SBS 2011–Most important SBS release ever?

Microsoft announced about a week ago that SBS 2011 standard is now fully available from volume licensing through to OEM. I think this latest release of Small Business Server is a significant one for many reasons.

Lets go back a few years and a couple of versions and you’ll find working with Small Business Server 2003 was great. Aimed at between 5 and 75 user small businesses the standard and premium editions of the software were affordable and would run on pretty much on any decent bit of server kit you could find making them really easy to sell.

Microsoft recommended hardware requirements for SBS Premium (if you want a shock follow that link – and look at the minimum requirements)

      • A Pentium III 550-MHz-or-compatible processor
      • 512 MB of RAM (maximum RAM supported is 4 GB)
      • Two or more mirrored 5-GB hard disks

Even though we all know these recommended requirements generally need bumping up a bit, a server with a dual or quad core processor, 4GB of RAM and at least one RAID array was still generally affordable for just about any small business.

SBS 2008 was released and the hardware bar jumped up.

  • Processor: 2 GHz 64-bit (x64)
  • RAM: Minimum: 4 GB Recommended: 6 to 8 GB
  • Disk space: 60 GB

Again these specs generally need bumping up and it’s not uncommon to see a dual core processor, 8-10GB RAM and a couple of RAID arrays as a starting point for reasonable performance.

At this stage we started to the see the price start to get out of the reach of businesses in the 5-10 user range as the hardware costs began to rise. You could run SBS 2008 on lesser hardware but performance wouldn’t be great.

If you were putting together a hardware specification for a “cheaper” server such as a HP ML110 by the time you’d put enough RAM and disks in to get decent performance you weren’t that far off the price for a one of the servers higher up in the range such as the ML350. All this made the price creep up.

To get around this lots of IT providers started to get creative with things like Home Server and Foundation Server and SBS 2008 shifted to start at around 10-15 users. (I know I’m generalising quiet a bit here though)

Which brings us up to the latest release and these are the hardware requirements for SBS 2011 Standard.

  • Processor: Minimum Quad core 2 GHz 64-bit (x64) or faster for 1 socket
  • Memory: Minimum: 8 GB Recommended: 10 GB
  • Disk Space: Minimum: 120 GB

See those processor requirements? That’s a quad core as a minimum and if it’s anything like SBS 2008 that recommended amount of RAM is probably better as your minimum amount meaning a larger outlay on server hardware again.

So as well as SBS 2011 Standard we now have SBS 2011 Essentials.

Built around the home server technology this brings most of the benefits of SBS 2011 Standard but without Exchange server (as one of the main standout differences), which is a part of the high hardware requirements, as well as no need for client access licenses.

What does Essentials need in terms of hardware?

  • Processor: One 1.4 GHz (x64 processor)  Or, one 1.3 GHz dual-core
  • Memory: Minimum: 2 GB  Recommended: 4 GB
  • Disk Space: Minimum: 160 GB

Nothing too taxing and would work really well on a something like the HP Proliant Microserver that I mentioned recently.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the cloud at all here. Everything I’ve mentioned above is still applicable whether you’re moving applications to the cloud or not. Whether you should is another discussion altogether and a lively one based on sessions I’ve been a part of at AMITPRO. Smile

So what’s my point? Well right at the start I said this that is an important release for the SBS range.

Now that we have a two very distinctively different editions in the Standard Edition and the Essentials Edition I imagine the sales figures will determine the future of the product range.

It may very well be that we’ll eventually see Exchange server disappear from the SBS range and we could quite possibly go back down to just a single edition of the server.

The only other thing that I’ve been thinking about is the migration path as a small business grows.

It used to be really simple. Start with SBS (2003/2008) and you could stay with it until you grew past 75 users and you moved onto the “regular” server range.

Now there is a bit of a weird overlap.

A small business can start with SBS 2011 Essentials. If they outgrow Essentials where do they move to?

You’d expect the natural answer to be SBS 2011 Standard which allows up to 75 users but what about email?

Since Essentials doesn’t have Exchange server, email will be provided by a hosted/cloud service.

If you then move to SBS 2011 Standard you’ll be bringing e-mail back in-house. What if you’re quite happy with your hosted email service? Sure you could just not use the Exchange part of SBS 2011 but look at the hardware muscle you’ll need to pay for just to run an Exchange server you’re not going to use.

Does that mean you’d just jump over SBS Standard to the “regular” range (including the need for client access licenses – that’ll scare them Winking smile)

If this happens, SBS Standard suddenly only fits a specific niche at the higher end of the market which is unlikely to need a server to work in the 25-75 user range as their first server…..doesn’t that sound a little like EBS? (on a massively over simplified basis)

This post isn’t intended to give SBS a hard time, I’m still a huge SBS fanboy and I’m really looking forward to working with both editions of the product. I’m just interested in where we’re be going over the next few years and the conversations I’ll be having with clients and other SBSC partners. 

Really very interested on any thoughts you might have on this.

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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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