Essential Business Server: Coming soon to a mid-sized company near you!

For years I have been saying that Small Business Server was the best solution for small businesses that did not have huge IT budgets; it allowed them to take advantage of the same enterprise-level tools such as Microsoft Exchange Server, SQL Server, and SharePoint Server without having to purchase several servers with tens of thousands of dollars of software, not to mention a full-time IT department.

Several people and groups have challenged me with 'what if' scenarios intent on debunking the applicability of SBS to their specific business network scenario, and I have always been glad to address these challenges because most of them were based on myths.  The truth is that to date I have not heard of any scenario where SBS could not be deployed in a small business as the backbone infrastructure, with one exception: The Hard Ceiling.

of course I am referring to the two great licensing limitations of SBS:

  1. You can only have a single SBS server in your network environment; and
  2. You were limited to (on SBS 2003) seventy-five CALs (Client Access Licenses).  Once you hit that ceiling you had to transition off SBS onto the enterprise packages.

Of course the first limitation is also a myth; although it is a true enough statement, that does not mean that you are limited to having a single server, rather that only one of them – the primary Domain Controller that hosted all operation master roles (commonly referred to as FSMO, or Flexible Single Master Operation roles) – could be running SBS.  You could add as many servers (up to ____) to your network, they just could not hold the operation master roles.

The second limitation is real.  If your company grew past seventy-five users (let's not get into the device CALs versus user CALs discussion) you had no choice but to leave the safety and comfort of the SBS world. 

The allure of SBS was (and continues to be) not only the power of the tools offered, plus the fact that they could all be run from a single box (My first SBS which I ran from home for two years ran very reliably on an IBM Pentium III workstation with 1GB RAM)… but also the fact that everything was configured and managed by very intuitive wizards and tools.  Creating a user was a single process which would include all permissions for everything from Exchange to SQL to SharePoint Services.  Transitioning beyond SBS meant leaving those wizards – and the revered Remote Web Workplace – behind.

Enter Essential Business Server.

A year ago I saw Windows Server Codename: Centro for the first time and fell in love.  It was the solution for mid-market companies up to 250 computers, and it was in a word everything that SBS was not.  Not only did it break the seventy-five user limit, but it also addressed most (if not all) of the actual and perceived limitations of SBS… while maintaining the cohesiveness of the single package. 

We could easily steal for SBS the motto from the US Dollar Bill,  E pluribus unum – from many, one.  That is because SBS integrates a number of servers that in the enterprise are generally separate and hosts them all on a single server.  The Standard Edition of Essential Business Server installs on three independent servers: the Management server, the Security server, and the Messaging server.  (the Premium Edition of EBS adds a fourth for the Database server).

Now that Microsoft has lifted much of the veil of secrecy from both EBS and the next release of SBS (Windows Small Business Server 2008, formerly codename Cougar) you will find that I have a lot to say about both of these products.  I see four distinct groups to whom this series of articles should be of interest:

  1. IT Professionals with an eye toward small and mid-sized businesses;
  2. Small Business IT Professionals who have been working with SBS;
  3. Small business owners or managers who need to make informed decisions about their IT and do not necessarily want to pay for consultants; and
  4. People interested in becoming IT professionals.

While I am not promising to answer all of your questions, I do hope to introduce both products to you so that when they do release to manufacturing (RTM) there will be not only a proper and comprehensive understanding of the products (and often of the reasons behind certain decisions and the like), but also a complete library of information that will be available, from an interested and connected (and mostly objective) IT Professional who does not actually work for Microsoft.

Strap yourselves in… because here we go!

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