Microsoft’s ‘Aurora’ small business server overview

Microsoft has been paying more attention lately to the small business audience, as well as the cloud.

With the “Aurora” Small Business Server (SBS)–officially named Small Business Server 2011 Essentials, Microsoft delivers a solution that brings the two together–bridging local services and the cloud, and granting small businesses affordable access to big business tools.

SBS 2011 Essentials is targeted at small businesses with more than five, but a maximum of 25 or fewer users. Businesses this small have many of the same needs as their larger competitors, but lack the budget or personnel and often end up running essentially consumer-grade software and tools for lack of options. SBS 2011 Essentials provides local access to Active Directory, print services, and storage–combined with Web-based access to tools like SharePoint, Exchange, and the Microsoft Office suite.

SBS 2011 Essentials supports Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Mac OS X clients. Client systems must install the Connector software and log in to connect with the SBS 2011 Essentials server. Once connected, each of the systems shows up in the SBS 2011 Essentials Dashboard–providing at a glance information on alerts and system status, as well as status of system backups. The SBS 2011 Essentials Dashboard also provides easy access to manage file storage and shared folders.

The on-premise backup and storage solutions can be combined with cloud-based offerings such as Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS)–soon to be replaced with Office 365, and hosted SharePoint and Exchange. The business can maintain control of local data and manage users with Active Directory, and take advantage of the platforms and tools that larger companies rely on at the same time.

In addition to the cloud-based tools like Microsoft Office, SBS 2011 Essentials also has Remote Web Access (RWA). RWA enables users to access stored files and shared data housed on the local network from virtually anywhere. Access can be configured so users can only access their own documents, or grant users with broader access. RWA can also be used to let users connect to their PC through a Remote Desktop session, and it can be used by admins to remotely access the SBS 2011 Essentials Dashboard.

Smaller businesses–with fewer than five systems to work with–may be able to meet their business server needs with the upcoming Windows Home Server–codenamed “Vail”, and companies with greater than 25 (but still 75 or fewer) systems can use the more robust Small Business Server 2011 Standard edition. But, for organizations in that five to 25 user sweet spot, SBS 2011 Essentials and its local/cloud hybrid approach provide a cost-effective suite of tools to get the job done.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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