Choosing a server is no an easy task. There are almost limitless possibilities, and your requirements could lean toward basic, or more sophisticated technologies. Plus, you should always buy something that will give your organization room to grow.

In August, Microsoft started shipping Release 2 of its Small Business Server (SBS) with a lot of new features designed for small and mid-sized businesses. Now, with Vista coming out, you may be wondering if this affects your server environment. Here are a few things to know about R2, including how it ties into Vista.

SBS was designed for businesses with anywhere from two to 75 PCs. Windows Server is Microsoft’s server operating system, in the same way that Vista will be the client operating system. On top of Windows Server are solutions for e-mail and collaboration (Exchange Server), databases (SQL Server) and firewalling (ISA Server).

SBS comes in two editions, which are each made up of more than one server product. The Standard Edition is designed for a small business that can no longer do without a server. For example, if you have four or five computers linked with a network cable and a router, you may be looking for something more sophisticated from a security and file management standpoint. SBS Standard includes Windows Server and Exchange Server.

SBS Premium is more sophisticated and includes all the same features as the Standard edition, as well as SQL Server 2005 Workgroup Edition. A small business would require a database to support a line-of-business application, says Pamela Lauz, product manager for Small Business Server with Microsoft Canada. This could include an application that deals with its customers, supply chain or financials. In addition, the Premium edition includes ISA Server, which is a software firewall, as well as tools for building Web pages and Web server applications.

So what’s new in Release 2?

  • Get the “Green Check” of software health: R2 includes this feature, which alerts the network manager as to whether the network and client computers are up to date on patches and security updates. “What we’re doing is facilitating the management of these updates so it’s visually clear to see if the network is up to date,” says Lauz. “If it isn’t up to date then it provides you with a very specific list of the updates required so that security management is as easy as possible.” There’s also a tool to deploy those updates throughout the network.
  • Quadruple your e-mail: R2 bumps the mailbox limit from 16GB to 75GB, which addresses the demands of today’s users, says Lauz, who tend to store their e-mails rather than delete them.
  • Cut CALs: One of the requirements in a client/server infrastructure is that every PC has a client access licence (CAL) to access the server. The SBS CAL meets the CAL requirements for every SBS on the network, as well as any additional Windows Server, Exchange Server or SQL Server. That means, instead of requiring that you buy a separate set of CALs for each server, all the CAL requirements for Windows Server, Exchange Server and SQL Server are covered by that one SBS CAL.
  • Get the full benefits of Vista: The enhancements in R2 tie into the enhancements in Windows Vista Business Edition, says Lauz, so it may be a good time to consider an upgrade. Microsoft is putting together a deployment package that will be released during general availability of Vista, which will automate the deployment of Vista through an SBS network. Currently, you must use Office 2003 or later in order to take advantage of features such as team workspaces, version control or other SharePoint features.
  • Better bulk pricing: SBS Standard, which is a bundle of products, retails for $809. But if you go out and buy the products separately, you’ll pay about $4,000.
  • An upgrade path: R2 is available through resellers and IT consultants. Existing customers of SBS 2003 with SP1 can take advantage of the Technology Upgrade Program to receive R2. SBS customers with Software Assurance will be able to obtain R2 without purchasing a new server licence. SBS customers without Software Assurance can purchase the new version upgrade through their Microsoft partner.
  • A transition path: If your business is growing above and beyond 75 PCs, you can invest in the SBS Transition Pack, which allows you to convert to the standalone versions of the software to better scale with your workload.

Pamela Lauz is product manager for Small Business Server with Microsoft Canada.

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