Test Drive: Microsoft's Small Business Server

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted November 18, 2002
By Andy Goodman

Microsoft's Small Business Server 2000 (SBS) is an integrated bundle of related servers modified to work together on one box for a maximum number of 50 users. For a substantially reduced price, an organization receives Windows 2000 Server, Exchange 2000 Server, SQL Server 2000, ISA 2000, Outlook XP, a fax server, Active Directory, IIS Web Server, a modem server, and various other components. A pretty good deal, given the price.

The bundle starts at about $1,299 for a five-user license through Open License and at $1,499 on the retail shelf. You can add users in five- or 20-user license incremental add-on packs up to a limit of 50.

With this offering, Microsoft has made real progress in creating a package that does not need a full-time IT person to maintain. It does, however, require someone who knows what he or she is doing for the initial install and configuration. Through the use of adaptable management consoles and wizards, Microsoft has made routine maintenance almost easy. The management console puts in one place all the configuration changes and maintenance tasks that would otherwise be spread over many obscure locations.

We must mention, however, that as good of an offering as SBS may sound, it's not for everyone. It is not, for example, for an enterprise with many offices that wants to connect them all under one forest.

SBS is designed for small companies, and it is restricted to not only a maximum of 50 users but also to a single domain in a single forest. (That's 50 concurrent users by the way, which means you can have as many users as you want, but no more than 50 can be logged in to the server at any one time.)

So if you have a bunch of branch offices, SBS is not the solution for you. But for organizations small enough to take advantage of SBS, it's a great package.

The actual installation of SBS takes a good day, and another day or two should be allotted for configuring the server and adding the client machines. SBS automates the client setup procedure through the use of a client setup disk so you run setup from a floppy disk it builds for you. It configures the client machine to connect to the server on the next reboot and automatically runs the install scripts for all the client packages chosen. You can also add other software, like Microsoft Office, to the list of available choices or even third-party programs, like Diskeeper or WinZip. Of course, licenses must be purchased for them.

Once SBS is up and running it seems to just run, with one caveat: You must follow its rules. The only people I know who have problems with SBS are enterprise techs who think they know a better way. SBS is designed for the small business user, and thus it must be maintained through its console and wizards. People who try to do things the old way or the enterprise way inevitably end up dissatisfied with the product sooner or later.

I also know a number of people who use SBS; they all like it, and none would go back to just a file and print server. Outlook Web Access (OWA) is probably my favorite piece of SBS, as it is so convenient to be able to check not only my mail but also the public folders from wherever I might be.

Pros: All the Server's a small company needs in one box, easy to maintain once it is setup
Cons: Cons 50 user limit, all the servers must run on 1 box

Small Business Server
Version 2000

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