Microsoft Hones Server Management

By Francis Chu  |  Posted 2003-10-06

Microsoft Hones Server Management

Microsoft Corp. has made significant improvements in the SBS 2003 release, reducing the complexity of server setup and simplifying server management tasks with easy-to-use wizards. Microsofts Small Business Server 2003, slated for release this month, is designed for small Windows-based networks (up to 75 users), and the SBS software has prepackaged server applications that can be installed on a single server. The management and setup of the server is made easier than standard Windows Server setup with the help of wizards and tools specific to the SBS product family.

Microsoft has incorporated new components in this fourth-generation release that reduce the overall complexity of the SBS 2003 system. For example, a set of wizards quickly leads the user from the initial installation steps to setting up post-installation user accounts in Active Directory.

In eWEEK Labs tests, we found SBS 2003 was easy to install and manage, making the application a good choice for small Windows shops with limited IT expertise.

SBS 2003 will cost less for small shops when deploying the standard editions of Windows Server 2003 and server applications such as Exchange 2003.

Although SBS 2003 supports a limited number of users, and the software can be deployed only on a single server, the installation and management wizards can greatly help small businesses with limited IT staff.

In addition to bundling easy-to-use components and tools, SBS 2003 leverages new server capabilities in the core Windows Server 2003 operating system, along with important Windows server applications—including e-mail, portal services, database, Web authoring and firewall applications.

Small Business Server 2003
Microsofts latest small Windows suite is significantly easier to put together right out of the box, and better management interfaces make it a strong choice for small Windows shops with limited IT expertise. The package comes with everything a small business needs to tackle daily operations, at a starting license fee of $599. Microsoft also offers a viable upgrade path to Windows Server 2003 and beyond for businesses that outgrow the capabilities of SBS 2003.
  • PRO: Improved installation and setup; comprehensive package of server applications; centralized management.

  • CON: Having every application on a single server will mandate greater hardware requirements.
    Novell Inc.s Small Business Suite 6

    The core of SBS 2003 is the Windows Server 2003 operating system, which is the domain controller and runs all of the main applications on the SBS network. We tested SBS 2003 Standard Edition, which is priced at $599 and includes Exchange Server 2003, SharePoint Services, Outlook 2003 client support and five client access licenses.

    Of course, this price is much lower than the price for each component if purchased separately, so small shops will save on initial costs if they purchase SBS Standard Edition.

    For sites that need more advanced capabilities, such as database development or Web authoring, Microsoft also sells a Premium Edition. This version includes everything in the Standard Edition plus FrontPage 2003, SQL Server 2000 Service Pack 3, and Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000. SBS 2003 Premium Edition is priced at $1,499 with five client access licenses.

    Sites running SBS 2000 or Windows 2000 Server can replace the older versions with SBS 2003 via a software upgrade. Upgrading from Windows NT or SBS 4.5 will require a migration to a new server. Although this will entail a possible hardware upgrade, plus the new software costs for SBS and Exchange 2003, as well as some time for the migration process, we believe small businesses running NT or older SBS versions should upgrade to 2003 because the enhancements are significant.

    Detailed documentation about the migration process is available for NT and SBS 4.5 customers, Microsoft officials said.

    Simplicity Central
    Because SBS 2003 is designed for sites that put a priority on simplified management and ease of use, most configuration and management tasks are centralized within the Server Management Microsoft Management Console snap-in and can be performed using custom wizards. The wizards were very useful in our tests and will allow users with less Windows expertise to quickly perform common tasks such as adding new users to the domain.

    Microsoft has also made it easy to set up server applications on the SBS network. Exchange 2003 is installed and configured as part of the SBS 2003 installation, and a new Internet Connection Wizard helps to ensure proper setup for e-mail and Internet connectivity out of the box.

    IT managers can push out applications such as the Outlook 2003 client to users desktops after adding their computers to the SBS network by directing users to a Web link.

    SBS 2003 provides a preconfigured intranet Web portal via SharePoint Services, giving small companies a good starting point for creating a collaborative environment. The SharePoint portal allowed us to share libraries of documents and pictures and links to events and calendars. It also allowed us to create discussion boards.

    Enabling remote access via VPN or dial-up can be a difficult task for small sites without a dedicated IT administrator. SBS 2003 introduces Remote Web Workplace, a Web site that allows remote users to access applications such as Outlook Web Access, the SharePoint portal and remote desktops.

    Remote Web Workplace also provides remote management capabilities for administrators.

    All on One

    All on One
    Because SBS 2003 uses a single-server model, every application must be installed on the same server, creating the possibility of a single point of failure. Therefore, IT managers should be prepared to invest in better server hardware to ensure optimal performance and should implement a data backup plan.

    SBS 2003 requires a minimum of a 300MHz processor, 256MB of RAM and 4GB of disk space; these requirements are similar to those of the previous version, SBS 2000. Microsoft recommends a 550MHz processor and 384MB of RAM for the Standard Edition and 512MB of RAM for the Premium Edition.

    We tested SBS 2003 Standard Edition on a Hewlett-Packard Co. tc2120 server with a 2.66GHz Intel Corp. Pentium 4 processor and 256MB of RAM. SBS 2003s performance was satisfactory in our tests, but because the program runs several applications on a single server, we recommend having at least 512MB of memory on the server for better application performance, especially for sites that support more than 50 users.

    The HP server we tested came preinstalled with SBS 2003, so deployment was even faster. Small companies can purchase a preinstalled SBS 2003 system with the server hardware from OEM vendors, and the system will be ready to go out of the box.

    SBS 2003s Internet Connection Wizard can discover and configure firewall settings for hardware that supports Universal Plug and Play. This saves some time because the firewall/router can be set up during initial SBS configuration. However, sites that use Internet connections that require Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet will still have to manually enter the information on the device.

    In tests, we used a Microsoft firewall gateway that supports Universal Plug and Play and could easily configure the firewall settings via the SBS wizards.

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    Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at

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