Nuts About Microsoft Windows Small Business Server

By Patricia Fusco | Posted March 31, 2004

It's been nearly six months since Windows Small Business Server 2003 made its debut. Suffice to say, Microsoft is very pleased with the early success of the product. Even in tough economic times, and facing a very competitive market for small business servers, Microsoft reports that sales of its Windows Small Business Server 2003 software is significantly higher to date — 170 percent higher — than those its predecessor, Small Business Server 2000.

Derek Brown, director of product management for Windows Small Business Server 2003, said small businesses are seeing a real value proposition for investing in their networking infrastructures.

"If you run a small business, that's exactly what you want to stay focused on — running your business," Brown said. "But that doesn't mean you want to forgo the productivity and efficiency of the latest technology. With Windows Small Business Server 2003, smaller organizations can now experience the benefits of server-based computing and see a total return on their investments within weeks or months."

Brown said many small businesses are making Windows Small Business Server 2003 their first choice for their first server — moving away from peer-to-peer networks with limited file or print sharing — to embrace full-fledged server-based computing.

"For small businesses, Windows Small Business Server 2003 untangles the complexity of building a solid networking infrastructure making it an ideal first server for small businesses. Historically, small businesses have been slow to invest in IT upgrades. They're very careful with their spending in general," Brown said. "But Windows Small Business Server 2003 is ready to deliver a return straight out of the box. Small businesses see a real value in the product so they're finding the money to invest in in. We came out with the right product at the right time."

Not a Tough Nut to Crack
It's also a good time for small businesses running Windows NT 4.X to upgrade their systems, since the software will be retired soon. Microsoft products that are past their prime no longer have support contracts, so there are no more patches for security flaws or fixes for new security threats. This means small businesses that are running older server software need to reevaluate their operating systems.

Based in Hughson, Calif., the California Grown Nut Company has been growing fine almonds and peaches since 1966. Growing and reselling fruits and nuts is not a low-tech business venture. And when it's harvest time, let's just say the place is, well ... a nut house. Coordinating and tracking a harvest for resale could tax any IT system, in particular, Cal Nut Co.'s aging NT 4.0 server.

A small, family-owned business, California Grown Nut Company not only maintains its own orchards, but also operates a regional almond processing facility that shells, hulls and packs almonds for distribution around the world. Christina Staack, office manager for California Grown Nut Company and a second-generation almond farmer and processor, said at peak harvest time, the company has 20 to 30 truckloads of nuts coming in, 24-hours a day, from different growers.

"All of this inventory has to be tracked separately for payment purposes. In addition, we have to schedule the harvesting, pick-up, coordinate the trucks, elevators and agricultural inspectors — it's a lot like air traffic control," Staack said. "And when one thing changes, it affects lots of other people and operations. It's a problem for us in the office because we're usually the last to know. We needed a way to keep all the information straight and also to share information with all the individuals involved."

OS Nuts and Bolts
Because of the level of communication coordination and information tracking required by a busy agricultural work environment like Cal Nut Co., Staack said it was time for the company to upgrade its network. But which operating system would offer the greatest value to the small business? When Staack and Cal Nut Co.'s service provider started to search for a new computer network, they were initially drawn to a Linux platform.

"Cost was certainly a consideration when we started to evaluate systems, and a no-cost operating system certainly seemed attractive," Staack said. "However, when we started looking at the real cost of the applications and services we required, and looked at our five-year plan for expanding our network, then Linux suddenly didn't look like such a good deal."

As it turned out, many of the programs that California Grown Nut Company required didn't work with Linux, in particular, a custom-built application with which everyone was familiar. And Linux didn't offer the same ease of navigation that the Windows-based platform did. "If the new system wasn't easy to navigate, it just wouldn't get used when we're really busy," Staack said. "As we looked at Linux, it became less and less cost effective."

Eventually, Cal Nut Co. landed on Window Small Business Server 2003 as the solution for its aging infrastructure. In addition to offering a more efficient and reliable network, Staack said that the company's greatest need was for a calendar and schedule system, which is one of the major benefits that California Grown Nut Company gained from Windows Small Business Server 2003.

"The best thing in the new system is shared calendaring," Staack said. "Using Outlook, we can make changes to schedules and everyone can track them from their own computers. Because our computers now operate on a network, anyone can call up Outlook and make a change from any point in the process without having to walk around and find the right person and get them the right information."

Productivity is Just Peachy
Cal Nut Co. did not deploy its new server without some assistance. In the midst of the annual almond harvest season last year, the company's NT 4.0 system kept failing. Staack said the system was down more often than it was up.

"It couldn't have been a worse time to do an infrastructure upgrade," Staack said. "The almond harvest runs from August to November, and here we were in October with the server down. We were locked out of our system anyway, so we stayed down for a more few days to complete the upgrade."

With the businesses processes flowing and the Window Small Business Server 2003 in place, Cal Nut Co. was able to get its business back on track. Staack said she was immediately impressed with the level of productivity the small company was able to achieve almost immediately. However, for small businesses, not all yardsticks of success can be measured purely by return-on-investment. Staack said that one of the best measures of success is less stress during harvest time and the ability to get more work done in less time.

"It's a quality of life thing for me," she says. "I spend less time at the office tracking inventory and chasing information. That means I have more time for my family."

Reaping the Benefits
Small businesses face the same needs to improve communication and interactions with employees, customers and suppliers, as do larger companies. However, because they often have smaller budgets and more limited resources, many small businesses find it difficult to afford, install and manage the server networks that will enable them to achieve these benefits. Because Windows Small Business Server 2003 is an integrated, out-of-the-box product specifically designed for the needs of small businesses, the complexity and cost of deploying, configuring and maintaining a powerful network is much less.

"Based on sales strength, our customers are telling us we got this release right," Brown said. "By lowering cost and reducing the complexity of server computing, we've provided tens of thousands of small businesses an easy and inexpensive way to reap the benefits of enterprise-class computing technology into their small businesses."

According to Brown, Microsoft will continue to reach out to customers and partners for feedback about how to improve technology for their businesses and how to break down the barriers that prevent them from gaining the advantage of leading-edge technology.

"We've seen a very strong response from customers who are having great success using Windows Small Business Server 2003 to increase productivity and efficiency in their businesses," says Brown, "And we hear about the tremendous market opportunity that the solution has provide for our partners. This is very exciting for us, because it means we are on track as we move forward, helping small business owners become more successful and competitive in a rapidly changing economy."

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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