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Return of Big BackOffice

I received an interesting e-mail early today from a professional associate. He writes that We are going to transition to WEBS as soon as it is available, as our agency has grown by leaps and bounds since we implemented SBS. I haven't been this excited about a software release since… well, ever.

I received an interesting e-mail early today from a professional associate. He writes that “We are going to transition to WEBS as soon as it is available, as our agency has grown by leaps and bounds since we implemented SBS.  I haven't been this excited about a software release since… well, ever.” This friend, Michael, is the IT manager for a small not-for-profit agency in Bend, Oregon, a town known for great skiing. HE has worked with Windows Small Business Server (SBS) for many years and is now excited about the soon-to-be release Windows Essential Business Server (called EBS by Microsoft).

Some readers will recall a time before Y2K when Microsoft had a popular network infrastructure software bundle on the market called BackOffice. This product consisted of numerous applications such as Microsoft Exchange Server that ran on top of the Windows NT Server operating system. It was brilliant and complemented Microsoft Office (which was analogous to the “front office” application). BackOffice was designed to support a few servers in a medium-sized company. Nearly a decade later, I contend that the new EBS solution is much like BackOffice and in effect, marks the RETURN OF BACKOFFICE!

EBS comes in two flavors: standard and premium editions. Standard edition has three servers supported (each running the underlying Windows Server 2008 operating system):

  • Management server. This acts as the Active Directory domain services machine, and supports System Center Essentials.
  • Messaging server. This supports Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 and the Microsoft Forefront Security for Exchange Server product.
  • Security server. You can run a second copy of Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 here but more importantly – this machine supports Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration Server.

EBS premium offers a fourth server running Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Standard Edition. For the money, I believe that most people will purchase the premium edition to gain the SQL Server application as it is necessary to be the engine for many important line-of-business (LOB) applications. For example, many manufacturing programs require a database such as SQL Server to function. Features and functions aside, EBS is managed by a great console allowing efficient IT management. You can learn more about EBS by visiting http://www.microsoft.com/servers/default.mspx.

Now that I have defined EBS, allow me to return to my friend Michael in Bend Oregon. Today he see great future value in EBS allowing him to take his IT assets to the next level at his job. But I recently had lunch with members of the EBS product team and we discussed what challenges might await people seeking to implement EBS. First, there is an important need to recognize the planning cycle for such an IT deployment. EBS isn’t something to be deployment lightly or quickly. Rather, you should budget weeks, if not months, of planning and testing. Second, there are concerns about inhouse IT staff, not fully trained in EBS, not having a successful implementation. It is incumbent upon the organization purchasing EBS to also hire a skilled Microsoft Partner as its consultant to insure a smooth deployment. Third, I believe there is a need to critically evaluate whether EBS is the right solution in all situations. For example, some medium-sized firms are using a combination of hosted and on-premise IT solutions. If
some of the critical databases and e-mail functionality are hosted, there may not be a need for multiple on-site servers and good old fashioned Widows Server 2008 would suffice!

In future articles, I will further investigate EBS.

Harry Brelsford is the CEO of Seattle-based SMB Nation (www.smbnation.com).

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