What is the future of Microsoft Small Business Server?

I’ve just attended a briefing on Microsoft Server and the future of the Small Business variant was one of the things we discussed.

There are a couple of issues with Small Business Server that make me question its future. One is that, at a time when cloud-based services are proving their ability to simplify computing for small businesses, Microsoft’s offering is more or less cloud-free.

A second issue is that by bundling onto one machine products that were designed to live on separate servers, Microsoft has made Small Business Server more complex to manage than a grown-up Windows server environment, especially when upgrading to a new version.

I’d like to see SBS migrated to a virtual environment, with separate VMs for Exchange, SharePoint and Active Directory, all running as virtual machines. This is more or less how I run my own test system, and it works very well. It is more flexible, less fragile, requires no special tuning, and is easier to look after than single-server SBS.

That of course presumes that you think there still is a need for SBS at all. The other scenario I’d like to see enabled is one where the on-premise server is in effect a cache for cloud-based services. If a disaster occurs, there would be no interruption of business.

But what does Microsoft have in mind? It is not saying, though I was assured that it is an area of continuing investment – in other words, there will be another Small Business Server – and that sales remain healthy (then again, vendors always say that).

One of the complications for Microsoft is that SBS is generally installed and maintained by partners (of varying levels of competence) and it will take courage to disrupt that business. More than likely we will just get SBS 2010 with Exchange 2010, 2008 R2 and so on. In other words, more of the same.

6 thoughts on “What is the future of Microsoft Small Business Server?”

  1. You have a good point there. SBS remains a good option amongst many other solutions.

    Please consider that one size does not fit all and so SBS may just fit some small businesses that are not yet comfortable putting their data up into the cloud or have outgrown using freebie mail services, have a need for centralized storage, sharing data inhouse and a limited budget. You may have customers that depend on a proprietary app that cannot be hosted in the cloud.

    The beauty is that if SBS doesnt fit a business, you don’t have to sell or install it for them.

    Speaking about the complexity of managing an SBS server, there is nothing easier to manage when using the SBS server tools as intended. Of course there is always room for improvement as with any technology in existence. Speaking of partners “of varying levels of competence”, that manage and maintain SBS for customers, it is probably a better choice than the customer performing this work. (Also you have duds and stars in any profession – so I have to step up here and speak out for the Small Business Specialists that made an effort to pass the SBS exam)

    SBS can currently be run in Hyper-V, just the entire bundle sits on one VM. Regardless of the changes in the next version (or “more of the same” as you implied), SBS still remains an excellent “first server” solution for many businesses offering great benefits at a good price point.

    As with everything in life, there are pros and cons and it is up to the IT consulant to help the customer decide what shoe fits best.

    The nice thing is, at least SBS is an available choice as long as one can stay positive and open minded about it.

  2. @Beatrice

    I presume from your url that you are invested in SBS training. I disagree that there is nothing easier to manage. And yes, I have hands-on experience of both SBS in all versions and other options.


  3. We’ve experimented with various incarnations of SBS over the past 8 years or so. And on every occasion run screaming, for the very solid and sensible reasons you give. We’ve found systems that are just as dependable, but much, much easier to manage – and most of them come from open-source vendors, where what you’re paying for is the expertise in support, not the actual software. Each time I look at Microsoft software, a basic philosophy which is, to my mind, fundamentally flawed, becomes more and more obvious. There is a lack of contiguity between the various elements or functions in their applications, which is often camouflaged by offering multiple ways of performing the same operation. This approach is supposed to be user-oriented (i.e. “users are welcome to work the way THEY want”), but in practice, has become obfuscatory. The best example of this is the recent Windows Office Live service – of all the many SaaS/Cloud offerings, this has got to be one of the most confusing interfaces ever, especially for small business admins with limited time. Contrast this with the astonishing concepts evident in eyeOS, for example (a Spanish online OS which is pioneering new ways of working – and no, I have no association with them whatsoever!). Or indeed with Google Docs, or Zoho, or ThinkFree – all environments characterized by simplicity, directness and above all, speed. Microsoft is still predicated on an enterprise approach, where speed of deployment/development is actually not just secondary, but tertiary. The blurring of administrator/user lines, and indeed of developer/user lines, has passed them by completely!

  4. Tim, excellent points to ponder. I am a franchise owner with Geeks On Call (a national provider of IT services to small business) and have installed and supported numerous Small Business Servers over the years. Though I do think the MS SBS product is a solid performer and not that hard to deploy and maintain (since the release of SBS 2003 at least) it is definitely not the only “dog in the hunt” anymore. With cloud services becoming a) extremely affordable and b) easy to implement and use it is becoming much more difficult for my customers to justify a business case for Small Business Server. Microsoft must to be thinking along the same lines…why so slow to release SBS 2008 R2? The cloud is not only a viable option for small business, it is a direct and fierce competitor to SBS.

  5. SBS is a solid server however everyone should think what they are depolying exchange/server/sharepoint/sql all at once. I have done systems for 30 years and no server manages itself that is why IT has jobs.cloud are great for some client however we see more and more client moving back from the cloud for a few reasons the top one is they what to be on control of their own data.Small business owners are not collective people by enlarge they will alway go their own way and SBS gives the small to medium business owner options.

  6. As a Director of Sharp Technology a UK based Linux Business Server Appliance vendor this is one of our most popular discussion topics both in terms of where Microsoft are likely to go and small business servers in general with more and more noise being made by cloud providers.

    I’ve been in the IT/technology industry in the UK for circa 17 years and spent most of my time (in sales/commercial) roles working with Tier 1 service providers & systems integrators and can clearly see the need and opportunity for a whole host of cloud based services and yes I do believe there will be a ‘clash’ between on site & hosted solutions at some point in the future, however I don’t believe we’re there yet.

    Clearly Microsoft have already lost business to cloud providers and vendors such as ourselves, however this realistically is probably only the tip of the iceberg.

    In the whole there probably isn’t a great deal of difference to a customer buying Microsoft licenses directly or through a SaaS provider selling hosted Exchange same solution different model.

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