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The End of Microsoft’s Small Business Server

Published on May 6, 2013 at 4:38 pm in Tech Trends, Tennessean Articles.


For years, Microsoft’s Small Business Server has been a turnkey, streamlined way for organizations with 75 employees or less to manage their servers.

Last year, Microsoft announced that with its 2012 Windows Server offerings, it was discontinuing SBS and that SBS 2011 would be the last version of this traditional integrated server suite. In addition, Microsoft also did away with Windows Home Server, Enterprise and its High Performance Computing editions.

SBS 2011 has been replaced with Windows Server 2012 Essentials, and organizations currently using SBS need to be aware of some significant differences between the two versions.

While SBS supported 75 users/workstations, Essentials supports only 25 users and 50 workstations. If your company expands past the 25-user limit, you can upgrade to the Standard Edition and maintain Essentials functionality and features for up to 75 users/workstations.

Perhaps more importantly, unlike SBS, Essentials doesn’t support on-premise Exchange Server, Microsoft’s popular mail server and contact and calendar software. This means that your organization can no longer install and customize Exchange for your computers that exist within your own data center.

Instead, your business has to use the hosted Exchange environment — Microsoft’s way of telling small companies, “Pony up, it’s time to move to the cloud.”

By defaulting to hosted Exchange and other cloud offerings, Microsoft is trying to preempt the threat that the cloud represents to its traditional software business. Just this month, Microsoft also hard-launched a new cloud service that openly competes with Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud, the industry-leading Infrastructure as a Service cloud business.

This hosted Exchange option also increases Microsoft’s revenue, because the company can collect monthly recurring income from small businesses using hosted services, rather than waiting for those companies to upgrade to Microsoft’s new server operating system.

For existing businesses on SBS, migrating to Exchange’s hosted environment comes with its own challenges.

  • Physically moving data into the hosted environment represents the largest logistical challenge. Exchange information stores are routinely over 50GB for small businesses, with some in the hundreds of gigabytes.
  • This mass of data takes a long time to copy across the internet.
  • While your organization is migrating its data to hosted Exchange, that same data is changing, adding its own set of complications that you have to plan for.
  • It’s important to note that while moving a large Exchange database to the cloud is a big project, going the other way and trying to move data from the cloud back in-house is just as daunting. You may need to plan for this if you foresee a need to ever pull out of the cloud.

Microsoft-hosted Exchange also has some reliability issues — it’s had some major outages recently. If doesn’t support older versions of Microsoft Outlook, and if you need archiving, that’s an additional cost.

Despite its shortcomings, it’s not all doom and gloom. Windows Server 2012 Essentials features a simplified licensing, management and interface. It makes a lot of sense for startups and companies with small networks that don’t really need the managerial burden and cost of the full-scale Standard Windows Server.

Deciding whether to move to hosted Exchange or maintaining your legacy on-premise Exchange should be made on a case-by-case basis. Usually the costs are about the same over a five-year period.

Final point to keep in mind: if you are an existing SBS client that wants to stay with on-premise Exchange, and also needs to replace your server, you will need to purchase two new servers: one for running your Active Directory and one for Exchange. It’s not recommended to run both on one machine.

This post also appeared in The Tennessean, where Concept Technology has a bi-weekly feature in the Business section.

photo credit: torkildr via Flickr cc