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10 things you should know before deploying Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003

Microsoft Windows Small Business Server (SBS) combines simple but powerful user controls and robust e-mail services in a single platform that's priced attractively for smaller organizations. If you're thinking about deploying SBS, make sure you know the details about versions, CALs, tools and features, multiple NIC configuration, and R2.

This artcle is also available as a PDF download.

Microsoft Small Business Server 2003 offers small organizations, and even many medium-size ones, all the server firepower they require. A seemingly no-brainer good deal, SBS offers potent Windows architecture, scalability, and industry standard components (Exchange, SQL, Outlook) in a reasonably priced product.

Before you roll it out, though, here are a few elements to keep in mind.

#1: 75 Users and/or devices is the max


Windows Small Business Server 2003 is a great deal--that is, as long as your organization consists of no more than 75 users or devices. If your business already has 50 employees and is growing quickly, you'll likely want to turn to Windows Server 2003 instead. But if your organization won't be crossing the 50- or 60-employee mark any time in the next two years or so, SBS 2003 may well prove perfect for your needs.

#2: There are two versions


Selecting the wrong version of Windows Small Business Server 2003 can be expensive. Not only does a reinstallation and network reconfiguration take considerable time, but it can eat up much of a licensing budget as well. Make sure you select the proper version for your organization when you deploy SBS 2003.

The two versions are Standard and Premium. Windows Small Business Server 2003 Standard Edition includes the Windows Server 2003 operating system plus Windows SharePoint Services v2, Exchange Server 2003, Outlook 2003, and Microsoft's Shared Fax Service. At $599, that's a sweet deal.

SBS 2003 Premium Edition includes everything in the Standard Edition, plus SQL Server 2000, ISA Server 2004 and FrontPage 2003. Most folks won't be throwing in the additional $900 (the Premium Edition runs $1,499) for FrontPage, which Microsoft's moving away from. Instead, it's the SQL Server database and ISA Server 2004 firewall most organizations seek when purchasing the Premium Edition.

Review your organization's requirements and choose accordingly. Upgrading from Standard to Premium (Microsoft part number T75-00140) will cost you $900 (so you won't save anything), and it'll cost you a bunch of time.

#3: Five CALs is standard


When calculating your licensing costs and requirements, bear in mind that SBS 2003 includes five client access licenses (CALs). Additional licenses can be purchased in packs of fives and 20s. Five packs retail for $489, while 20-packs sell for $1,929. Open License buyers typically pay $460 and $1,841, respectively, while Open License/Software Assurance customers pay $690 and $2,761. Transition and upgrade CALs are also available at varying prices (depending upon the platform from which you're migrating and the number of upgrades you require).

#4: There are two types of CALs


When planning your SBS 2003 deployment, be careful about the types of CALs you purchase. You have two choices: Device and User licenses. Device CALs cover any device (such as a PC, handheld device, or server) that accesses the Small Business Server. User CALs, on the other hand, cover users who access the Small Business Server.

Whichever you select, each device and user that accesses a Small Business Server must possess a Small Business Server 2003 CAL. The only exception is unauthenticated users accessing SBS' Web services.

Device CALs come in handy when you have multiple users accessing the same PCs in shifts. User CALs tend to work best when a single user accesses the server from multiple devices.

Should you make the wrong choice, you're still in luck. Microsoft permits changing license type. But beware: You can change from user CALs to device CALs (or vice versa) only once.

#5: Use the wizards


The best way to break Windows Small Business Server 2003 is to try configuring systems and processes manually. Don't do it. Use the numerous wizards provided within the operating system to do everything from configuring Internet access to administering e-mail accounts.

#6: Leverage the To Do List


Small Business Server 2003 tracks your installation and setup process with a comprehensive To Do List. At first glance, the list appears somewhat superfluous. You've been administering systems for years, right? You don't need a reminder list, do you?

Check your ego at the door. Manual transmissions are more fun to drive, sure, but automatics are easier. There's nothing wrong with opting for some simplified engineering. So simplify your server deployment and let the To Do List walk you through the configuration process. You're less likely to skip an important step, and the list places timesaving shortcuts at the ready.

From configuring the server's Internet connection and activating the server to configuring performance reports and backup routines, take advantage of the resources Microsoft's included in the operating system. Don't just close or minimize the To Do List every time it appears. Make a conscientious effort to complete all the list's tasks. The server will run more smoothly, and likely more securely, as a result.

#7: Select the internal name carefully


Despite Microsoft's recommendations, don't use .LOCAL as part of the SBS domain's internal name. Apple began using .LOCAL with the second iteration of the OS X platform. Trying to add Macintosh systems to an SBS domain that contains .LOCAL as part of its name can create conflicts. Although there are workarounds, avoid the problem altogether by selecting a namespace (such as .LAN) that won't create conflicts should Macs need to be added.

Further, avoid using your company's routable domain name (www.acme.com) as an internal name, because that triggers a host of DNS issues. Internal DNS queries perform best when routed exclusively within the internal domain. If a routable public Internet domain name is used, additional configuration and maintenance is required to enable local systems to access local resources. Skip those headaches; select a unique, non-publicly routed internal name for your SBS 2003 deployment.

#8: SBS prefers multiple NICs


Small Business Server 2003 likes to work with multiple NICs. The system will nag you repeatedly if you don't configure your SBS box with two network cards, as Microsoft's designed the OS to provide effective firewall and routing protections. However, at least two NICs are required to leverage those protective capacities.

Ultimately, SBS prefers for you to connect one NIC to your Internet connection and the other network interface to your LAN via a switch. With the two interfaces in place, SBS 2003 can then filter and firewall traffic between the Internet and your LAN, thereby providing an additional layer of security between your organization's systems, data, and resources and the public.

#9: You need not jump on the R2 bandwagon


First it was released, then it wasn't. Microsoft released Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 and even began promoting it to its partners. However, there was one small problem. It wasn't ready for prime time. So, Microsoft pulled it back. R2 was originally released in mid-July; IT professionals now must wait until the start of the third quarter for the final release.

Redmond was forced to recall the R2 version because the files sent to manufacturing weren't the most current. The new OS had already been distributed to original manufacturers and systems builders, among others.

R2's new features include a "Green Check," which helps monitor and update systems, simplified update management, and enlarged mailbox limits. If your small business doesn't require those features, however, I recommend you stick with SBS 2003. Let others test the new release and workout the bugs for you. You can always upgrade when the first service pack rolls out.

#10: When you do jump on the R2 bandwagon, the ride may be cheap


Those hosting Small Business Server 2003 SP1 installations can migrate to SBS 2003 R2 by contacting Microsoft and completing a request for a Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 Upgrade Media Kit. Eligibility requirements can be found on Microsoft's Web site. The kit itself, which includes an R2 Technologies CD, two Premium Technologies CDs (for Premium Edition license holders), a Getting Started poster, and a Certificate of Authenticity for the Upgrade, is free; all you pay is a minor fee for shipping and handling.

Software Assurance customers, meanwhile, may obtain the new R2 OS and need not purchase a new server license. Even non-Software Assurance clients aren't out of luck. Microsoft will offer those clients an upgrade option. To be eligible, customers just need be upgrading from a wide variety of SBS platforms (4.0, 4.5, 2000 and 2003 are all eligible).

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