Beta Man

Small Business Server 2008: SysAdmin in a Box

This Microsoft bundle can actually help small businesses forego a systems administrator.

There's some confusion over what constitutes a product or a package from Microsoft. Small Business Server (SBS) 2008 is a package of different products and licenses that Microsoft believes are particularly suitable for organizations that have up to 25 or so PCs and fewer than 50 people. It's likely that most small businesses have minimal technical resources for keeping systems and servers running. With that in mind, Microsoft includes products to protect the server and ease server administration.

At the heart of SBS is Windows Server 2008. The Standard Edition is supplemented by Windows SharePoint Services, Exchange Server 2007, Forefront Security for Exchange and Windows Live OneCare for Server. It also integrates with Office Live Small Business. In the Premium Edition, you also get a second server license -- either x64 or x86 -- along with a license for SQL Server 2008.

Installing SBS is almost automatic: just slip the DVD -- three of them, actually -- into the reader. It requires almost no further interaction until the process is complete. You do have to specify a domain name and an administrator user account. You also have the option during installation of configuring a domain with your ISP, or selecting, buying and configuring an entirely new domain.

It took me about an hour to complete the installation. I set up the admin account and configured it to one of my existing Internet domains through my ISP instead of purchasing a new domain. I also pointed it at my personal Microsoft Live account to take advantage of Live integration.

Delivering on S+S
The integration with the Microsoft Live set of services is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of SBS. It's one of the first manifestations of Microsoft's Software plus Services (S+S) strategy, and represents an imaginative new way of working with computers connected to the Internet. The initial aspect of this solution is SharePoint Services, which includes internal support for wikis, blogs and searching. Any small business can set up groups that have access to specific documents.

Beyond SharePoint Services, individual users can open a browser and access the Office Live space of the business. Live provides access to tools for building a business Web site, online e-mail and other online productivity tools. In particular, Live provides shared user spaces where business users can store and exchange documents.

Businesses can purchase one of three different levels of Live services: Office Live Basics, Office Live Essentials and Office Live Premium. The latter two are subscription services and provide greater collaboration services for larger numbers of users. The Premium version provides 2GB of Web site storage space and online apps for managing customers, employees, projects and business data.

Begin the Admin
As for administration, SBS provides a simple administration console with links to perform specific administrative tasks such as user management, security management and backup. These tools don't require much more than a fundamental knowledge of what you're doing and why. Therefore, even systems novices can perform routine maintenance tasks.

Small businesses can also install the package directly or to have it preinstalled by an OEM. Either way, it should be straightforward for a small business that requires its first server or a server upgrade.

It's not entirely clear that Windows Server 2008 and other existing Microsoft products are the best way for a small, even fledgling business to integrate desktop computers, deliver basic services and provide an onramp to the Internet. However, the people who put this package together did a great job with the material they had to work with. Microsoft told me it spent a lot of time in researching this product by calling and visiting the types of businesses the company was targeting, and it has paid off with some imaginative and productive solutions.

About the Author

Peter Varhol is the executive editor, reviews of Redmond magazine and has more than 20 years of experience as a software developer, software product manager and technology writer. He has graduate degrees in computer science and mathematics, and has taught both subjects at the university level.


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