A Simple Explanation of Microsoft Essential Business Server

So what is Essential Business Server (EBS)?  In simple terms EBS is a complete corporate network for mid-sized companies in a box, or rather in three or four boxes depending on the version.  Let me explain:

In the beginning there was the PC.  And of course Microsoft looked up at the PC and said it was good, but did not really do very much.  And Microsoft laboured and toiled and created DOS… and DOS was good.

And on the second day Microsoft created Windows.  The second day was a very long and tiring day that involved great struggles between Redmond, Washington and Armonk, New York.  The struggles would take a long time to resolve, and in the end two brothers emerged, OS/2 which would take many years to come into its own before fading away; and the younger brother would be named Windows.  Windows would also take time to emerge, but its potential was limited only by the genius of its creators, who one day knew that it would indeed rule the world.

And on the third day Microsoft created Windows Server, a network operating system (NOS), is the backbone of most corporate networks.  Since Server 2000 it has allowed companies to build forests and domains based on the Active Directory (AD) infrastructure.  Included with Windows Server were roles and features such as DNS, DHCP, IIS, and Terminal Services, not to mention file and print sharing services. 

For companies that live in a vacuum there really is little more needed for a perfect network.  Unfortunately most companies need features such as the Internet (which requires a proxy, firewall, and Internet sharing), e-mail (which requires a mail server), corporate portals, databases, and more… all of these features require different servers, all of which need to be secured and protected…

So on the fourth day Microsoft created Internet Security and Acceleration Server (ISA), and although ISA Server would require some tweaking over time, it was essentially good.  With network protection they could then introduce Exchange Server, which would not only allow e-mail but also shared contacts and calendars, Public Folders, tasks, and such.  And the industry looked at it, and it was good.

And on the fifty day Microsoft created SQL Server, a database server running the mighty structured query language to make things faster and better… and based on that SharePoint Server was introduced as the Internet portal platform which would take advantage of the best technologies of IIS and SQL Server.  And the industry looked at it, and it was good.

And then on the sixth day Microsoft released management tools that would allow all of the existing technologies to be monitored and maintained.  The System Center product line would take many disjoint tools and bring th em together; and for smaller organizations the features of these tools would be brought together into a single product called System Center Essentials. 

On the seventh day (Microsoft does not rest!) the cries were great; security was hardly manageable and unattainable without third-party tools.  And Microsoft heard the cries, and their answer was called Forefront Security for Exchange.  The mail server would now be protected.

These server products are not inexpensive, and license management for them all has been referred to alternately as a joke and a curse.  For each server you need a license.  For each server product you need a license, plus a license of the NOS.  For some (but not all!) of these servers and server products you need Client Access Licenses (CALs).  Of course some of those CALs will be User CALs while others should be Device CALs, and let's not get into per server CALs.  It is enough to employ a specialist in most organizations; for organizations large enough to have issues but too small to employ a specialist it can drive the person responsible to drink.

In 1996 (about Day 4) Microsoft decided to package many of these products together and offer a simplified low-cost solution for small businesses.  Over the years the definition of small business has grown (it currently sits at 75 computers).  Small Business Server was a single-server and single-license solution (CALs are simplified too!) that offered smaller businesses the tools to compete with their larger competitors using the same tools.  All of the required server tools which were previously installed on separate hardware were consolidated on a single box (E pluribus unum).  SBS has had its fair share of detractors, many with ridiculous claims but some with legitimate shortcomings which were not an issue for most smaller businesses. However one of these persistent claims has been that the various server software packages were not designed to coexist on a single server.

…So several years later Microsoft undertook to create a solution for both those concerned, and for enterprises which have outgrown the single box.

Essential Business Server is not only a solution for businesses who have outgrown the seventy-five CAL limit of Small Business Server; that may have been the original driver behind the product, but it addresses many of the arguments that some have had against SBS since the beginning.

Like its older cousin SBS, there will be two editions of EBS.

Microsoft Essential Business Server (Standard Edition)

The entry-level EBS package consists of:

  • Windows Server 2008
  • Exchange Server 2007
  • Forefront Security for Exchange
  • System Center Essentials
  • Internet Security and Acceleration Server

These five packages are installed on three separate x64 servers.  It includes three licenses for Windows Server 2008 (Standard), which is installed at the base operating system for each server.

The first server (Management Server) controls the network (DNS, DHCP, etc…) and the Active Directory Domain Services.  As well, Microsoft System Center Essentials is installed on the Management Server.

The second server (Messaging Server) works in conjunction with the first server to control the Active Directory Domain Services.  In addition Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 and Forefront Client Security for Exchange Server are installed on the Messaging Server.

The third server (Security Server) has a second Exchange Server 2007 installed, as well as Internet Security and Acceleration Server.  It acts as both a firewall and a proxy server, and is the only server connected to the outside world, controlling and security the traffic between the intranet and the Internet.


Microsoft Essential Business Server (Premium Edition)

The Premium Edition of EBS includes all of the architecture of the Standard Edition, but includes a fourth license for Windows Server 2008, as well as Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Standard Edition.  These install on a fourth server (Database Server) and will shoulder the burden of most database-type applications, either out of the box or custom.

One of the advantages for Microsoft, a company with a great history of having their private beta applications and operating systems released into the wild for the 'just because we can' c
ommunity, is that the hardware requirements (which are quite reasonable for companies building their infrastructure) lean towards the ridiculous for the hobbyist hacker.  Even at the MVP Summit deep-dive last year there were cries of 'Who the hell has three x64 systems lying around to test it on?'  I would suspect that for that reason and more unlike SBS of late the serious EBSers (did I just coin that term?) will have a real opportunity to show others their first glimpses of the package.  I had that opportunity recently at the Toronto Heroes Happen {Here} Launch event.  Really cool.

Keep tuning in for more news on EBS as it happens…

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