The Demise of Windows SBS

On Thursday July 5th Microsoft made an announcement that shocked the small business IT world, although it came as little surprise to the SBS MVPs who had, I am told been informed (much to their communal displeasure) months ago.

Microsoft Windows Small Business Server, a product that launched a thousand (and more) careers in IT, that has a loyal and vocal following that has blossomed since the very early days of Windows NT, is in its final iteration as we know it. (See the official announcement on the Windows SBS blog: Windows Small Business Server Essentials becomes Windows Server 2012 Essentials)

I couldn’t even begin to tell you when I first started writing about SBS – it was on newsgroups way before I started blogging.  I do remember when I first heard about it.  You would think that it would have been in one of the many MOC courses I had taken on Windows Server, Active Directory, and so on but it wasn’t.  I was actually in a job interview for a company that would eventually hire me called Poppy Industries.  Fred Blauer – a consultant that company used – asked me how I would configure the infrastructure for a given organization, and I told him that it would require five servers – a domain controller (two if they were smart), a mail server, a database server, a SharePoint/web Server, a firewall, and a file server.  Fred said to me ‘Would you consider using Small Business Server?’ He proceeded to tell me what SBS was – a single Windows Server box that was a domain controller, Exchange Server, SQL Server, SharePoint Server, ISA Server, and more… all for just under $2,000.

Obviously back then I knew everything, and I told him that no such product existed.  He opened up a web browser and showed it to me.  I told him that what he (and the page on microsoft.com) was telling me was going to break every rule of enterprise best practices, but I would definitely look at the product and see if it was really all that.

I did… and I fell in love.

How cool is it that Microsoft had taken all of those products that I had been learning about, and rather than having to invest in six individual servers (virtualization was not yet a serious option), and put it all into one relatively low-end box?

Over the next few years I spent most of my career working in SBS.  I deployed and supported it for dozens of customers, supported the community, and for a short time I was even an SBS MVP.  I wrote courseware and an exam for SBS 2003 and the exam for SBS 2008 for Microsoft Learning, lectured on it to dozens of groups around the world, and wrote numerous articles for my blog.  On January 17, 2007 the Microsoft Canada DPE team’s blog (IT Pro Connection) published my article ‘Why I am not an SBSer’.  To say that it ruffled a few feathers is the very nicest thing that can be said about it.  I would go so far as to say that it was the beginning of the end of my amicable relationship with the entire SBS MVP group.

Over the last few years many of you have heard me predict the end of SBS.  In fact months ago I submitted a session to SMB Nation (which I will present at that conference this October in Las Vegas) called ‘The SWMI Vision of SMB IT in a post-SBS Era’.  I had no inside information when I coined the term ‘Post-SBS Era’ but it looks like I finally called one right.

Now to be fair, I have been predicting for years that the next version of SBS – that is, SBS 2011, which is a full-blown viable product – would actually rely heavily on SBS, separating the roles into multiple servers – AD, Exchange, SharePoint, SQL on four different virtual machines.  That did not happen.  I predicted that the future of SBS would look more like an enterprise datacentre in a single box with several virtual machines, and all managed by System Center 2012.  I never liked the idea of a ‘Windows Server Essentials’ that would facilitate the SMB to use cloud-based Exchange services, but alas, that is what we are seeing as the future of the product.  The idea was first floated to the SBS MVPs at least two years ago (and maybe three) at the MVP Summit… it was long enough ago that I was still attending SBS sessions at Summit, and the outcry against it was loud and strong.

So today when the announcement was made, it was indeed a sad day for SBSers, although not one that was unforeseen and certainly not one that was unexpected.  My SBS MVP friends will probably have to find new categories to fall into, as I had to when EBS was discontinued.  I expect some of them will transition to a new award category called Windows Server Essentials MVP, and others will find new categories.  I expect that some will resign the award in protest, and others, having lost the passion, will stop contributing to community and will eventually lose the award.

Most, however, will adapt and persevere.  Greg Starks, SMB Solutions Program Manager for Hewlett Packard, wrote this on his Facebook page, and I could not have put it better myself:

To all my SBSer, MVP and SMB IT Pro friends… I know today’s SBS End-Of-Life news is kind of a kick in the gut to some of you, but remember that it’s YOU, not the product, that helps your small business customers succeed.  The market will adapt and so will you.  You are too good at what you do to let the comings and going of a single product inhibit your success.  No matter which OS, SMB IT Pros RULE!!!!

I am looking forward to seeing Greg at WPC next week… He and his team at HP have done so much to support the SBS community over the past several years, and I expect they will continue to do so in the future… no matter what the product is called.

In the meantime, I will raise a toast to all of my friends, past and present, who are mourning the loss of SBS this week.  My thoughts are with you!

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