Small businesses can get big-business features with Windows Small Business Server 2003

Read about Windows Small Business Server 2003 and how it offers small businesses a less costly way to get the Microsoft features they need.

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.


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 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.

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