Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 review

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Release 2 of Windows Small Business Server 2003 represents the first major update release to Microsoft’s flagship small-business OS since its launch in 2004 (see issue 113, p177). However, R2 stumbled at the first hurdle, being recalled when Microsoft discovered the final release contained non-final versions of some of the core components.

Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 review

New features are thin on the ground, but security is high on the agenda: R2 includes Update Services, which centralises management of updates and patches. Elsewhere, the mailbox store limit for Exchange Server 2003 has increased to 75GB and the Premium version includes SQL Server 2005 Workgroup Edition. The upper limit of 75 users or devices still holds, but CALs have been improved to provide better access to additional Windows Server, Exchange and SQL Server systems without the need to buy more licences.

These are the key improvements, but the Premium version also offers new database-reporting services, a Report Builder, native database encryption and increased hardware support to 3GB of memory. Along with the new SQL Server 2005, SBS Premium also offers ISA Server 2004 and Office FrontPage 2003.

Installation starts by booting your nominee server and feeding in the CD-ROMs. However, at the back of the wallet there’s a DVD that will save some disc-swapping time. Be careful with the processor count on your server, as SBS only supports two physical processors. With the latest dual-core Xeon processors already making a significant penetration into the small business server market, this means there’s now less point in buying a dual-socket system (though, to clarify, SBS 2003 R2 does support dual-socket setups).

Existing SBS 2003 installations can be upgraded, but if you’re running fresh from the box expect the entire process to take four to five hours. You’re also presented with a To Do list, which we recommend you follow to the letter. The main server management console hasn’t seen any significant changes, but you now have an extra entry for the Update Services. This is just Microsoft’s WSUS (Windows Server Update Services), but it’s been neatly integrated into the SBS package. The services need to be synchronised first by downloading all required patches and updates, and then you can set up different schedules to prioritise the update process for servers and workstations. Clients get their update settings from the preconfigured group policy objects, so once you’ve reviewed and approved the latest patches they’ll be applied at the appointed time. The new green health check provides an at-a-glance status overview of your entire network.

Apart from its greater storage capacity, those familiar with Exchange 2003 won’t see any differences. However, novices will find wizards for virtually every operation. These are designed to keep you away from the innards of SBS, and for good reason: the sheer size of this package makes manual configuration very hard. Client setup is easy, with Outlook and shared fax services automatically deployed, and you can add custom apps to this process. It will also offer to load the Connection Manager for remote workers and ActiveSync for Pocket PC users. The next time a client logs on to a target system, all the selected apps will be automatically loaded and preconfigured.

We found the new server reporting tools worked well, and were able to email these to selected users, where they can view a rundown of network and internet usage. The performance report provides a summary of all detected errors and alerts with explanations and suggested fixes.

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