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Why Windows Small Business Server Doesn’t Work for Small Business October 26, 2006

Posted by selkowitz in Networking, Security, Software.
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When small businesses think of servers, they often think of Windows Small Business Server (SBS) as the natural choice due to their familiarity with Windows desktops. Unfortunately that isn’t necessarily the best choice to provide server functionality.

The first question any small business should ask themselves when looking at a server is what functionality are you seeking? The reality is most small businesses use their servers for a few simple tasks – file storage and sharing, backup, user login authentication, calendar sharing, maybe email (often they use the webhost), and firewall/remote access. Lets look to see if Windows SBS actually fulfills these needs efficiently.

File Storage and Sharing
Windows SBS does a fine job of serving up files, but is lacking in ease of setup. It seems obvious that if you add a user you’d want to give that user straightforward access to their file share, Windows desktop does that by mapping the drive – but Windows SBS doesn’t make that a simple option! The same goes for groups to share data. Making using the server more difficult to the end user leads to people not storing data on the server but rather their desktop – meaning its probably not being backed up.

Backup
Windows SBS backup is largely worthless. I’ll give one simple example – Windows SBS backup can’t even backup Exchange data properly – and Exchange is integrated in the system! Don’t even get me started on SQL, open files, etc. Realistically recovery from a hard drive crash is days of work and thousands of dollars. Of course this can be solved by integrating third party hardware and software, at additional cost.

User Login Authentication
Windows does fine here, Active Directory is certainly complex and overkill, but not too difficult to manage or full of pitfalls.

Calendar Sharing and Email
This falls under the loved and hated Exchange component of SBS. Exchange is both powerful and complex, so much so that some people’s careers are dedicated to just Exchange administration and multiple magazines focus solely on this component. My favorite example of the difficulties of Exchange is the article “My Thirteen Days in Exchange Hell” detailing Outlook Power Magazine’s own experience in restoring their backups after their Exchange server crashed. If a magazine dedicated to Exchange power users can’t prevent or recover from a crash in a timely manner – what chance does an average small business have?

Of course no email system is complete without antivirus and antispam, which of course means more third party integration.

Firewall/Remote Access
Windows SBS Standard doesn’t include a firewall and while Premium does, I wouldn’t recommend trusting any security issue to Windows give the poor security history of the product. In which case if you use a third party hardware firewall, most include great VPN remote access capabilities – so while Windows SBS does include VPN remote access its best left to the firewall.

The Integration Problem
In cases of backup, antivirus and antispam, and firewall you’ll need to integrate third party systems to make everything work – thats where the costs and risks multiply. Third party solutions mean more setup time, more testing time, and a greater risk of conflicts. No longer is Windows SBS an off the shelf solution but instead a do-it-yourself project. Since no one vendor is testing the whole custom package, you end up paying your consultants to do this work.

The Real World
What we see in the real world is most Windows SBS installations have serious problems. In most cases they start out with the best intent, but the project snowballs and gets cut off, because unfortunately few consultants really know how to do Windows SBS right (or quote accurately) and fewer companies know what to expect or desire to pay so much to get it done right.

The often humorous oversights, lack of valuable integration, and overwhelming ability to do things wrong with Windows SBS makes it truly impractical for most small businesses. Windows SBS gives you nearly unlimited ability but at high cost and risk – ultimately limited ability that small businesses truly need in a secure and integrated package is far more desirable.

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Q. What is the most reliable and/or easiest to maintain and/or cheapest way to backup the client data on my Mac? October 20, 2006

Posted by selkowitz in Backup, Q and A.
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A. Backups are a tough question no matter the platform. You have to evaluate how much changes each day, how much total storage is needed, how much user interaction you want, how fast a recovery you need, cost, and many other factors.

If you have .Mac service the Backup application that comes with it is great and can do online, CD/DVD and external drive backups.

iBackup (free) is an excellent backup program suitable for backing up to external hard drives.
http://www.grapefruit.ch/iBackup/

Apple’s Leopard (10.5  – coming in the spring) has an integrated backup called Time Machine, which is an automated backup to external hard drive. It has without a doubt the most intuitive interface I’ve ever seen and generally a seemingly good backup strategy.
http://www.apple.com/macosx/leopard/timemachine.html

Lastly Mirra is a backup appliance which can automatically backup your files on multiple machines over the network. It can also sync files between machines.
http://www.selkowitz.com/dept.asp?dept_id=06

Q. How do I burn a CD on a mac so that it can be viewed on a PC? October 19, 2006

Posted by selkowitz in Q and A.
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A. To be honest this comes as a surprise this doesn’t work with Apple’s built in burning – but I never use it to test that out! You need to burn what’s called a Hybrid CD which has both a Mac and PC filesystem (Macs can read PC filesystems, but not vice versa). Burn does a great job of burning a variety of types of disks and is free/OSS.
http://burn-osx.sourceforge.net/

Newsletter – October 2006 October 14, 2006

Posted by selkowitz in Newsletter.
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A few weeks ago I was posed the question of why we have such a diverse product line and why our product line is so different than what you’ll find in stores. I thought it was a great topic for the newsletter, unfortunately I couldn’t figure out how to make it anything but serious, but I promise it won’t happen too often.

How it got started
Years ago we didn’t sell very much equipment, like most computer consulting companies we mostly installed and managed what people bought online or at the computer store. The problem was people often bought the wrong thing or poor quality products and often things didn’t work as well as our clients or I desired. Ultimately if our clients were going to hold us accountable for their systems, we had to pick the equipment.
Is it the consultant or the product?
Technology is often seen as being difficult and unreliable and sometimes that’s definitely the case. The question is why – I think its combination of configuration, consultants, and equipment. We could be greatest consultants on earth, but without the right configurations and equipment the systems we sell and maintain would still be problematic. The right products and setup is vital to good systems – and we can’t depend on Frys, Dell, or CompUSA to offer them.

How we pick products
When we pick a product there are many factors we look at:

  • Availability – we need to know we can reliably and quickly get a product to a client.
  • Ease of setup/use – we know you won’t use it if its too complex and frankly even we prefer simpler installation and management.
  • The right features – having every feature and the kitchen sink just makes systems more difficult and unreliable, we evaluate what features businesses really need and find the product that fulfills those needs best.
  • TCO – total cost of ownership, we look at the cost for the lifetime of the product and even migration to the new system. People look too much at cost of purchase without looking at the installation cost, maintenance, downtime, repairs, and life-span. The lowest TCO usually comes with a moderate purchase price.
  • Warranty – warranties are evaluated both on duration and how they’re fulfilled. For example some companies will run you through hoops and make you wait a week for a replacement unit, while others overnight a replacement no questions asked.

We evaluate these aspects by consulting other people in the industry, reading reviews, studying manuals, talking to the vendor, and even bringing in test units. Needless to say picking a product or vendor does take a fair bit of time, but in the end its worth it. One of the side benefits is our staff knows the systems we sell best – we can configure them blindfolded, we know the little tricks, and we know how to resolve problems quickly. I know we’ll do a better job every time with the equipment we know and trust – what’s why we sell what we sell.

Buy an iPod for AIDS
Apple just released a new red iPod Nano with a portion of the profits going to the Global Fund to help people affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa. Of course I doubt iPods will cure the world’s ills, but hey, every little bit helps and its a nice little bonus. We sell iPods at our Apple Store – we’ve got free engraving and free shipping too!

http://www.selkowitz.com/images/apple/atstore.html
– Kevin Selkowitz

P.S. next month I’m planning a christmahanaquanzika tech gift report. I can’t believe its almost that time again…