Some IT mistakes consist of an intricate, ever escalating series of complex and interrelated failures that are difficult to foresee and avoid, while some IT errors result from plain ignorance. Approaching Windows Small Business Server 2008 as if it’s just another SBS release is sure to make many IT professionals appear ill-prepared. Don’t be one of them.

SBS 2008: It’s a new world

Microsoft packed a world of changes, process improvements, upgrades, licensing adjustments, and hardware requirement changes in its celebrated server operating system. IT professionals who attempt to roll out a new SBS 2008 box without studying up on the updates and gaining familiarity with the new release will find themselves in a world of hurt.

Two leading resources for learning the ins-and-outs of SBS 2008 are Microsoft Press’ Windows Small Business Server 2008 Administrator’s Companion and Sams Publishing’s Windows Small Business Server 2008 Unleashed. So when I was preparing my first SBS 2008 deployment, I gave both titles a look.

Microsoft Press’ Administrator’s Companion

Charlie Russel and Sharon Crawford are the authors of the Microsoft Press title, Windows Small Business Server 2008 Administrator’s Companion. The authors have teamed up on numerous projects. Crawford’s been authoring computer books for almost two decades; Russel works as a consultant and serves as a Microsoft MVP. So, you know the authors are qualified.

The Administrator’s Companion includes all the necessary sections. You’ll find ample pages dedicated to reviewing prep and planning steps, installation and set up, basic and advanced administrative tasks, maintenance and troubleshooting, and even Premium Edition features, which include rights to install the second server (Windows Server 2008 Standard). (I told you there were changes in SBS 2008!)

The Microsoft Press book is chock full of diagrams, step-by-step instructions, and a thorough index (which is critical for busy network administrators who must be able to quickly access specific information). You’ll also find a helpful CD. Normally I’d say that’s a big benefit, especially as the electronic search capability can prove very helpful in the field, but like many consultants, I often find myself in need of the CD, only to realize it’s back at the office. While that’s not the authors’ fault, the CD can only help if you actually break the seal and use it. If you make the effort, you’ll also find configuration and administrative scripts are included.

One other factor that differentiates the Microsoft Press book is that it’s a hardcover. If that kind of thing is important to you (it’s not to me), you may wish to take note.

Two other elements that caught my eye are the use of Real World and Under The Hood pull-out sections. These sidebars appear frequently and help readers apply information to real-world environments or better understand the actual technical operations completed by wizards, respectively.

Sams Publishing’s Unleashed

I began acquiring Sams Publishing Unleashed titles for each new Windows release years ago. The guides are easy to understand and comprehensive. Diagrams, tables, screenshots, and step-by-step instructions are plentiful. Further, the authors are almost always IT professionals, so sidebars presenting advice and recommendations for real-world deployment appear frequently. This is also true with caution call-out boxes, which are sprinkled throughout the text. These tip boxes help warn administrators whenever potential gotchas lurk.

Windows Small Business Server 2008 Unleashed is no exception. What I like about this series is how the authors often include specific tips and recommendations that possess real-world impact. Here’s one example: Within a section discussing Exchange outbound SMTP logging, a Note box exists to warn administrators of issues that exist with AOL refusing mail but without generating NDR records.

Again, all relevant sections are included. You’ll find chapters dedicated to everything from introduction and setup to IIS 7.0 and Macintosh integration. In fact, you’ll find quite a bit more information on integrating Macs in the Unleashed title, which also helped me better understand new licensing issues and options available on the new server platform.

This should be no surprise. The Unleashed title is the work of IT consultant Eriq Oliver Neale and some 10 other IT pros, all with considerable (13-, 15-, 20-years, etc.) experience. These guys know their stuff. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting at least one in person, and we’ve even exchanged some troubleshooting and repair tips via Twitter.

While it would be nice to see a CD included with the Sams Publishing text, way too often I leave such CDs sealed inside the back cover. At least Sams does provide a link for downloading examples and source code included in the book.

Which book is better?

Both of these titles are professional and comprehensive. If you’re seeking to learn all Microsoft would have you know about SBS 2008, you won’t go wrong with the Microsoft Press title. If you’re looking for “street smarts” information to accommodate your SBS 2008 learning, the Unleashed book is a better option.

The manuals are comprehensive and well written, and it’s clear IT professionals will be well served using either. In fact, I recommend you buy (and read) both. It’ll cost you $120 or so (both titles retail for $59.99), but it’s a small investment to make in your career and job performance. Besides, you can probably expense the books. Even if you purchase these titles with your own money, it’s a smart investment. SBS 2008 is simply too important a technology not to master.

TechRepublic’s Servers and Storage newsletter, delivered on Monday and Wednesday, offers tips that will help you manage and optimize your data center. Automatically sign up today!