Get started with a small-business server

Your small office probably relies on more than one computer to get work done. For managing tasks across all of your company's PCs, consider using a small-business server.

Setting Up Windows Small Business Server 2008

Windows Small Business Server 2008 is a new, entry-level business server targeted at companies with a few dozen employees, and those without any on-site IT staff. Some bigger companies without an IT staff might manage with the software, but it supports a maximum of only 75 users. The server's wizard-heavy system asks plain-language questions about your needs and makes configurations based on your answers.

Think of Small Business Server as a preconfigured Windows Server installation; it includes nearly all of the same features, but you manage everything from a single console instead of having to install packages. I found the installation process easier than that involved in installing Ubuntu, but you'll still need some basic networking know-how to make everything come together.

Like other Microsoft products, Small Business Server comes in multiple editions, which can cause confusion. The Standard Edition should amply cover most small-business needs, and it even includes Exchange Server for calendars and e-mail. However, I recommend growing into hosting your own e-mail and Web services, if you manage those functions at all; without IT staff, I'd much rather pay another company for hosting. That said, Small Business Server connects to registrars to help you along if you have the dedicated bandwidth and the IT know-how.

The Premium Edition includes a second Windows Server license for installation on another PC or virtual machine, plus Microsoft SQL Server. An SQL server can help run network-based applications and could be useful for internal Web site development, testing, and other connected services. But again, your Web host likely provides SQL services too.

Small Business Server also follows the per-license pricing structure of other for-pay server OSs. The base packages include five licenses to be divided per user or per PC. Additional per-user licenses cost US$77 for Standard Edition and $189 for Premium Edition. The costs cover licenses for all of the server products included in the respective editions; be sure to factor those extra costs into your decision.

A Look at Windows Essential Business Server 2008

The interface of Essential Business Server 2008 is designed for businesses with at least one full-time IT employee. Again, a single, main graphical console controls nearly everything, so even generalist techs can manage the network.

Essential Business Server is designed to be used on three (or more) different hardware servers to spread and isolate network functions. Unlike Small Business Server, it allows you to configure multiple domains and subdomains within a single company. Exchange, e-mail, and Web hosting features also make more sense here, if you have the IT staff to support them.

The software comes in base and premium configurations. The latter adds a stand-alone copy of Windows Server for another machine, plus SQL Server. Additional licenses beyond the first five cost $81 or $195 each for the two versions, respectively.

Buying Essential Business Server (or Small Business Server) bundled with new hardware might be your easiest option. Dell, HP, IBM, and others sell tower-size server hardware with your choice of operating system. (Rackmount gear can save space and allow for easier upgrades, but it's inconvenient unless you're converting all of your server hardware to that design.)

Essential Business Server caps you at 300 users or clients. But at that size, you'll likely have the IT infrastructure to ditch the preconfigured approach and customize a Windows Server setup from scratch.

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Zack Stern

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