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SBS 2008 and EBS 2008: The View from the Trenches

MVPs Susan Bradley and Nick Whittome get real about the new versions

Executive Summary: Windows Small Business Server (SBS) MVPs Susan Bradley and Nick Whittome candidly discuss Microsoft's Essential Business Server (EBS) 2008 and SBS 2008 from the community perspective. EBS 2008 and SBS 2008 include tools for migrating from an existing platform such as an older version of Windows Server. These Microsoft server suites make deploying a network easier, including messaging with Exchange Server 2007 and Forefront Security, but you need 64-bit hardware to run them.

The Microsoft product teams responsible for developing Windows Essential Business Server (EBS) 2008 and Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2008 proudly emphasize how much research they performed to ensure that the products met customer needs. To balance Microsoft’s perspective, Windows IT Pro asked two respected SBS MVPs, Susan Bradley and Nick Whittome, to candidly discuss the products from the community perspective. Has Microsoft’s research paid off for the people who will be deploying SBS and EBS? Here’s how Susan and Nick see the new launches.

Start with the Essential
As an SBS MVP, Susan looks at EBS as an extension of SBS and even hearkens back to the product that was the ancestor of both: “Anyone old enough to remember Microsoft BackOffice Server in the Windows NT 4.0 era will likely think of EBS as BackOffice’s fully developed descendent. The goal of EBS is to bring to the midmarket what SBS has brought to small businesses.”

However, Susan is quick to note, “EBS is not just SBS expanded to incorporate three, or potentially four, servers.” The architecture of EBS breaks down a network into IT roles. Reflecting this structure, “EBS 2008 Standard edition encompasses three server roles (Management Server, Messaging Server, Security Server), and EBS 2008 Premium adds a Database Server role.”

Susan describes each EBS server role, starting with the Management Server: “This server needs to be 64-bit, and Microsoft recommends a minimum of 4GB of RAM. Windows Server 2008 and Microsoft System Center Essentials (SCE) 2007 reside on this first server, which is also the primary domain controller for the EBS network. The SCE role on this server also provides management, monitoring, and patch deployment for the network. SCE lets you set up alerts and scans to monitor the network.”

The Management Server is crucial for preparing your EBS rollout. As Susan explained, “When you deploy the three EBS boxes, this is the server that starts the process and provides the guidance for setting up the remaining servers. Like SBS 2008, EBS includes tools for migrating from an existing platform such as an older version of Windows Server. These tools assess the condition of your current system, examining such aspects as your Active Directory (AD) infrastructure. EBS tools also assist in extending your schema to prepare for migration. After you’ve completed the preparation through the tools, you begin the process of moving your network to three servers with the distinct roles.”

Susan has found the migration assistance valuable: “These tools are an excellent feature for both the network administrator and consultants. You can run these planning tools on your existing AD or non-AD environment and improve the ability to successfully migrate to an EBS-based network.” (For Microsoft’s explanation of these tools and the top issues associated with them, see “SBS 2008 and EBS 2008 Build on Knowledge Every IT Shop Needs.” )

Moving on to the Messaging Server, Susan says, “Email is a key feature of EBS, and the second server houses Exchange Server 2007. This server—which is also a second domain controller for the network, for redundancy—will be your largest server of the three in hardware and RAM requirements. Plan accordingly for this box. Although the minimum memory requirement is 4GB, use the normal Exchange 2007 scaling guidance, and calculate your needs based on the number of users connecting to it and using its services. EBS also includes a one-year subscription to Microsoft Forefront Security for Exchange Server.”

The Security Server’s role is to protect “the edge of the network. In addition to serving the Edge Transport role of Exchange 2007, it includes Microsoft Forefront Threat Management Gateway, which is the successor to Microsoft ISA Server.” Susan continued, “The Security server requires the least processing horsepower of EBS’s three servers, but it still needs a 64-bit server with at least 2GB of RAM. I’ve not seen it get taxed when adhering to that requirement.”

For companies that require database support, EBS also has a Database Server role. Susan explained, “If you opt for EBS Premium, you’ll receive an additional copy of Windows Server 2008 Standard plus Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Standard edition.”

These roles provide the basic IT infrastructure for a midsized business. However, Susan noted a gap: “With all the roles and servers that I listed, you might be surprised to find one missing. I know I did during the beta testing. The role I wanted from the initial deployment was Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) 3.0. EBS will, however, include a console add-on that lets you manage WSS like the other server roles. You can install SharePoint on the Management Server, but it’s recommended to place it on a separate server. Microsoft supports WSS 3.0 as an additional server, as long as you purchase the necessary separate licenses.”

EBS: The Good and the Bad
Susan approves of the wizard-based deployment model that EBS inherited from SBS—and the EBS model gives administrators more flexibility and choices than the SBS wizards. Plus, the inclusion of planning aids “ensures that when you migrate from an existing network, you can ensure that AD is in a healthy condition.” In addition, Susan applauds the fact that “hardware manufacturers such as HP are already offering blade server solutions specifically for EBS deployment.”

A technology that will likely prove very popular is the Remote Web Workplace portal, which EBS has adopted from SBS. Susan explains, “This website allows secure remote access to Windows Vista and Windows XP workstations. Microsoft supports the separate purchase of Terminal Server licenses, which you can deploy on an additional server. You can also deploy Terminal Services Remote Applications.”

On the less positive side, Susan points out that EBS “includes Forefront Threat Management Gateway in the Security Server role. Because you can’t and shouldn’t move Exchange 2007’s Edge Transport server role from this server, you’ll seriously hinder your messaging deployment if you decide not to deploy the Security Server role. So if you want to maintain your existing firewall, make sure you place it in front of the Security Server role. Then you can continue to use your firewall solution as it stands today. Some would argue that this setup adds complexity while others argue that it adds an additional layer of protection in front of the server.”

In summary, Susan predicts that “the biggest hurdle will be the hardware investment that EBS requires. In many midsized organizations, purchasing three or four servers at one time might not be feasible.”

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On to SBS
Because Susan and Nick are SBS MVPs, they have strong opinions about SBS 2008. Will they replace existing SBS implementations when the new version is available? Susan said, “SBS 2008 is driven by Exchange 2007’s need for 64-bit horsepower, so I’ll upgrade when I need to replace hardware. I anticipate that to be in 2009.” Nick agreed that the need for 64-bit hardware would delay his deployment of SBS 2008.

What’s the key selling point in SBS 2008? Susan likes the fact that “SBS 2008 Premium comes with a second Server 2008 license (32- or 64-bit) and will ship with both SQL Server 2008 and SQL Server 2005 (32- or 64-bit). I like the idea that I can pull SQL Server off the main box and move it to the second server. I can make that second server my line-ofbusiness application box, my SQL Server box, or even a secondary domain controller. Also, the ability to add Terminal Server remote apps to the Remote Web Workplace Console will be great.”

Nick likes “the ease of deploying Exchange 2007 with SBS 2008. The wizards do everything for you, and if you’ve gone through the hell of configuring Exchange 2007 certificates and Outlook Anywhere, you’ll really appreciate SBS 2008’s excellent automation of this process. As part of this same web wizard, you can perform complicated tasks, such as registering domains, getting connected, and deploying a smart website, in just a few minutes.”

What’s the biggest advantage in deploying SBS 2008? Susan sees benefits for “a firm that’s investing in Vista. The Server Message Block 2.0 TCP/IP stack makes a difference. You’ll see speed increases that you don’t see in an SBS 2003–based network. Also, several new networking wizards make it a breeze to set up full SMTP email and perform domain integration with a Microsoft Office Live Workspace website and shared space. The wizard of all wizards is called Fix My Network. It reviews DHCP and DNS settings and rectifies problems accordingly. In addition, new POP3 connectors pull email every five minutes, and a wizard helps you set up a smart-host connection for Exchange. These tools are great if you want to maintain legacy email setups.”

SBS 2008 isn’t without some drawbacks. Susan says she is “most disappointed in the new SBS 2008 monitoring reports because they look terrible in a non-Outlook mail client. You can set up custom reports, but I wish it performed better monitoring of the health and status of my workstations than it currently does. It only looks at the antivirus, antispyware, and patch status of workstations, and keeps an eye on the drive space. I would prefer additional alerts, such as for problems that are predictors of hard drive failures, and I’ve built some custom alerts to share with the community at”

Nick adds, “Susan is being polite here. The monitoring is just plain awful. We’ll have to use third-party products to get a good overview of the desktops on our networks, or find solutions from open-source communities such as CodePlex.”

Migration Hurdles
No doubt there are other changes that some will love and some hate. Susan complains that there “is no support for tape backup. The reason is that Server 2008 doesn’t support tape as a backup medium, so SBS has also dropped it. Also, people who already have virus protection subscriptions won’t like the inclusion of trial versions of Forefront antivirus to protect Exchange and Windows Live OneCare to protect the server. The good news is that you can delete these during the installation process and install your own antivirus solutions.”

The biggest disappointment for Nick “is the huge increase in price for SBS 2008. In my opinion, this is a push to get customers to sign up for Software Assurance, which really isn’t where the majority of small businesses want to be. SBS 2008 Standard is now $1,089—a huge increase from SBS 2003, which was $599. Although the CAL price appears cheaper with SBS 2008, I see this as a false perception because the CAL price increased between SBS 2000 and SBS 2003. However, I like the fact that you now have the option of purchasing single SBS 2008 CALs.” For Microsoft’s response to this point, see the web-exclusive sidebar, “Microsoft’s Take on SBS 2008 Pricing,” InstantDoc ID 100271.

Susan believes the upgrade and migration process “will probably be the biggest hurdle for SBS 2008. Because Exchange 2007 requires 64-bit hardware, you can’t upgrade in place from SBS 2003 to SBS 2008. You need a unique answer file process to enable the migration wizard, which is a combination of automated tasks and step-by-step instructions to guide you.”

Nick adds: “The migration process is certainly better than in previous versions. The product is well documented, and the wizards are pretty intuitive. WSS migration is lacking and requires that you install the new version side by side with the old. Several consultants have already suggested better alternatives for migration.”

Some Improvement, Some Holes
Judging by Susan’s and Nick’s experience with EBS and SBS, the Microsoft developers got a lot right. But these MVPs also found areas for improvement. If you’re considering EBS or SBS, let us know what you think and tell us your views and experiences with the products.

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