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Small Business Server 2003 - Part 1

Microsoft’s Small Business Server has been around for many years but we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the Small Business Server 2003 release.


Microsoft’s Small Business Server (SBS) has been around for many years but we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the Small Business Server 2003 release.

We’ve been trying it out for some time now, and the features and good pricing make it worth a look for anyone with a small group of Office users working together.

When you ask Microsoft about SBS you get a typically roundabout answer, which leads to many misunderstandings about what is in SBS. In particular there’s obfuscation about whether SBS is an operating system or not. Microsoft staff dances around this point for no apparent reason, except maybe to confuse potential customers.

So we’ll try to cut through some of the hype and assumptions made about customers to explain what SBS is and why it’s worth considering for groups of Microsoft Office users working together.


Small Business Server 2003 is an integrated bundle of Windows Server 2003 with Exchange Server 2003 and Sharepoint Services. In other words it’s an operating system and products combined.

SBS 2003 Premium adds SQL Server 2000 and Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) 2000 as well.

If you’ve managed to avoid the MS marketing blitz (gold star if you have) then here’s the really brief glossary:

Windows Server = the operating system, including web hosting software (IIS)

Exchange Server = email and newsgroup host

Sharepoint = web site for sharing information and documents within a company

SQL Server = a database storage system on the server (as opposed to separate MDB files)

ISA = a software firewall and web proxy

We won’t go into detail on the parts of SBS since they are covered in detail here – and there’s an online demo here.

Some parts of the SBS package are promoted separately when they are built-in to Windows Server 2003 (such as the web host, Internet Information Server) but they are nonetheless useful.


Why not just buy Windows Server and Exchange Server? Assuming your needs are well within the SBS license limitations then SBS 2003 is great value. While SBS has lots of goodies, in reality most businesses are going to use it for email in the first instance, and Exchange Server is a massive step-up from separate POP mailboxes, believe me.

To buy Windows Server 2003 costs around US$1,020 and Exchange Server a whopping US$1,300 but SBS 2003 is only US$600 (those are retail prices too – you’ll get better prices in the real world). Therefore, you are saving around $1,700 plus the benefit of any add-ons like the Outlook licenses, fax sharing and Sharepoint that you might choose to use.

All those prices include 5 client licenses or CAL’s. We won’t go into the murky world of software licensing, CAL’s, user vs. device licensing here – that’s a future topic. Suffice it to say that you can attach five users or devices to SBS 2003 and then add more with the purchase of additional client licences up to a maximum of 75 client licences. See the Microsoft website for a somewhat explanatory FAQ.

In practice users of SBS can apply it to situations that require up to 75 users or computers. Above that you have to get full versions of the server and other programs (though there is a transition pack to let you migrate from SBS to full products).

SBS comes with a single license for FrontPage 2003 – intended presumably for use with Sharepoint. Outlook 2003 is supplied with SBS and you can install it according to the number of client licenses you have (i.e. usually the five CAL’s that comes with SBS itself plus however many more you buy). This means you can buy SBS but only pay for additional licenses as your business needs grow.


You can install SBS on any computer that meets the system requirements (more information here) not necessarily a machine sold as a server. The minimum hardware requirements stated on the Microsoft web site are a joke; ignore them. Even the recommended specs are really the bare minimum for practical purposes. The processor speed, memory and hard drive size would all need to be larger than the miniscule numbers quoted for an effective system.

Tip: Good deals can be had on SBS 2003 when bundled with a new computer so that is worth checking out.

Hardware compatibility is very important to ensure a smoothly running server – we had all sorts of trouble with a new Dell server until the company finally supplied the drivers that were specifically designated for SBS 2003.

Naturally you’ll need more disk space and a decent processor depending on the number of users you’ll connect to the server. Even more so than with Windows XP or 2000, you’ll get a good performance boost if you add plenty of extra memory to the server. That especially applies if you’ll use the Outlook Web Access part of Exchange Server (and most likely you will).

A lot of disk space is also a good idea. SBS lets you synchronize the documents and settings of each connected computer plus keep previous versions of files as ‘shadow copies’. All that is great but you have to budget for the disk space needed.

Backup is also important. Tape drives for servers are a good idea but add a lot to the cost and these days are considered to be fairly slow methods of backing up. A cheaper and more flexible option is a separate hard drive on another network computer or even a network attached storage drive.


All the SBS components are installed as one package. Normally you’d start with an empty hard drive, boot from the SBS CD number 1 and install from there. At first it looks like a normal Windows Server setup (because that’s what it is) but then it glides into setup for the other components.

Savvy computer users can do the SBS setup themselves, but we suggest you save yourself a lot of time and angst – get a SBS consultant to come in and walk through the setup and configuration with you. We were lucky enough to have Wayne Small from who did a first-class job. After the initial setup, Wayne could remotely connect to the machine from his office to make any fixes we could not
figure out for ourselves – a time and money saver for both consultant and customer.

Once Wayne was done with the initial setup, we took over for the rest. SBS 2003 comes with some nice features for beginner administrators. There’s a To Do list of items to work through and the Management Console has wizards galore for common tasks like Adding users, Creating Backups etc.

You can drill down to the normal management functions if you wish. SBS provides a helping layer of assistance but does not prevent you from tinkering with Exchange Server, Active Directory or other ‘fun’ parts if you’re game.

In short we like Small Business Server 2003 and its well worth considering for small organizations with Microsoft Office installed but looking for a better way to integrate the separate computers into a more efficient system. Microsoft, as usual, does itself a disservice with over-blown claims like ‘ Recoup Your Investment in Less Than a Month ‘ which sounds like a statement from a spam email. SBS can be a worthwhile investment but probably not in just a few weeks.

There’ll be more on SBS in the next issue of Office Watch.


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