PC PRO – SMB Feature – What happened?

I’ve been sitting on this one for a few weeks as PC Pro magazine articles don’t appear on the site straight away (which i can understand)

First let me start off my saying I’ve previously been a massive fan of PC Pro magazine. My interest in the magazine has waned in recently years for a few reasons but that’s probably worth a blog post all of it’s own. That said I do still still pick it up from time to time

This months PC Pro kicked off a feature that talks about IT in small businesses. Obviously this caught my eye and I’ll be honest. I was shocked at how badly researched the article seems. I understand this is the first part in series but I don’t think it’s gotten off to the best start

Keeping it really simple the article says that you have a couple of choices

Cloud apps in combination with some open source software (think Google apps & Open Office with maybe Kerio MailServer) or an on-premise Microsoft solution with the Office suite (read the article this is vastly simplified)

So far so good – the Cloud / Open Source argument is a whole other kettle of fish so I’ll just focus on the Microsoft solution

What irked me was that the article talks about the on premise solution meaning Exchange 2003 (in preference to 2007!) with the possibility of adding SharePoint

If this article is about SMBs and you’re going to mention Microsoft solutions why not actually look at the small business solutions Microsoft offer?

If you read this blog on a regular basis you know that for me that means

Small Business Server

Then depending on the size of the business your dealing you can also take into account

Essential Business Server

Windows Server 2008 Foundation

Windows Home Server (It’s not specifically a small business product but fits well for micro-businesses)

The article then goes on to talk about a few things I’d like to highlight

Firstly, it talks about using Exchange in combination with mobile devices and indicates you’ll need to use IMAP, touting the iPhone as an example

For example, many employees will have smartphones capable of picking up email via IMAP. Careful setup allows them to do so in a secure, encrypted way. The iPhone, for example, can pull email from various accounts

What about ActiveSync? The iPhone supports that you know? As do Nokia’s E & N series devices (which are aimed at business) and tons of other devices – and that’s without mentioning Windows Mobile

It then says

If you make the move to ES2007, then it’s possible to use this to manage the phones too – remote lockdown and wipe both become possible

Exchange 2003 has been able to do remote wipe and device security since service pack 2 was released. Obviously Exchange 2007 makes improvements but that doesn’t mean Exchange 2003 doesn’t do it at all!

Staying with Exchange

A key issue with ES2003 is to ensure you’re getting the most from it. For example, many companies limit the user inbox size in an attempt to keep below the 16GB limit of the original ES2003 release. However, this limit has been raised in recent SP versions, and you should be allowing more online storage of company information if possible.

Why mention the 16GB limit? If your going to deploy Exchange 2003 you will be installing service pack 2 as support for service pack 1 expired on 08/01/2008. This means you have no reason not to make use of the 75GB extended limit

As far as can see the article is aimed at the small business owner, and while this statement makes sense

You can never have too much security, but SMBs are often very surprised at how much they can do with what they already have. This is especially true if you’re running Exchange Server 2003 with recent Windows clients. A thorough understanding of Group Policy can totally transform the network computing experience, and bring peace and calm to an otherwise chaotic network. Making sure that My Documents, and its brothers and sisters, all point to network shares means that irreplaceable documents dumped on the desktop will actually be backed up properly.

What has Exchange Server got to do with group policy? Group Policy is an Active Directory feature?

Also SBS 2003 and SBS 2008 have management consoles that make it possible for an interested business owner to look after the server themselves. There is even a simple wizard to configure the My Documents folder to redirect to the server without having to go anywhere near any group policy settings

I’m presuming this means SharePoint

If money is available then you can’t beat Microsoft Office 2007 for bells and whistles, but only if you back it up with Microsoft’s server-side collaboration software. This is a whole different level of investment, and one worth doing if finances allow.

Windows SharePoint Services is still free whether you’re using Small Business Server or “vanilla” Windows Server so what level of investment being referred to? Depending on your level of skill then customising SharePoint could require investment but as a software purchase? If you went with SBS it all gets configured it all for you

Also by completely missing out Small Business Server (and Essential Business Server) you are missing out one killer feature that enterprise has pay extra for

Remote Web Workplace

Complete access to your email, SharePoint site and remote control of your office PC all from a single, easy to use web site. The 2003 version was great and the 2008 version is even better!

In addition to the technology Microsoft can offer a small business they also have group of their partners who specifically work with small business

Small Business Specialists – we’ve even got a funky blue badge (for now!)

We’re also a community so when I say we I’m not just talking about my company. We form partnerships with other Small Business Specialists to make sure we can cover everything our clients need

Our day-to-day operations are geared towards working with small business owners and getting the right technology for their business. We’ll even be their IT department if they want meaning their staff can get on with the jobs they are actually paid to do. We’re also flexible enough to lend a helping hand if they do want to do it themselves

Finally this baffles me

Don’t leave 2003 until all of it has been properly virtualised into either VMware or Hyper-V, or an equivalent of choice. The future world is a virtualised one, and moving to a new OS version running directly on the hardware is the wrong answer to the wrong question.

Yes the future is virtual, even in small businesses (we’ve got an expert for that too!). But using virtualisation as a reason for not moving to the latest OS version makes no sense in my opinion. If you want to stay on the previous generation of OS fine. But do it because it makes sense for your business not because you don’t think the current generation isn’t up to being virtualised (which i don’t agree with either but again that could be a post on it’s own)

Obviously it’s really easy for me to be critical. However, the article does make some other good points

The paragraph on the first page titled “First Steps” is excellent (I’m not going to reproduce it – go read it! – the whole of the first page is actually good reading)

Then it takes a cautious approach to the running of a small business purely on Cloud Apps. It doesn’t say you should avoid it completely but also doesn’t jump on the “everything should run in the cloud” mindset that a lot of the media seems to have nowadays. Hosted solutions are ideally suited for some businesses and not others in my opinion so choose the solution that fits.

There is also a good piece on backups that starts with this

It’s astonishing how many companies get backup wrong. There are three things to consider here. First, there’s backup and restore for recent data. Then there’s disaster recovery to bring back servers from the dead. Finally, there’s the role of archiving for long-term storage.


In summary I’m disappointed that this has come out of PC Pro and I had to read the article a couple of times to get my head around it.

As always I’d love to hear your opinion as I know I don’t always have the answers 😉

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Andy Parkes is Technical Director at Coventry based IT support company IBIT Solutions. Formerly, coordinator of AMITPRO and Microsoft Partner Area Lead for 2012-2013. He also isn't a fan of describing himself in the third person.

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12 thoughts on “PC PRO – SMB Feature – What happened?

  • Heya there Andy,
    Good blog post, ho humm article…
    Kinda surprised at Jon Honeyball… He’s a smart guy so I have no idea what’s going on there?
    Perhaps they’ll investigate via twitter – or you can message Jon yourself?? (I’ve had email conversations with regards to MS’s BPOS services…)

  • hi there

    thanks for the comments

    trying to get 100k words of content into 2k is not easy, and the editorial team had clear ideas of how they wanted to kick off the series. It was intended as an opening piece on a series of pieces to come in subsequent months, each of which drills into specific issues.

    It wasnt intended as a standalone give-all-answers piece.

    @jonhoneyball twitter

  • (jeez, cant even spell my name or url properly today!)

    regarding the 16Gb limit — sorry, thats my old age kicking in — I meant to write 75Gig for all the reasons you say!


  • Hi Jon

    Thanks for the comment

    I appreciate there are editorial limits and I did mention in my post that this is the first part of series so I understand it’s not a give-all-answer piece

    My main disappointment was that a piece that talks about Microsoft technology for small business makes no mention of their small business offerings

  • there is a whole decision process between buying sbs versus conventional server (and now the other offerings). space space space and more space required…. hopefully this is coming later on. I was trying to do a “dip the toe” into a huge range of issues — this either works in the space or it doesnt and unforch there will always be people who want more from the piece (and rightly so).

  • Jon, I think you’re missing my point

    I understand there is a limited amount of space per article and I wouldn’t expect a full analysis of every single available product in what is the first of a “long term guide”

    I just can’t understand that the article can talk at length about things like Exchange server, even talking about why you might choose 2003 instead of 2007 yet didn’t even mention the name “Small Business Server”

    That’s without looking at the other points I mentioned in the post

  • But SBS is not the be-all and end-all in the small business sector — a large number of people, myself included, think that it is way too many chickens in the one hardware basket, and when I go look at the 5-50 seat SME space, it is rare for me to come across SBS. Maybe thats just a wierd thing, but we take clients off sbs, not onto it.

  • I 100% agree that SBS isn’t the be-all and end-all solution. But it is a perfectly viable solution

    We use Windows Server in our solutions too depending on the clients budget and needs

    If you’re taking SBS out of clients that’s your call. But shouldn’t your article be impartial and at least mention other solutions?

    “way too many chickens in the one hardware basket”
    You can add as many servers as you like?
    Who said anything about being restricted to one server. SBS Premium is a two server solution out of the box. Or you could always go with EBS!

    However, how many servers do you suggest a 5 seat business should be using? Especially when cost is going to be a driving force in choosing the solution

  • As i said , it was an introductory piece to a series of follow on articles, each of which will be covering a specific area in more detail. I’m sorry it didnt cover all bases, but that wasnt the scope

  • Heya there Jon…
    “it is rare for me to come across SBS” –
    That’s a bit scary… And the fact that you put seperate role boxes in to that market – I presume then they must have 3 / 4 x the budget of a regular business that size?

    I did find it odd that Small Business Server never even got a mention, where several other products were named…

    And also – Virtualisation – Again I gather that the budgets of your clients must be far in excess… And if you are against relying on too many eggs in one basket… I presume then that those clients have two servers running the host??

    I know it is one in a series… But I am not sure who the target audience is mean’t to be. I think it may have been baffling to the business owner who just wants to have it work and see the benefits of embracing and investing in their IT (and treading very near to having a bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing), and if addressed at the techie, then it’s put a few noses out of joint / risking their wrath…

    I guess I just feel it lacks a bit of balance…

    But hey, I totally agree (for me) that the SMB space is not in The Cloud…

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