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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.
1 comment so far

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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