Another post from my purplse book for your pleasure
Deciding Whether SBS Is for You
Early in your decision-making process to either install a new network or upgrade the existing network at your business, you need to decide whether SBS is for you. SBS has several practical limitations that you should be aware of.
BEST PRACTICE: In consulting, we call this frank assessment “expectation management.” You should manage your expectations up front about what SBS can and can’t do (especially the “can’t do” part). That way, later on, you won’t suffer severe disappointments.
User and Client Machine Limit
Only 75 users can be logged on at one time with SBS. And on a legal licensing note, only 75 client access licenses (CALs) may be attached to the Small Business Server network. (Please read the license agreement in your SBS packaging for more details.) Microsoft imposed this 75-CAL limit as the break point between SBS and the full Microsoft Servers products.. Typically, businesses that are growing rapidly and have over 65 users today need to consider the full Microsoft Servers product family instead of SBS as the correct networking solution. The upgrade path to the full Microsoft Servers product family via the SBS migration kit retains your existing settings so that you don’t have to do a complete reinstall of your network from what we call “bare metal.” Also note that more than 75 users can be entered into SBS as users (technically “user objects” in Active Directory), but only 75 may be logged on at any time. This preceding discussion assumes that you have the user licenses in place for a 75-user SBS network. And under no circumstances may you have more than 75 CALs attached to your SBS network.
BEST PRACTICE: SBS is often undersold by the people who love it most, the true blue SBSers. That is, SBS is a great servant in larger organizations, such as the Alaskan fishing company with 900 employees that has only 25 client computers connected to the network. All of the other worker bees reside on factory trawler boats off the west coast of Alaska! If you didn’t dig deep enough, you might have assumed SBS wouldn’t work for this medium-sized company, but clearly it does. Remember that size doesn’t matter.
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There is another point to make in the concurrent-user-limit discussion: license enforcement. Suppose that you have a five-user license for SBS. Perhaps you won it at a Microsoft TS2 event (www.msts2.com), where you learned about SBS and other SMB solutions from Microsoft. That would mean the sixth user is locked out and is unable to work on the SBS network. In order for the sixth user to log on, you would need to purchase and install additional SBS CALs.
BEST PRACTICE: For those of you who’ve been around SBS for a while, you be delighted to know that SBS CALs are now much easier to obtain. This is accomplished via the Licensing link in the Server Management console. Heck, you can even purchase your SBS CALs online direct from the SBS server machine over the Internet. And CALs come in two flavors: device and users.
Please promise here and now that you’ll honor the following point as you evaluate whether SBS is for you: four walls. In its heart of hearts, SBS was designed to serve as the server on a local area network within the four walls or confines of a bona fide small business. It’s not designed to act as a branch office solution connecting multiple offices. It’s certainly not designed to act as a departmental server for an enterprise. You get the point. Used outside of four contiguous walls, SBS becomes a defrocked fallen IT solution.
BEST PRACTICE: Not that folks haven’t tried to take SBS above and beyond what it’s designed for. I’ve seen it firsthand and “fired” two clients who wanted me in my role as SBS consultant to take SBS into the no-can-do zone! If your needs are that of a branch office or departmental server, please DO NOT USE SBS. Use the full Microsoft Server products. I’ll be happy and you’ll be much happier!
One more point on the four walls matter. In the SBS 2003 release, Microsoft has clouded the waters by delivering the super-cool Remote Web Workplace tool. This would appear to suggest you function outside of four walls with SBS. But a key distinction for now is that Remote Web Workplace is designed for
occasional, dial-on-demand usage. It’s not positioned as a permanent WAN solution to connect multiple offices. More on Remote Web Workplace in Chapter 8.
One Business, Two Businesses, Three Businesses, Four
A popular implementation of SBS is in a shared-office space scenario where tenants rent executive suites or sublet space. SBS can support multiple Internet domain names, allowing each tenant to have an appropriate Internet identity. In fact, some executive suites implement SBS and then recoup their costs by charging tenants a monthly “networking” fee. This form of SBS implementation—supporting multiple business entities—might not be apparent at first blush, but is possible.
Single Domain, No Workgroups
SBS is limited to a single domain and must be the root of the Active Directory forest. (A domain is an administrative unit in a Windows Server 2003 environment.) This limitation is a hindrance if your organization is part of a larger enterprise that has other Windows Server 2003 machines and typically uses Active Directory’s implicit two-way “trust relationships” to interact with other domains. Don’t forget this SBS rule: SBS trusts no one!
BEST PRACTICE: A quick Active Directory primer for you: First, contrary to the rumors circulating in late 1999 and early 2000, domains are still with us in Windows 2000 and 2003. In fact, there are two domains: the traditional NT-like NetBIOS domain name typically associated with the internal network domain and the Internet domain (ye olde dot-com) type. A forest is a collection of trees and a tree is a collection of domains. Whew!
Workgroups are not really allowed in the SBS networking model because SBS must act as something called a domain controller (DC). A DC is the central security authority for the network. It is responsible for logging you on, auditing usage if so configured, and whatnot. Workgroups do not use such a robust security model, and interestingly, many small businesses upgrading to SBS have been using peer-to-peer networks built on the workgroup model. This change from
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workgroups to domains is often startling to the small business and requires extra care and planning. Why? For one reason, domains by their nature are a much more centralized management approach; workgroups are decentralized. So people who were comfortable with the workgroup sharing model are often put off by the heavy-handed centralized management domain view. Be careful here, especially if your working with peace-loving hippies from the 1960s!
Don’t let the name “small” in the SBS title fool you. The components of SBS 2003 are the “real” Microsoft Servers products or stock keeping units (SKUs). This is “really” Windows Server 2003 standard edition (although see my following Best Practice) and it’s the “real” Exchange Server 2003 product. SBS detractors in the past have tried to paint SBS as having “lite” versions of Microsoft Server SKUs. Some from the enterprise space sneered that SBS was really “baby BackOffice” Not true, buddy boys. SBS is the real McCoy and you can go forth with confidence in your small business infrastructure implementations.
BEST PRACTICE: In the next breath, I must warn you there are exceptions to the rule, as tax attorneys like to say. First, I’ve cited the trust relationship limitation in the prior section above. I am also honor-bound to mention, that while it’s truly the Windows Server 2003 standard SKU in SBS 2003, it’s also limited to two processors to help define the SBS 2003 product. The unbound standard version of Windows Server 2003 allows up to four processors. Details, details!
Another SBS consideration is cost. The standalone version of Windows Server 2003 is actually more expensive than a comparably licensed version of SBS 2003 standard edition. While I’ve lost SBS consulting opportunities in the past, when the underlying NT operating system was cheaper than the legacy SBS 4.x versions, such is not the case in the new world of SBS 2003 standard edition. Today the situation is that SBS 2003 standard edition will pass any cost/benefit test applied to it! So how does the argument work for SBS 2003 premium edition. If the firm
needs the increased features and functionality provided by the SBS 2003 premium edition, they should be willing to pay for it (otherwise the SBS 2003 standard edition will satisfy the budget of this low-end customer segment).
So to summarize the “goodness of fit” SBS discussion presented in this section, consider the following. Not honoring these limitations might cause you to make a bad decision concerning your firm’s computer network. The key point is to make sure that SBS is the right fit for your organization. And if SBS doesn’t fit, PLEASE DON’T USE IT! Use the full Microsoft Servers products.
Business Reasons for SBS
Ultimately, it’s a dollars-and-cents decision. How does SBS contribute to the
bottom line? Does SBS have a favorable ROI? It has been my experience in working with SBS and small businesses that the business software application typically drives the SBS decision (although there are exceptions that I’ll mention in a moment). Other business reasons for migrating to SBS include cost-effectiveness. This has previously been highlighted in the prior section on Cost/Benefit Analysis. Basically, in a nutshell, we’re talking apples are cheaper by the dozen or bundled applications are cheaper than the standalone price.
Believe it or not, politics will sometimes have a role in selecting SBS. In a case of “eating your own dog food,” as Microsoft likes to say, I implemented SBS for a very senior Microsoft executive who had just purchased a 100-room oceanfront lodge outside of Seattle as an investment and Microsoft getaway. This executive was more familiar with the Microsoft consumer software that his division managed and was personally new to SBS. Upon his real estate transaction closing, it became apparent that the existing NetWare network would have to be tossed. Enter SBS and a major win politically for the SBS development and marketing teams with a most senior Microsoft executive. He knew what SBS was from that day forward!
Finally, more and more SBS purchases are being swayed by the increasing catalog of SBS-specific applications entering the market. First and foremost in this category are SBS-compliant and enhanced ISV-based tools and applications. Software vendor Veritas has released an SBS suite of its Backup Exec
product. Columbia Software from Portland, Oregon, has an SBS-specific version of its document management system that is noteworthy (visit www.documentlocator.com).
The SBS 2003 Advantage
By Frank J. Ohlhorst
With the launch of Small Business Server 2003, Microsoft has empowered consultants with the ability to provide enterprise class solutions to the smallest of businesses, those with less than 75 users. The products rich feature set, ease of installation and low cost offer significant advantages when bringing a small business into the world of networking.
In the past, consultants and VARs had to rely on proprietary server appliances to meet the value equation required by small businesses. While server appliances met those initial needs, consultants found that the inherent simplicity and low cost offered by the devices often led to dead ends or incomplete solutions. That forced many consultants to move over to either traditional networking solutions or pursue the trail of never ending upgrades, much to the angst of their customers.
Simply put, a server appliance is an all in one system running an open source operating system on low cost hardware. Most server appliances cover the basics by providing a browser based configuration and management interface, along with basic user security, file and printer sharing, and in some cases email and web server capabilities.
Where these devices often fall short is in customization, compatibility and remote access, all areas well addressed by SBS2003. First off, a server appliance offers limited growth and services potential, the devices are designed to be a basic plug and play solution that can be forgotten about, simplicity is the rule of the day here.
While that may sound initially appealing, consultants often find themselves
addressing needs by installing stand alone applications on client systems, instead
of a centralized server. That increases costs in both materials and time and can
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often break a small businesses budget. Key examples range from databases to antivirus to antispam software. In cases where a server appliance vendor offer those solutions, they tend to be expensive and complex to install and manage. The very nature of SBS2003 being built off of the Microsoft platform creates choices. Consultants can choose from several solutions on the market to build added functionality to the SBS2003 based network, dozens of software vendors offer applications that will run on SBS2003 with little or no fuss, that allows consultants to tailor what works best for their customers, a real win-win situation.
Another advantage offered by SBS2003 is hardware compatibility, while server appliances often use proprietary hardware, SBS2003 runs on most any windows compatible hardware that meets the products minimum requirements; which offers numerous advantages. For instance, if a server appliance fails, technicians may have to wait for proprietary replacement parts, ranging from complete units to individual specialized components. With SBS2003 the flexibility of supported hardware offers technicians the ability to swap out similar components, ranging from motherboards to ram to hard drives, and then get a failed system up and running quickly. What’s more, with SBS2003, technicians have the option of reinstalling SBS2003 on another server and restore data to that unit to quickly bring a failed network up and running. Major server vendors also offer same day service contracts to resolve problems that much more quickly, an option not often found with server appliances.
While many of the above elements solidify the argument of choosing SBS2003 over server appliances, consultants will find that this only scratches the surface of what SBS2003 offers their customers. With the erosion of hardware prices and the availability of add on products, consultants will quickly find that the advantages once offered by server appliances no longer make much sense once SBS2003 is considered.
Microsoft SBS Design Goals
There is no argument that Microsoft’s primary SBS design goals were to serve a well-defined small business market. That said, something that I’ve learned and heard from other SMB consultants is that serving the small business customer is dramatically different from serving the enterprise. Because of this observation, I’d like to spend a few pages presenting these differences and defining the small business market. Such discussions are bound to make you more successful in your SBS implementations as either a consultant or business person. In fact, if you are a small business person seeking to set up and use SBS, discover whether you don’t see a little of yourself in these forthcoming section (although I make many comments that pertain specifically to SBS consultants).
Defining the SBS Market: The Small Business Model
Now that I’ve installed over 100 SBS networks, I can wax poetically as an SBS elder statesman about the small business firm. Small businesses are very different from the enterprise in three areas:
Small businesses are more concerned with delivering goods and services than focusing on the technology being implemented, and rightly so. In fact, many small business people have a hostile attitude toward computers, viewing them as a drain on time and financial resources. Remember, these are the firms that complain long and loud when you purchase an unplanned network adapter card for $40!
Such antagonistic attitudes can be overt, such as criticizing your efforts, or more covert, like not sending staff (including the owner) to basic computer training. Don’t forget that the real measure of success of the SBS network one year hence will be a function of training. Are the users using the SBS network? Have they
taken advantage of many of the SBS features, such as robust Internet connectivity, faxing, and the Windows Sharepoint Services? If not, the significant investment of time and money in implementing the SBS network will be viewed unfavorably.
And even when you find and help a technology-friendly small business, you can’t help but see that the owner and manager really should leave the SBS networking to you, the SBS consultant. Their energies are best allocated toward running their business, not running an SBS network.
I have one client, Marc, who is the owner of a small, middleman distribution firm. Marc is from a decent technical background that includes knowing his firm’s technical products and building and flying model airplanes! It’s been my observation Marc has been successful because he’s moved himself into executive management and has become less focused on technology. One of the critical success factors in Marc’s transformation from butcher, baker, and candlestick maker to president and CEO was his shift from doing the work to managing the work. It’s arguably as difficult a shift as any small business founder will ever have to make, and Marc is no exception. The point is this: When I arrived as Marc’s SBS consultant, I inherited a large case of boundary definition and expectation management, because Marc wanted to participate in the SBS administration, troubleshooting, and whatnot. But better business senses prevailed, and Marc reluctantly did the things that presidents and CEOs do: go out and get the business.
This next point is a case of “fear not.” Many times the negative attitude that is demonstrated by small businesses toward technology, such as SBS, is based on fear. We all get defensive when confronted with the unknown, and small business people fear that SBS might make them look stupid. As an SBS consultant, you need to wear their moccasins for a moment and be a buddy and a mentor.
BEST PRACTICE: I have found that a fear-based negative attitude toward SBS by the small business person is really a cry for more information. In the absence of sufficient information about SBS, small business people manufacture their own information.
What’s my recommendation? Overcommunicate with the small business person about SBS. Once he or she is educated, expectations are kept in line, and you can chalk up another SBS victory. In fact,
I’ve taken to communicating to my clients in writing, either via e-mail, fax, or mailed letter every time I perform SBS-related work at their site. What’s cool about this method is that, months later when both you and the SBS customer have forgotten something technically related, you can easily go back to your files and look up the facts (and, here again, prevent SBS misinformation).
BEST PRACTICE: Be sure to keep your own attitude in check. I can directly trace SBS failures more times than not to an enterprise “know-it-all” arrogance imposed on the small business person. In many cases, the small business person has a perceived negative notion about arrogant computer people. Don’t validate that perception. Remember that you’re typically serving as both a technical consultant and a business consultant. At the small business level, you wear multiple hats. It’s hard to do, and few MCSE-types really do it well. But a few random acts of kindness go a long way with the SBS clientele (even though your enterprise experience frowns on such openness).
What’s my solution to this alleged attitude problem from the SBS consultant side? I now have more communicators on my consulting staff than I did in the past. Yes, there is still a role for tech heads who are appreciated for their expertise, but I’ve enjoyed great success with the SBS product line by taking liberal arts majors, training them on SBS, and having them score wins with my SBS clients. So, leave that big league Microsoft Servers attitude outside the door when working with SBS!
One of the earliest lessons learned with SBS was that the small business isn’t the enterprise. And remember that the small business truly watches dollars closer than the enterprise ever will. Remember the example at the top of this section regarding $40 network adapter cards? The enterprise-level Windows Server 2003 site probably has a half-dozen network adapter cards stacked in the server room ready for use. An enterprise-level Windows Server 2003 administrator wouldn’t
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think twice about getting another network adapter card from the pile. But that cavalier attitude pales against the dollar-conscious small business that disapproves so greatly of unnecessary SBS-related expenditures that I’ve witnessed:
• A small firm struggles with an older network adapter card for hours instead of buying a new card for $40 or less.
• A small firm didn’t hook up an HP laser printer directly to the network (via the built-in HP JetDirect card) because it didn’t want to run to the store to purchase another strand of CAT 5 cable. (Instead, this high-priced printer was attached to the SBS server via a parallel cable, which, of course, had significantly lower performance than a direct network connection.)
One of the great consulting opportunities today in the world of Windows Server 2003 is SBS. When performing SBS engagements, I’ve found that I’m a large fish in a small pond. That’s opposite of the typical enterprise-level Windows Server 2003 engagement at the Boeings of the world where, even as a know-itall, you’re really nothing more than a cog in a huge networking machine. So I guess you could say that rank has its privileges. Working with small businesses and helping them implement SBS can be tremendously rewarding.
The expertise coin has another side, however. As the SBS guru, you will be relied upon in more—often unexpected—ways than you might be at the enterprise level. Here is what I mean: When working with Windows Server 2003 at the enterprise level, you likely benefit from having someone on staff who can walk through a series of steps to solve a problem (often while you’re speaking via telephone from a different location). But at the small business level with SBS, this may not be the case. Here you are interacting directly with paralegals, bookkeepers, cashiers, clerks, and owners—not necessarily in that order! Not only do these people often lack the technical aptitude to assist your SBS troubleshooting efforts, but they usually become intimidated and nervous when working with you, the SBS guru.
So, while there may be a bona fide expertise gap when you work with SBS sites, your commitment will be certainly no less than the commitment you make to regular Windows 2000 Server sites. Just ask a friend of mine, who, as he approached the front of the long line for the ferry to Washington’s fabulous San Juan Islands, was paged by a small business site. Apparently, this SBS site was unable to connect to the Internet. Without in-house technical competency, the SBS site doomed my friend to drive back to the city and assist it. Bummer! When you’re the guru, you do the work when called. Haughty enterprise-level folks coming down to SBS will learn quickly that there is no staff to delegate to except you!