The Microsoft server for small businesses offers simplicity in a full-featured package.
Just because a business is small
in terms of headcount doesn't mean that its needs don't require
enterprise-quality software. In many ways, a small business needs a reliable
and easily supported platform for core business services far more than a
sprawling multinational; at the very least, the need exists for something
that's both powerful and simple.
Windows Small Business Server
2011 delivers both power and relative simplicity, using Windows Server 2008 R2
Standard as the core of the package. SBS 2011 is meant for providing collaboration,
file, mail, patch and print services to a single domain of up to 75 users. But
what runs on top of Windows Server is what will make SBS attractive to a small
business that wants enterprise-class software at its fingertips. This includes
Exchange, SharePoint Foundation, Windows Server Update Services and more.
For an e-mail server, SBS 2011
uses Exchange Server 2010 Standard with Service Pack 1, which offers improved
inbox management compared to earlier versions of Exchange, and built-in e-mail
SBS 2011 also includes the
SharePoint Foundation 2010 collaboration platform, to make it easier to share
documents and other media. This includes a canned Website suitable for use as a
company intranet site.
Windows Server Update Services
3.0 provides an effective tool for central patch management of Windows and
Windows Server systems; as part of the SBS 2011 package, this includes WSUS 3.0
Service Pack 2, which added support for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.
Small businesses that want a
little more redundancy in their SBS 2011 deployment and a proven database
engine, or other features such as Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services or the
Hyper-V virtualization technology, can access those features with the help of
the Premium Add-on package. The Premium option includes a version of SQL
Server 2008 R2 designed for small business environments, and adds a second
domain controller to the Active Directory domain.
The hardware requirements for
SBS 2011 are only daunting to someone who hasn't looked at the specifications for
server-class equipment in a few years; as a minimum, the processor must be a
quad-core, 64-bit CPU that runs at 2GHz or faster. There must be at least 8GB
of system RAM, and 10GB is recommended. SBS 2011 can use more processors and RAM,
of course; the software will support up to four physical CPUs and 32GB of RAM.
After almost 15 years of work with various iterations of Windows Server, I
always recommend spending more on hardware up front than one would think
necessary, because the hassle of upgrading hardware in the middle of a
deployment comes with its own costs.
The one part of SBS 2011 that
doesn't feel terribly small-business friendly is the pricing; the Standard
Edition, which includes the core Exchange, SharePoint Foundation and WSUS
features, lists at $1,096. That figure includes five Client Access License
(CAL) entitlements, which can be applied per-user or per-device; 20-CAL packs
for the standard edition are available for a list price of $1,447, with
additional 5-CAL packs at $361. The Premium Add-on lists at $1,604, and comes
with its own 5-CAL package. Additional Premium Add-on CALs are available in
20-packs for $1,831 and 5-packs for $457.
By the time one has laid out
$2,000 or $4,000 for appropriate hardware to run SBS, and another $2,000 or
$4,000 for the software to support, say, 50 users, the total bill for an SBS
installation is rather substantial. In contrast, a Mac mini from Apple with
Snow Leopard Server supports e-mail and Web hosting, as well as contact and
calendar sharing, for far less; that platform starts at $999 for a 4GB unit
with no per-user licensing fees.
Of course, a Mac mini server
isn't anyone's idea of server-class hardware; it lacks lights-out management,
redundant power supplies and other features that SBS customers can leverage in
their deployments by using machines from vendors such as Dell and HP. But these
days, small businesses want to get 11 cents in change for every dime they
spend, and the combination of SBS 2011 and server-grade hardware may be out of
reach for many shops.
I used SBS 2011 for the better
part of a week on hardware that just met the specification; even in that
barely adequate configuration, the system was surprisingly responsive to the
local management console and to clients on the network. Basic administration
tasks such as setting up public-facing services are driven by the configuration
tools, and it's a simple matter to set up reports on system health and status
for internal consumption or for a service provider's use when troubleshooting.
Backup facilities are prominently featured on the system dashboard, as well.
Windows Small Business Server
2011 is a solid platform that won't require a lot of handholding to get up and
running; it offers customers a selection of enterprise-class tools that aren't
compromised in function. It's probably best suited for those small businesses
with very deep pockets, as the cost of hardware and licensing can easily run
into five figures; if price is no object, then SBS 2011 is likely to be a good
P. J. Connolly began writing for IT publications in 1997 and has a lengthy track record in both news and reviews. Since then, he's built two test labs from scratch and earned a reputation as the nicest skeptic you'll ever meet. Before taking up journalism, P. J. was an IT manager and consultant in San Francisco with a knack for networking the Apple Macintosh, and his love for technology is exceeded only by his contempt for the flavor of the month. Speaking of which, you can follow P. J. on Twitter at pjc415, or drop him an email at email@example.com.