Small Business Server 2008 gets 'small' right

Small Business Server 2008 gets 'small' right

Microsoft's revamp of SBS takes the sting out of setup and admin for IT-challenged shops, without sacrificing the functionality that all businesses need

Users and licenses

Adding users is another Getting Started Task, and the wizard simplifies things considerably. Entering information once populates a variety of tables, including the Active Directory entry for the employee. After users are created, you can add computers to support the users -- a Web-based enrollment checks the client machines to see whether they have the services and capabilities to be part of the SBS network. Assuming everything checks out, the machine is added to the AD roster, and you're ready for licensing. Adding the client machine to the AD roster does more than just enable network access, though; with SBS, malware protection and a variety of monitoring and reporting functions are extended to clients through the server operating system.

Microsoft SBS Client Access Licenses (CALs) can be assigned to users or machines, a nice option if you're running multiple shifts or have users with intermittent access requirements. CALs are available in 20-packs, 5-packs, or, in a hat-tip to the realities of small-business life, single-CAL packs. In addition, SBS comes with five "temporary CALs" that you can borrow against to get a new user up and running immediately. The idea is that you set up a new employee with a temporary CAL and then buy the regular license, returning the temporary CAL to the pool. This way, you don't have to wait until you've had a chance to buy a CAL before you can bring on a new user, and you don't have to buy more CALs than you need. In many ways, the new licensing scheme may be the most important change to the product.

Mobility and management

One of the other realities Microsoft has recognized is that small-business employees are far more mobile today than in the past. Remote Web Workplace is a standard SBS feature, and it's established through one of the basic wizards. Microsoft has also included services for supporting Windows Mobile devices as clients to SBS applications.

Of course, setting up SBS is one thing, and ongoing management is something else entirely. Management and administration of SBS follow the path established by setup, via Vista-like interfaces and functional tabs for working through the various admin stations. One of the points at which the two-tiered structure becomes evident is in the reports tab. There are a variety of reports available, with security status, client and system status (including license availability), backup status, and others pre-configured. You can set up different levels of detail in the reports and arrange to have them automatically e-mailed to various distribution lists.

It's easy to imagine a situation in which summary reports go to the small-business owner (or IT generalist), with much more detailed reports going to an IT consultant who may be called in to remedy more complex problems. Everyone gets the information they need, and no one gets info they can't use. Note, too, that the reports generated cover the entire small business network, not just the server. Security, usage, and update version reports cover all the client machines in the small business network, not just the server.

So why would you choose Small Business Server 2008 over a standard installation of Windows Server for your small business? Licensing alone could be enough of a reason, since the CALs are priced for small businesses and available in single quantities. The first-tier user interface is another reason, since it promises to cut administrative costs and make it possible to keep more setup and management functions in-house.

With the release of Small Business Server 2008, Microsoft shows signs of understanding that small businesses have a wider range of server options than ever before. For most small companies, SBS 2008 will provide the basic functions necessary for the business in a package that is easy to set up and administer, and that integrates readily with Microsoft Windows Vista and XP clients. The purchase price won't be as low as Linux, but the polish and ease of use are both high, and the single-user CAL makes SBS 2008 the most affordable SBS yet. Microsoft has been listening -- and this time, it shows.

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