R.I.P Small Business Server (1998 – 2011)

R.I.P Small Business Server (1998 – 2011)

Matthew Milner – IT Manager, House of IT

It began 18 months ago. We saw the first signs of Microsoft shifting its attention to newer technologies and concepts with the adaption of IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) or more commonly referred to as cloud computing and how it can be used to provide “cost-effective” Microsoft products to the masses.

It was the news every IT administrator and small business owner did not want to hear. Microsoft’s beloved server operating system targeted at small-to-medium sized businesses of up to 75 users, was coming to an end of its life after 13 years. Small Business Server was so attractive to IT administrators and small business owners because it gave any business access to enterprise level technologies at very affordable prices whilst being very marketable and easy to administer from a technical perspective. Everybody won, including Microsoft. However, Microsoft decided to take advantage of new technologies, trends and a sign of the times that would change the IT industry in the small business market forever.

Microsoft decided to scrap the SBS concept and move their focus to cloud computing and hosted services. The cloud concept is still premature in Australia in respect to places like USA and Europe where their next generation internet is already a driving force. We have to suffer in the background for several more years until we see the benefits of this next generation of broadband and what cloud computing can really offer us.

Office 365 with Exchange Online are some of Microsoft’s new products which are hosted in the cloud. End-users don’t even have to purchase the Office Suite or Exchange server. The latter can set you back tens of thousands of dollars in even the smallest of deployments due to high costs in volume licensing.

Over the years we have seen seven different versions of SBS, dating back to its foundation when it was called BackOffice 4.0 up to the more recent SBS 2011. We’ve been told that SBS 2011 (which includes Exchange Server 2010) has already stopped production for retail purchase whilst OEM will be made available until the end of 2013. In addition to that, SBS 2011 and Exchange Server 2010 main-stream support is ending in January 2015.

In a ploy to lure customers over to their online services, Microsoft have introduced a ‘Foundation’ and ‘Essentials’ version of their newest server operating system (Windows Server 2012). The Essentials version is designed to replace SBS. It will include similar functions as previous SBS versions with traditional roles, minus Exchange Server, SharePoint, SQL and WSUS which have been excluded. They have however, included the ability to integrate Active Directory with Office 365 accounts in Server 2012 which makes this concept somewhat appealing. They have also reduced the user limit amount from 75 to 25, so any business over 25 users would need to buy the full standard server operating system (plus CAL’s) and then decide whether it was feasible to pay monthly subscriptions for the hosted core Microsoft products most businesses rely on today.

Just recently I conducted a cost-benefit analysis for a client of 40 users and the results showed that it was cheaper for them to purchase Exchange Server separately (plus CAL’s) than it was to go down the path of Exchange online and Office 365, provided they were going to keep their new server infrastructure for more than two years, which most customers will do.

This is just one example where you can see hosted Exchange is not for everyone. In fact it’s not for most businesses over 25 users. This is probably why Microsoft have reduced the user cap by 50 users in their server operating system ‘targeted’ at the small business market forcing them to consider other options. The smaller businesses who do decide to take up their cloud offer, are contributing greatly to Microsoft’s ongoing revenue for as long as this design is viable, while sending most businesses into the enterprise market and forking out thousands in licensing.

We now live in a different era. SBS is dead. For small businesses wishing to peruse new or replacement systems, the norm is now the traditional model of segregated servers. This model was more commonly seen in the enterprise sector. Businesses of all sizes and IT administrators must now keep up with current trends more rapidly than ever before with changing technologies. A good example of this is the smart-phone war where top manufacturers and software developers are bringing out multiple versions of their devices and products in a single year as opposed to yearly or every 18 months which is now a thing of the past.

Times have changed from the days where Microsoft release an operating system and you have to wait 1-2 years before it’s stable due to its incompleteness and vulnerable state being riddled with bugs. Those days are well and truly over. When Microsoft release an operating system nowadays it is ready to go for the most part. I agree not all bugs and vulnerabilities are found upon release but it’s stable enough to use in a production environment.

Microsoft, like other software developers are not waiting around as long as they used too, keeping versions of their operating system for several years. There is now a trend for them to release a newer operating system in a shorter time frame (yearly). All you need to do is look at the timeline of products. The next installment of desktop and server operating systems were released earlier this week. (Windows 8.1 and Server 2012 R2). This backs my theory of keeping ahead of the game and up with the latest and greatest.

This article is not meant to scare or worry customers and users of Small Business Server because the product as it stands is just fine. I am simply warning and preparing customers to expect a change in infrastructure when considering new server systems and upgrades, based on the facts. What they have benefited from over these years has not gone, it has just changed its modelling and approach.

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