2003.

When I interviewed the SBS team, the SBS FAQ stated that although there were no limits on the number or type of servers in an SBS 2003 domain, every other computer in the domain that ran Windows 2003 had to have an SBS CAL. After our discussion, however, Microsoft amended the FAQ to to show that additional Windows 2003 servers don't need an SBS CAL. (For the FAQ URL, see Learning Path.)

The SBS system must be the root of the Active Directory (AD) forest, and the SBS domain can't trust other domains or have child domains. Several survey respondents expressed concern about SBS's inability to expand into other domains and establish trusts. Eugene explained, "It's pretty simple: The Active Directory in SBS needs to be the root of your directory. You can add servers underneath that AD infrastructure. But SBS can't be a member of another domain or forest because SBS is targeted at being the first server for a small business, and we made a lot of design decisions around making that first server deployment simple."

He continued, "Most SBS sales are going to new, first-server deployments from peer-to-peer networks. That's what we designed this product to do. For businesses that have a peer-to-peer network and want to get control of their information, a single-box solution is absolutely what they need."

The Transition Pack
Growing beyond the limits of SBS 2003 was another common concern. Readers asked questions such as "Can SBS be easily upgraded to full Windows Server should the business grow?"

Tracy replied, "It's actually a great observation. I think it's new information for us. I've never seen requests around this area before."

"We do acknowledge that small business customers want the security and headroom to grow beyond the SBS 2003 limit of 75 users," Eugene hastened to add. "The path we provide is called the Transition Pack. It exists today, and we've had it for previous versions of SBS. The awareness is clearly not great, and we should look at how to improve. We just need to figure out how to do a better job to get the word out."

Information about the Transition Pack is available at http://www.microsoft.com/WindowsServer2003/sbs/techinfo/overview/licensingfaq.mspx#EABAA. As a result of our survey respondents' concerns, the SBS team has since provided more Transition Pack information at http://www.microsoft.com/WindowsServer2003/sbs/upgrade/transition.mspx.

The Transition Pack "gets you to the standard versions of all the component products," Eugene said, "and we've priced it so that you're only paying the difference between the SBS 2003 price and the price of each of the full components. So you're not losing any money by going with SBS 2003 first."

In a similar vein, readers asked whether Microsoft plans to let customers that grow beyond the 75-user limit upgrade SBS 2003 to Windows 2003 without having to completely rebuild the forest and domain infrastructure. Eugene replied, "That's what the Transition Pack is."

SBS 2003 SP1
When asked about his overall impression of the survey data, Tracy replied, "The trend that was most interesting for me was people asking about the future of the product. A specific example was SP1—questions about the features and functionality. We thought we'd been fairly public on them, especially the fact that SBS 2003 SP1 includes ISA 2004 for Premium edition customers."

He continued, "SBS 2003 SP1 is a very customer-focused update to the quality of the product and will be available soon after Windows Server 2003 SP1, in the first half of this year." That timing makes sense, considering that an SBS 2003 service pack incorporates the latest updates and service packs for all the SBS 2003 components so that users don't need to update each server individually.

Returning to Tracy's statement that SP1 is "very customer focused," I asked him how the SBS team obtains and uses customer feedback. He replied, "First, I'm a big fan of onsite visits. Second, we bring in our Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) a couple times a year. Third is our partner council of top sellers of SBS. We made a concerted effort to take a lot of customer feedback from these groups and fix their top issues."

In addition, Tracy said, "We looked at all data from support phone calls and addressed the top percentage. Also, we fixed the top percentage of Dr. Watson bugs. We get Watson data when the product crashes or has a failure and the customer reports it to Microsoft. We found that the 20 most frequently occurring issues accounted for 70 percent of our Watson data. By fixing 20 issues, we solved 70 percent of our Watson problems!"

Future Focus for Customers
With customer focus in mind, what is the SBS team looking at for the future? Derek replied, "We could do a better job around licensing complexity and making it easy and affordable to update clients. This is something we've looked hard at, and we get a lot of feedback, so I think we could do better. I hope over the next years you'll see that."

As I noted earlier, after seeing our survey results the SBS team revised the FAQ and added online resources about the Transition Pack. In your opinion, has Microsoft addressed customer concerns about running all the SBS server applications on one box? Send me an email message and let me know what you think.