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  • Community Is More Important Than Ever

    As well as the recent death of Small Business Server there has been a lot of concern about what will happen to the Small Business Specialist Community as a whole. Especially against the backdrop of the replacement of the SBSC designation with the shiny new Small Business Competency and the fact that community participation has generally be on wane recently with dwindling IT Pro group numbers the most visible impact.

    I’m of the opinion that Community is more important than ever.

    Within hours of the SBS announcement Susan Bradley, Brian Higgins and Amy Babinchak had a webinar lined up ready to discuss with Microsoft Partners about options going forward and to answer any questions people had. (Q&A Transcript and full recording are available)

    235 people took time out of their day to join in which is rather impressive. If that’s not the power of community at work then what is?

    My local group, AMITPRO, stopped calling itself an SBS User Group a long time ago as we wanted to encourage anyone who is involved in working with technology for local businesses to get involved. We can all learn from each other so does it matter if that person works with SBS or even Microsoft. One of our newest members works exclusively with Google Apps and we had a great session last month looking at how that works and discussing the types of conversation he has with clients.

    This month we had a great turn out and the second half of the meeting was a bit like a live version of the webinar I’ve mentioned above.Everyone got involved and we kicked around ideas and possibilities for solutions and the changes we’ll be making to our businesses.

    Since everyone will need to ensure their tech skills are up to scratch with deploying the “full” range of Microsoft products (Windows, Exchange, SharePoint, WSUS etc) having a group of people you can rely on is an amazing resource to have. Regardless of whether  it’s someone to bounce ideas off or formally run projects together the solutions you’re able to offer can only benefit from this.

    But for this to happen people HAVE to get involved on a regular basis. Online communities are a great thing but if you want your local community to exist it needs people to actually turn up. If attendance is low or patchy it’s harder for organisers to attract speakers or new visitors and at that point a vicious cycle starts where people who are attending stop coming because attendances are low.

    Finally, have a think about what you contribute. Robert Crane wrote a great post recently titled “What did you do for SBS” that talks about getting involved. Getting deeply involved by organising meetings, writing blog posts or running webinars isn’t for everyone but little things go a long way. Bring a guest, find a speaker, comment on blog posts or even just say thank you to someone who puts time, effort and frequently their own money into keeping the community going.          

    A community is only as good as the people who are in it. We don’t need a certification or a badge or a vendor as a reason for coming together and helping each other to improve and grow.

    If you’ve never been involved in a peer group find your local one. TODAY. Richard Tubb wrote a post recently with a comprehensive list of the groups that are currently available in the UK as well as a post called “3 Good Reasons IT Companies Should Attend Their Local User Group Meetings”.

    Get involved.

  • Goodbye Small Business Server

    On 5th July Microsoft announced licensing details for Windows Server 2012 and the biggest piece of news for anyone that works with Small Business Server is this:

    Will there be a next version of Windows Small Business Server 2011 Standard?

    No. Windows Small Business Server 2011 Standard, which includes Exchange Server and Windows server component products, will be the final such Windows Server offering. This change is in response to small business market trends and behavior. The small business computing trends are moving in the direction of cloud computing for applications and services such as email, online back-up and line-of-business tools. 
     

    source: Windows 2012 Licensing FAQ

    No more SBS as we know it. Even the product name is disappearing.

    Is this a surprise? Not really – I talked about this possibility in March 2011 (SBS 2011–Most important SBS release ever?) and I’m certainly not the only person who speculated SBS going this way.

    Is this a good idea? In my humble opinion – No. But I would say that right?

    For small businesses the “first server” offering will be Windows Server 2012 Essentials. This is the latest version of Small Business Server 2011 Essentials and will be licensed for up to 25 users and 50 devices and won’t require any CALS and is intended to work in tandem with cloud services such as Office 365.

    Windows Server Foundation will still be an alternative for up to 15 users.

    So where to start?

    When Microsoft said they were “all in with the cloud” they really meant it. That quote right at the top specifically says they are making the change because “small business trends are moving in the direction of cloud computing”.

    I don’t fully agree with this. While I agree it’s a viable option for small businesses it’s not perfect fit for every small business for a variety of reasons.

    Infrastructure

    Getting decent and reliable connection speeds isn’t straightforward. I cant’ say what’s it’s like for the rest of the world but getting a reliable 2MB connection is still a major challenge for lots of small businesses in the UK and we’re not going to be getting 4G mobile networks anytime soon. Not all connections are equal either. There are still lots of ISPs who offer internet connections with data limits and there are still small businesses who use them. We also rarely get any kind of parity on upload speeds. That 2mb connection? You’ll be lucky to get a quarter of that for uploads.

    There are lots areas that will need some rethinking now

    I’m sure you’ve all got clients who still insist on sending 10mb internal email attachments to everyone in the office despite you telling them repeatedly that’s what file shares a for. Maybe they’ll think about it more while they are waiting for the message to upload and download. I understand this is primarily a training issue but I still come across tons of people who work with computers for their jobs who don’t understand the impact of file sizes or what to do about them.

    Ditto for SharePoint. Uploading a document to a local site takes seconds. Moving that to the cloud changes how you interact with that site.

    How do PC updates work now? The 64-bit version of Windows 7 Service Pack 1 is 900MB. With an onsite WSUS server that’s a single download regardless of whether you’ve got two PCs or twenty PCs. If you’ve got each PC downloading their own updates that’s a lot bandwidth (900Mb x 20 = 18GB ouch!)

    I understand the counter argument to that is if your client requires all these onsite services then you still have a choice. Don’t bother with Essentials or Foundation and roll out the full product and have Exchange, SharePoint, WSUS locally. That alternative was very cost effective with SBS Standard, I’ll need to wait and see the proper UK prices before I can comment on how it’s going to compare with building it out with the “full” server SKUs. 

    Should one the of driving factors behind which solution we choose be because our Internet connections are a bit rubbish?

    Shouldn’t we be deciding between cloud and on-premises based on what’s best for the business from a cost and feature requirement point of view? Is having a local WSUS server a feature to a business owner? Would they be willing to pay for the infrastructure to update their PCs?

    New conversations….

    Small Business Redefined

    One thing that really sticks out with Essentials becoming the main small business product is that 25 user limit.

    SBS has been up to 75 users for some time and jumped to that from 50 users as the product was so popular.

    In simple terms Microsoft have now decided that small business means under 25 users. If you’ve got 30 users you’re out of luck and have to move to the “full” products and pay the same sort of costs as much larger organisations.

    Choice

    Not all companies want to embrace the cloud. Some aren’t comfortable about having lots of their data sitting on someone else’s server. Some can’t move their data to the cloud because of regulatory requirements.

    If Essentials isn’t a fit that means full server products and all the licensing that goes with that. As I said above I’ll need to run the figures once I’ve seen realist UK pricing but on the face of it that solution will likely come out more expensive.

    If this is the case then the term “Microsoft Tax” has been used in the past but we may need to coin the “Cloud Tax” phrase where we have to pay a premium for not moving to cloud computing. 

    It’s not all doom and gloom though.

    One reason Microsoft have done this is to simplify the product line up and how the licensing works.

    For the “full” server products we now only have two products to choose from. Datacenter edition and Standard edition (bye bye Enterprise Edition)

    This does brings some benefits.

    Both editions have feature parity. The only difference between them is the virtualisation rights you get. Datacenter allows you to run as many virtual machines as you like.

    Standard lets you run two which is an improvement over the previous edition.

    All features are available and there are no memory limitations

    However, they are both licensed per processor. Standard allows two processors though so this should be fine – how many SBS servers have you installed with more than two processors? none!

    This means if you want to replicate SBS Standard like functionality you have some flexibility.

    For example,

    You could purchase a copy of Server 2012 Essentials, a copy of Server 2012 Standard and a copy of Exchange and also install WSUS and SharePoint Foundation across two virtual machines. This would give you all the features that SBS 2011 brings with the only downside being that 25 user limit.

    However, on the face of it there will be an upgrade path for when you go past 25 users that would allow you keep things like Remote Web App.

    Additionally, Essentials can grow with the needs of your business over time; you can purchase and convert to Windows Server 2012 Standard, removing the maximum user and device limits while retaining all your data and configuration settings as well as the unique value-add features that Essentials provides.

    I’ve not even mentioned how this will impact on Microsoft partners. Go read the announcement on the official SBS blog and look at the comments if you want to get an idea of how well this is going down with the SBS community (clue – not well)

    This announcement certainly puts the new small business competency into perspective! My full thoughts on this can wait for a separate post but it certainly explains why the Office 365 exam sits right in the middle of it.

    It’s going to be a tough sell in the short term for partners. With the people I’ve spoken to in the community Office 365 hasn’t exactly been embraced all that warmly i don’t really expect dropping small business server to get people flocking to Office 365, especially when there are plenty of other hosting providers out there.

    It’ll also be interesting to see what happens to the quality level of solutions deployed. SBS is naturally a lower barrier to entry as it came pre-configured out of the box. You ran the wizards and away you went. Broadly speaking you learnt how to configure SBS, not Exchange or WSUS or SharePoint as this was already done for you.If you’re going to go anything above 25 users now then you’ll be building it from scratch.

    From a technical and development perspective I can understand why Microsoft has a hard time with Small Business Server. They have to shoe-horn together all these different products and have them play nicely. When the Exchange team are focussing on working with large scale deployments, specifically hosting, then having to make sure it scales down as well as up must be challenge.

    A potential solution (if I were in charge of the world) would have been to offer SBS as a bundle. Buy Windows Standard, Exchange and some CALS together for a discounted price. The SBS team could then have their bits (the console and RWA for example) as an installable add-on and the solution provider puts it all together as they have to now anyway! Some sort of artificial limit could be added to keep it small business only (SBCore anyone?)

    And what of the community? 

    The small business specialist community is a pretty unique thing and small business server sat right in the middle of that as a focal point. Will people rally around Essentials in the same way?

    It’s not going to change overnight because ultimately it’s the people that make up any community but who knows what will happen in the long term as people move on and do other things?

    I’ve rambled enough…no doubt I’ll have more thoughts in the coming days.

    As I said right at the start this isn’t exactly a shock but I thought we’d get a least one more edition of SBS, maybe two before the shift happened. It’s here now so we’ve just got to get on with it. SBS 2011 is still going to be available for a while yet (December 2013) so we’ve all got plenty of time to decide on what we’re going to do next.

    If you’ve been ignoring the Cloud over the last couple of years you don’t have any choice now. It’s going to change your business in one way or the other.

    Some excellent further reading:

    Robert Pearman – Small Business Server and Beyond..

    Andy Trish – Microsoft SBS Server receives death sentence

    Susan Bradley – Microsoft says next stop is the cloud

    Aidan Finn – Windows Server 2012 Licensing In Detail

    Karl Palachuck – SBS is Dead: Long Live Foundation Server

    intunedin.net – R.I.P. Small Business Server, Welcome Windows Server 2012 Essentials

    Boon Tee – Goodbye SBS!

    As always comments and opinions welcome – I don’t profess to know it all or have all the answers!

  • SBS 2011 Study Guide Book–Competition!

    I’ve had this on the back burner to do for a couple of weeks but a certain well known (and very nice!) MVP was doing something similar so I thought I’d wait for him to finish.

    So what have I got?

    Two copies of the e-book version for:

    Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2011 Standard, Configuring (70-169) Certification Guide

    (MCTS): Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2011 Standard, Configuring (70-169) Certification Guide

    Co-authored by Drew Hills who is an active contributor to the SMB IT Professional community in Australia and Robert Crane of the excellent CIAOPS blog and “Need to Know Podcast”.

    The book focuses on the areas covered in the 70-169 exam for setting up and configuring SBS 2011 Standard. It’s a great resource to have.

    I’ll be writing a review of the book once I’ve finished reading through it but in the meantime if you’d like a copy of your own:

    Leave a comment detailing the lengths you’d go to just to get a copy of this book. Comments can be funny, silly, scary, crazy, sad, heart warming, whatever! Whichever entry entertains me the most will get the first copy and for the second copy I’ll literally pull a name out of hat

    Closing date is 18th July.

    GO!

  • It’s been a while

    Hello? HELLLO!?

    Testing, testing, one, two – is this thing on?

    It’s been more than a while, it’s been three months! I don’t think I’ve ever gone this length of time between blog posts.

    I’ve had an awful lot going on both at home and with work but in reality I’ve had a bit of a crisis of confidence that meant that each time I started to write something I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to post it.

    It was caused by something that happened a couple of months ago and it initially didn’t seem like a huge thing and and I discussed it with a few people whose opinions I value but I let it nag at me for far too long.

    I’m now at the stage where I’m missing writing blog posts so as I’ve done one or two times here before this is my very own form of public therapy!

    I know this is all intentionally a little bit vague but I just wanted to write something and get it out of my system and draw a line under the whole thing.

    So please ignore all of the above and normal service will be resumed shortly.