The End of SBS (Small Business Server)

The End of SBS (Small Business Server)

by Liam McNaughton

So farewell then SBS. So what? What even is SBS? Yet another of IT’s ubiquitous acronyms, SBS is Small Business Server, Microsoft’s venerable server package for small businesses that has dominated the server market for small business networks for the last 10 years at least – which in IT terms makes it pretty established. It was very popular, and for good reason; it was extraordinarily good value, being a bundle of Windows Server 2003 (and later Server 2008), with Microsoft Exchange, Sharepoint server, and various other management and monitoring tools and utilities – all of which, if bought separately, would cost thousands rather than the hundreds of pounds that SBS cost. It was a powerful package that, when deployed onto a decent server, offered a very good platform for a secure, manageable, highly compatible server for small business networks. Onsite Microsoft Exchange, offering local and remote email functionality, contacts, calendars and the like is heavily used by many of our customer networks, and in more recent years, as the smartphone has become so popular, many customers benefit from the iPhone and smartphone email, contacts and calendar sync with their work accounts. Tightly integrated to the customer’s or .com domain, and with a secure SSL certificate on the server, this offered a professional, corporate grade solution for small business networks.

The most recent bundle, SBS 2011 (built on Server 2008, and Exchange 2010) was a particularly mature and powerful product. But at the end of 2013 Microsoft pulled the plug. This year, there is no SBS product on the shelves. Microsoft say that the equivalent is Server 2012 essentials, but this is just a cheaper version of Server 2012 for small businesses, it doesn’t include Exchange, which is a major loss.

So why have Microsoft done this? Well, in the email market, Microsoft see the future of email hosting, for SMEs at least, in the “cloud” – that is, hosted online. You can still buy Exchange separately of course, but you can’t install it onto the same server that runs your network (called the PDC – primary domain controller), so to get the equivalent of SBS now, you would need to have 2 servers, with 2 lots of Server installs and licenses, AND buy Microsoft Exchange and its licenses as well! For most small businesses, this will be well out of their budget for their core IT network.

There are a number of options for the hosted solution; if using Microsoft directly, customers could either move to Office365 – a subscription version of Microsoft Office which gives you the offline applications (Word, Excel, Outlook), the online versions of these, and hosted Exchange email with all the email functionality anyone would need. But, this isn’t cheap – the minimum package being £8.40 per user per month. Given the per user cost, this would be especially costly for many of our dental practice customers, who typically have far more users at the practice than computers. A better option for many is hosted Exchange, at a minimum of £2.60 per user month, which isn’t a bad price – but would still work out, for many of our sites, as much as they are paying for broadband.

In reality therefore, we are now often left in a situation where customers are unwilling to pay the extra for hosted Exchange, and who are now back to using the email hosted at their website developer using very old fashioned POP3 accounts that don’t sync properly, aren’t backed up, and don’t work on any computer on the network. Either that, or web based gmail or yahoo type accounts, which can sync and be accessed from anywhere, but don’t have the same slick professionalism as proper domain email hosted on your own server, or proper integration with the local Outlook application, or the users on the network.

I am sure Microsoft are right that the future of many applications and services is online, in “the cloud” – but at the moment, IT networks are still a mixture of local applications, data and services, and cloud applications and services – and it is likely to remain that way for some years to come yet. In my view Microsoft have pulled SBS prematurely, well before its useful end of life, and way before their (and our) customers are ready to move away from it yet. It is a retrograde step, and the small business IT network space is considerably poorer as a result.

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