Now that the demise of Windows 2000 is imminent---Microsoft is dropping support for this platform as of June this year--it’s time to evaluate upgrade options. Dropping support means that the company will offer no more service packs or telephone support unless you sign an extended support contract. I expect many small and mid-sized businesses are still happily coexisting with Win2K servers and workstations, but all good things do come to an end so it’s time to budget for new servers and workstations and start planning an upgrade.

Many reasons exist for choosing Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 as your upgrade platform, especially if you already have a mail server and a company Web site, and your employees need remote access to email and the company Web site. Equally important, SBS by design is more secure than Win2K, and if you opt for SBS Premium Edition, you can fine tune internal and external security with Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server. It’s a good bet that Microsoft will release SBS Service Pack 1 (SP1) well ahead of the June drop-dead date, so you’ll be able to take advantage of the improvements in reliability and security with the initial deployment. This upgrade path might also help you consolidate servers because SBS 2003 Standard runs the Web-based collaboration product Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) and Exchange Server 2003 on the same machine. Fewer servers means fewer updates, fewer backups, less maintenance, with the risk that when SBS 2003 is unavailable, you lose much of the network’s functionality.

Here are some issues that you need to consider when planning an upgrade. Do you need SBS Standard or SBS Premium? The standard version contains Windows 2003 with Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0, Exchange 2003, WSS, Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, and Microsoft’s Shared Fax Service. The premium edition has three additional features, ISA Server 2000 (firewall, VPN, and Web caching); Microsoft SQL Server 2000; and Microsoft FrontPage 2003. ISA Server has a steep learning curve and is more appropriate for securing connections in large distributed networks with tiered firewall protection. You can see a feature comparison between the standard and premium versions at www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/sbs/evaluation/features/default.mspx. I would guess that SBS 2003 Standard has enough functionality to support 80 percent of small business needs.

You can do an inplace upgrade to SBS 2003 on Win2K Server, but not Win2K Advanced Server. The retail price of an SBS 2003 version upgrade for Win2K is $599. Microsoft recommends that you upgrade Win2K AS to Windows 2003 Enterprise Edition. If you don’t have a sophisticated corporate structure, it might be more cost effective to purchase a new SBS 2003 system (new license is also $599) and use the Active Directory Migration Tool (ADMT) to move domain data to the new server. Although Microsoft claims you need only a 500MHz processor for SBS 2003, this recommendation seems ludicrous given processor speeds these days. And backing up hundreds of gigabytes of data on such a slow machine would probably take all night.

Next, you need to address client licensing. How many client licenses do you need? If you do an inplace upgrade to SBS 2003, you’ll pay $194 for the first five client licenses and $776 for each additional 20-pack of upgrade licenses. A new SBS 2003 license comes with five CALs and a 20-pack of new CALs (not upgrades) takes a hefty $1929 out of your budget. Because most small businesses have purchased licenses for clients, even if you migrate your current Win2K network to SBS 2003, you should be able upgrade 20 current client licenses for $776. For more information, see the SBS price list at www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/sbs/howtobuy/pricing.mspx.

If you run an older version of Exchange Server, be aware that Microsoft is phasing out support for Exchange Server 5.x in December 2005. If you choose SBS 2003 as your upgrade solution, the Exchange Migration Wizard can help you move mailboxes to Exchange 2003.

Here are a few resources to help you plan a migration to SBS 2003.

• Microsoft Small Business Server 2003
http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/sbs/default.mspx

• "Migrating from Small Business Server 2000 or Windows 2000 Server to Windows Small Business Server 2003." A guide for migrating from Windows 2000 to SBS 2003, including important dos and don’ts, plus the steps to follow to move data from an old Exchange server to SBS.
http://download.microsoft.com/download/6/d/c/6dccf9b4-d915-4c95-b5af-100b89e02add/SBS_MigratingSBS2k.doc

• Windows Small Business Server 2003 Getting Started Guide – Chapter 3 in a technet article with step-by-step instructions for an inplace upgrade.
http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/sbs/2003/plan/gsg/chptr3c.mspx

• "How to Use Active Directory Migration Tool Version 2 to Migrate from Windows 2000 to Windows Server 2003"
http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;326480

• How to use the Exchange Migration Wizard to migrate mailboxes from an Exchange organization
http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?scid=kb;en-us;328871

As of today, there are several updates you need to apply to SBS 2003 before you deploy servers. First, install Exchange 2003 SP1, the bug fix for Exchange SP1 documented in the Microsoft article "You cannot use Outlook Web Access with forms-based authentication and you receive a Store.exe e-mail alert message" (http://www.support.Microsoft.com/?kbid=843539), plus SP1 for WSS. Second, you need two updates that deal with the XP SP2 Windows Firewall: one modifies Group Policy to enable the firewall and the other addresses a bug in the modified policy. You can find links to both patches in the Microsoft article "You cannot configure Windows Firewall settings or Security Center settings on a Windows XP Service Pack 2-based client computer that is in a Windows Small Business Server 2003-based network" (http://www.support.Microsoft.com/?kbid=872769). Third, WSS has several known problems, one of which is addressed in the Microsoft article "You cannot successfully install the intranet component or connect to http://companyweb in Windows Small Business Server 2003" http://www.support.Microsoft.com/?kbid=832880. Microsoft published the patch as a critical update back in December 2003. The Knowledge Base also has good references about how to remove and reinstall WSS and IIS 6.0 when something goes wrong. If you wait a few months, you can replace the non-service pack updates for SBS with SP1 when it becomes available. Better start planning today.