SBS 2003: Your Small Business Operating System

As part of the June cover feature, "4 Dirt-Cheap Workgroup Servers," Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 might interest those small and medium businesses.

Microsoft has paid quite a bit of attention to the small and medium business market in the past few years, and one result of this is the latest release of Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 (SBS 2003). With pricing starting at $599 for the standard edition with five Client Access Licenses (CALs), SBS 2003 offers a bargain for most workgroups.

There are actually two different editions of SBS, both based on Windows Server 2003. Standard Edition bundles Windows 2003 and Exchange Server 2003. Premium Edition adds ISA Server 2000, FrontPage 2003 and SQL Server 2000 to the mix. The Premium Edition with five CALs goes for $1,499. Extra CALs are available at $489 for a pack of 5 or $1,929 for a 20-pack. Remember, too, that these are estimated prices, and you can beat them if you shop around. In particular, the Standard Edition comes bundled with workgroup hardware from many companies at attractive prices.

SBS 2003
Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003
Starting at $599

SBS 2003 isn’t just the sum of its parts. Microsoft has concentrated in three areas. First, the installation is unified; you start with what looks like any other Windows 2003 installation and keep putting in CDs until all of the components are installed. Second, post-installation setup is designed to be easy even for non-technical users to complete. The first thing you see when you boot the new SBS computer is a checklist of steps to perform, each with a jump to the applicable help topic. (If you’ve purchased a new computer with SBS preinstalled, this is where your user experience will start.) The steps cover things such as setting up the network, adding users, setting up a printer, and configuring backups. Rather than guide you into the usual Windows tools, each of these steps is managed by a custom wizard. SBS will install client software when you add computers to its network, and the SBS administrator doesn’t need to know anything about Group Policy to make this happen.

After setting up the server, you run into the third area of SBS integration: continuing server management. Rather than the suite of administrative utilities you’re probably familiar with from Windows 2003, SBS collects everything into a single Server Management application. This is an MMC-based console that includes some snap-ins from Windows 2003 (such as Computer Management) as well as a great many custom SBS snap-ins. Figure 1 shows one of these, the Internet and E-Mail snap-in. As you can see, it offers jumps to most tasks an administrator would need to perform, as well as easy access to help.

Although many customers will be happy performing their own basic administrative tasks with this release, the MCSE isn’t out of the picture either. One nice new feature is the Remote Web Workspace, which enables secure browser-based administration of the server. Regular users have access to a stripped-down version of Remote Web Workspace that allows, among other things, checking e-mail and remote access to Windows XP client machines on the network.

SBS 2003
Managing Small Business Server. (Click image to view larger version.)

Despite the generally-rosy picture, there are a few limitations to SBS that you should know about. For one, it supports a maximum of 75 clients, so don’t try to cut corners by installing it in a large organization (and consider your growth path if you’re putting it into a medium-sized one). For another, older operating systems (that is, anything other than XP or Windows 2000) can’t make full use of SBS 2003’s advanced functions because they won’t accept IE6 or Outlook 2003. If you’re putting the first server into an office full of disparate computers, think about the client upgrade issues at the same time.

In general, SBS 2003 is a great choice if you’re supporting small groups with limited budgets. The streamlined installation process, Web-based client setup, and easy administration will let you get a new network functional with a minimum of time and energy. After that, you can easily log in to fix any problems that arise or help train new employees without the hassle of site visits. Meanwhile, your customers get e-mail, an intranet, and an Internet presence at one cost-effective price.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, is a former MCP columnist and the author of numerous development books.

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