Even with the occasional security issue, Microsoft’s Windows
Server 2003 line of products is a good choice for many companies. In
particular, the Standard and Enterprise editions of this latest Windows
incarnation are excellent choices for many companies, particularly when coupled
with Microsoft’s other products such as Exchange and SQL Server 2000. All
together, Microsoft’s suite of products built on Windows Server 2003 provides a
powerful, integrated infrastructure.

However, a certain class of business—the small business—while
it might want the features of this entire product suite, might not be able to
justify the cost associated with separately acquiring the licenses and the
hardware for everything that would be running. To that end, Microsoft makes
available Windows Small Business Server 2003, a complete suite of products that
provide up to 50 users with access to the most powerful applications
Microsoft offers and at a reasonable price.

The components

Like its older brother, Windows Small Business Server 2003
is a complete suite of products handling a variety of computing needs for small
organizations. Unlike older versions of the product, though, there are two
separate editions of Windows Small Business Server 2003—Standard and Premium—each
addressing different needs for different organizations. Not every company needs
the advanced database offering, nor does every company need the powerful
proxy/caching abilities in ISA Server. Microsoft offers these two versions of
the software so that small businesses that don’t need all of this software
don’t have to pay for it.

The Standard Edition of Server 2003 includes fax, firewall,
and remote access services in addition to Exchange and server monitoring and
administration tools. If you need additional functionality, consider the
Premium edition, which includes everything in the Standard edition, but adds
SQL Server 2000, ISA Server, and FrontPage 2003 to the mix. A pretty good
offering for a small business!

Here are the main components available in the two editions
of Small Business Server:

  • Windows built-in components – Includes
    faxing services, firewall services for network protection, and remote
    access services to allow secure access to your resources from outside the
    office. Furthermore, standard Windows tools for server monitoring and
    administration are included in this category.
  • Exchange Server – Provides
    powerful collaboration features to all users, including e-mail,
    calendaring, task tracking, and contact management.
  • SharePoint Services – Provides a
    standards-based collaboration and portal environment.
  • SQL Server 2000 – SQL Server 2000
    is Microsoft’s enterprise-caliber database platform, providing a solid
    foundation for your applications and data storage needs. (Premium Edition
    only)
  • ISA Server – The Internet Security
    and Acceleration server goes a step beyond the included firewall services
    and lets you define and track all Internet activity. ISA Server also
    provides caching services to help keep your connection to the Internet at
    peak efficiency. (Premium Edition only)
  • FrontPage 2003 – FrontPage 2003
    can be used to help your small business meet its Web needs by providing a
    platform on which to develop your presence on the Internet. (Premium
    Edition only)

Pricing and licensing

Microsoft is betting that, as a small business product, the
whole suite will be an enticing find over other products that are
available, particularly on the open source front and from Novell, which is
enjoying a resurgence in some markets.

Licensing

Unfortunately, in an effort
to appear flexible, Microsoft has a tendency to confuse the buyer with somewhat
complex terms. First off, you’ll need to select between two types of
client access licenses (CALs)—Device CALs and User CALs.

Device CALs allow a particular device to attach to the
server, while User CALs provide access for a single user from any device used. Device CALs are useful in companies that require employees to share
computers, such as shift-based workers. Rather than buying a separate license
for three employees who use a single PC, just buy a device CAL for that PC. User
CALs are just the opposite and are particularly useful when you have employees
who wander from machine to machine or who might need to access the server
resources from multiple locations.

Next, select from one of three licensing types: Retail, Open
NL, or Open NL with software assurance. Software assurance provides you with
two years of upgrades at no additional charge, but Microsoft hasn’t been as successful
as it had hoped with this new revenue effort.

A retail license is a little more expensive than an open NL
license, but includes a full boxed product, whereas the NL license is just a
license and media.

Pricing

Pricing for Small Business Server 2003 depends on the
edition you buy, the program (retail or open NL), and the vendor. Microsoft’s
retail price for the boxed edition of Small Business Server 2003 Standard
Edition is $599, while the Premium version runs $1,499. Each base product also
includes five client access licenses that you can deploy either as user or
device CALs. If you opt for the NL licensing program, these prices are $521 and
$1,298, respectively, or $781 and $1,947 with software assurance.

These are just retail prices, though. I’ve seen street
prices for the retail editions run around $440/$900 depending on the edition
you choose.

To add CALs, you need to decide whether you’ll add user or
device CALs and choose the appropriate part number from Microsoft’s site. CALs
are available in packs of five and 20 users and run at a street price of around
$440 for a pack of five licenses and just shy of $1,700 for a pack of 20 licenses.

Transition licenses

With this version of Small Business Server, Microsoft has
realized that some customers will ultimately need the full line of standard
products rather than the editions included in SBS. As a result, it has added
“transition” licenses to the mix, providing an easy way to upgrade
to Windows Server 2003, Exchange 2003, etc.

Transition licenses are useful if you need to scale your
installation beyond 75 users or devices; if you need one of the enterprise
editions of an SBS product; or if you need to separate the SBS components among
different servers.

System requirements

For the Standard Edition, Microsoft recommends a server with
at least a 550-MHz processor, 384 MB of RAM, and 4 GB of hard drive space. Furthermore,
a fax board and two network adapters are required for the faxing and remote
access/firewall functionality.

For the Premium Edition, Microsoft recommends the same speed
processor, but at least 512 MB of RAM, 5 GB of available space, and the same
additional hardware as above.

Personally, I think these are light recommendations and
should be adjusted, particularly on RAM and disk space, both of which are cheap
these days.

Big features for smaller organizations

Windows Small Business Server 2003 is a choice for small
businesses that need a variety of software but don’t want to plunk
down huge hardware and software money. It includes the powerful applications
that companies rely upon and provides an upgrade path as your business grows.