SBS has a relatively long and dubious history. Reflecting both Microsoft's technology and business culture, SBS has grown to be one of Microsoft's leading product lines and technologies. But to completely understand this transition, it is necessary to go back to the beginning. Back in the 1990s, Microsoft was riding high on the wave of success with the BackOffice Server product line. Its acceptance in both large and medium business spaces allowed companies to load the suite's products across a many servers for one bundled price. Many companies found the capability to both load all the products they need and disperse them across their network increased productivity. Capitalizing on the success of BackOffice Server, Microsoft was looking for a product to enable the small business market in a similar way.
Despite BackOffice being a great product and a great value, Microsoft kept hearing it was too large, complicated, and expensive for smaller businesses, many looking for their first server solution. At the same time NT Server by itself didn't fit this bill and became even more expensive and unwieldy as other server products were added. From this divide was born BackOffice Small Business Server, providing similar functionality in a one-server solution heralding an era of right-sizing Microsoft solutions to meet the different needs specific to small business. Now, with one piece of software, small business could provide a viable and respected networking solution for this long-neglected segment.
First ReleaseSBS 4.0
The first iteration of Small Business Server, SBS 4.0 made its debut in late 1997 with little fanfare. Built on top of NT Server 4.0 Service Pack 3, SBS 4.0 was an alphabet soup of solutions addressing the needs of the small business market allowing companies of fewer than 25 users options they had never been able to effectively utilize before. Designed to be easily managed without a dedicated IT manager and attractively pricedless expensive than the sum of its componentsSBS 4.0 shipped with five Client Access Licenses (CALs) and was expandable to 25 licenses in packs of five at a time. Other products included Exchange 5.0, Proxy Server, SQL Server 6.5, Modem Sharing service, and Fax service and were the same or similar to the full products but with some restrictions.
Not limited to just the server, client-side applications such as Internet Explorer, Microsoft Outlook, SBS redirectors for modems and faxing, and Proxy Server were included with few restrictions. These restrictions were designed, and still are, to prevent organizations from purchasing multiple copies of SBS and linking them together; as a result, there can only be one SBS server in a domain.
Exchange 5.0 along with the included Outlook 95 provided shared calendaring and messaging along with internal email and integrated external email. This was remarkable; for the first time small firms could have a communication system comparable to those of large multinational corporations in one small package.
Secure web browsing and hosting with web reporting was provided by Proxy Server, the forerunner of ISA Server. The inclusion of IIS 3.0, Active Server Pages, and FrontPage 97 provided tools to build robust internal and external web applications accessible by customers and company personnel.
The inclusion of SQL Server 6.5 was also the tip of the iceberg for a more business-based solution, but the inclusion of Index Server 1.1 and Crystal Reports provided the capability to build robust data collection and reporting tools unseen at this price point before.
The networking package was phenomenal in what it accomplished and had few if any rivals to its features. Remote Access Services (RAS) provided by a dial-up package gave mobile users direct access to the server, providing a way to share files and information remotely before this was as common as it is today. Not to be outdone by remote access, a unique modem sharing server, pooling up to four modems on the server, allocated bandwidth on demand to network users and eliminated the need for each computer to have a dedicated modem line. In many offices, data/fax lines were in short supply or prohibitively expensive, and modem sharing alone many times justified the cost of SBS 4.0.
But what good are all these tools and advances if you have to hire a full-time IT person or spend days administering the network and systems? This is where SBS really excelled. Providing extensive information to both administrators and users by means of the default Intranet page, the SBS Console, server-based wizards for SBS server setup, and the Internet Connection Wizard, along with device and peripheral management, reduced network monitoring needs to hours, not days. Even client deployment was simplified with the Client Setup Wizard and the creation of the client installation diskthat is, the SBS magic disk.
Although the SBS market share was and still is difficult to gauge, Microsoft was pleasantly surprised by the response to SBS. At this point in time, SBS sales were almost exclusively channel driven. Value added resellers (VARs) and consultants typically installed SBS 4.0 to provide a platform for delivery of full-featured software, such as accounting or database. A few hardy companies pursued SBS on their own, but this was more the exception than the rule.
Despite its potential, SBS 4.0 had its problems. To start, Windows 95 and NT Workstation were the only supported clients at the time, leaving out the newer clients such as Windows 98. RAS provided for remote management, but most found that the graphically intense console provided unacceptable performance over a dial-up modem, and, consequently, service providers turned toward other remote control applications. The approved hardware list was restrictive, and if the wizards found unexpected hardware or conditions, the wizards would often break in such a way that the problems created were difficult to correct. A service release (v4.0a) appeared quickly after the initial iteration of SBS to fix many of these problems.
SBS 4.0a was unleashed to the world in late summer 1998 as Service Pack 1 for SBS. Internet Explorer was upgraded to version 4.01 on both the server and clients. This was necessary for the redesigned consoles to work and take advantage of Internet Explorer's new 4.x HTML improvements.
The new and improved consoles fixed many of the bugs, hang-ups, and crashes experienced by SBS 4.0 users. The Internet Mail and News settings were fixed and added to the automatic configurations settings along with fixes to Exchange's maximum message file size error reporting. Improving both the stability and performance, SBS 4.0a showed the viability, responsiveness, and adaptability of the product.
Second ReleaseSBS 4.5
Summer 1999 saw the second major release of Microsoft BackOffice Small Business Serverversion 4.5. Even though the approved hardware compatibility lists (HCL) and recommended system requirements remained virtually unchanged, SBS 4.5 provided many enhancements while further improving stability. If the optional install of Office 2000 was performed, the disk space requirements doubled to a whopping 4GB.
SBS 4.5 provide a more flexible server setup program than SBS 4.0's highly automated inflexible setup program. Despite the increased flexibility, SBS 4.5 required a floppy drive configured as the A: drive and a modem and network card from the HCL. Many times if these last two components weren't on the HCL they would not work, and the server would not load.
The Internet Connection Wizard (ICW) in SBS 4.0 assumed that users were signing up with an ISP for the first time. By the release of SBS 4.5, the ICW provides two options: automated sign-up and manual sign-up. These options let you rapidly create new accounts with an SBS-friendly ISP or configure SBS to use an existing ISP account. The ICW included template forms that could be sent to the ISP or used locally to gather required information. Microsoft customized the templates for the three major supported connectivity options: modem, router, or full-time/broadband. These three templates extend SBS's reach into the realms of the ISDN, asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL), and cable modems users. Because port settings in SBS were difficult at best for both end users and administrators, SBS 4.5 provided a new firewall configuration interface to take the guesswork out of properly configuring security; configuration of the proxy settings for Exchange Server, Proxy Server, PPTP, and POP3 were among those available. Another improvement over 4.0, along with the continued rise in DSL, was that modems could be added after installation of SBS, but the configuration of services such as RAS, Proxy Server, Faxing, and others needed to be done by hand if the device wasn't present at install.
After finalizing the hardware installation portion, SBS 4.5 displayed a new and exciting dialog box. This option allowed for the review of disk-space requirements and more importantly the altering of target locations for most of the server applications, allowing you to split SBS components, data directories, a company-shared folder, and users' folders across different physical and logical drives. Other than the requirement of the NT Server and a few other services to be installed on the system drive, the SBS applications could be structured and installed in other locations, allowing even the data folders (for example, Company, Users) to be moved to a nondefault drive or path.
Speaking of the components, many were updated in SBS 4.5. SQL Server 7.0 replaced the buggy SQL Server 6.5, and the database limits were increased from 1GB for all databases to an unlimited number of databases with 10GB per database. IIS 3.0 was replaced by Internet Information Server (IIS) 4.0, as well as Exchange Server 5.5 over Exchange 5.0. Mail and calendaring were drastically improved with Outlook 2000, FrontPage 98 improved web development over its predecessor, and Proxy Server 2.0 was a refresh for the previous version. Although some of these had been available for SBS 4.0, SBS 4.5 integrated these into the server setup.
Like its predecessor, SBS 4.5 allowed the creation of an unlimited number of user accounts but raised the limit for congruent logons from 25 to 50. Client requirements did improve and now supported both the Windows NT and the complete Windows 9x platforms. The Add User Accounts and Set Up Computer Wizards remained mainly the same except for one major change that allowed for the customization of the SBS client disk to push out not only unattended install of the associated SBS client application but also other Microsoft Applications such as Office 2000 along with other third-party applications. Following a reboot on the client machine, the first logon to the domain triggered the unattended installation of the previously selected applications.
The idea of an HTML-based customizable console isn't new to SBS. However, SBS 4.5 added more functionality to the central management console page by including indicators for available and total disk space for each volume. Another section of the console page displayed indicators for any stopped crucial services. Double-clicking on the stopped service would restart the service eliminating the need to visit the Services Control Panel and event logs to find critical stopped services. One drawback of the console, though, was its lack of an autorefresh; it had to be updated often to display the current status information. Also new to SBS 4.5 was the Server Status tool. A windfall for proactive network administrators, it would email or fax status reports and associate log files at scheduled times allowing monitoring of key indicators and logs at a glance.
Remote management in SBS 4.0 was abysmal at best utilizing RAS via a dial-up network connection. The limited bandwidth proved unable to handle the graphically intense console and provided poor performance over analog lines. Realizing this problem, SBS designers retooled the SBS 4.5 remote management capabilities to use the remote desktop features of NetMeetingversion 2.1 at the timeto access the SBS console. Although intended as a security feature, NetMeeting 2.1 required someone to accept the connection at the server. Many found this security mechanism frustrating, but fortunately NetMeeting 3.0 took care of this problem and rectified the problems of remotely managing an SBS server without resorting to third-party solutions.
Microsoft still didn't really understand the small business market share but did realize it had a good thing going. Katy Hunter, SBS product manager at the time, characterized the product as exceeding Microsoft's projections. According to Joshua Feinberg, author of Building Profitable Solutions with Microsoft BackOffice Small Business Server 4.5 (Microsoft Press, 1999), stated that "SBS sales [remained] almost entirely channel driven." Microsoft VARs continued installing SBS to provide not only the core functionality of SBS but also as a delivery platform for other solutions. OEM SBS 4.5 installation did make an appearance, but was very limited. SBS 4.5 continued the huge strides forward in terms of installation flexibility, ease of deployment, remote administration, proactive management, and stability.
Third ReleaseSBS 2000
The third release in the product line, Windows Small Business Server 2000, was widely anticipated to be released in the third quarter of 2000 but was delayed waiting for extended release dates of some of its component parts. When SBS 2000 finally debuted to the world in New Jersey, spring 2001, the launch and accompanying webcast were much larger than expected. SBS had finally surpassed the point of critical mass for the product to truly succeed, and by many accounts was the first SBS ready for prime time.
Massive changes took place in the Microsoft platform between NT and Windows 2000 along with great strides in SBS. Loaded full of standard versions of Microsoft newly updated Servers platforms, SBS 2000 delivered Windows 2000 Server, plus Windows 2000 Server-based solutions for email, fax, database, and secure, shared Internet access all in one integrated solution for an exceptional value. This exceptional value gave small business unprecedented tools and resources to compete in the new emerging global economy.
What made Server 2000 products so special and robust? Two words: Active Directory. Active Directory, first implemented in Windows 2000, is Microsoft's implementation of a centralized LDAP-compliant directory. Centralizing and integrating many of the previously divergent technologies and platforms provided amazing benefits in interoperability, usability, and management while reducing the complexity of maintaining the computing environment. All this powerful technology enables unified setup and centralized management across all the component applications and even down to the client level. Coinciding with that, an explosion of new and improved services and applications made the Server 2000 platform so robust and usable. Built on top of that was the SBS 2000 integrated setup experience, remote server administration capabilities, rich server monitoring features, and alert-based reporting of critical server events, setting new standards for ease of installation, use, and administration. Despite remaining at 50 concurrent users, SBS offered far greater value than any other SBS product and understates its true capability.
Many of the nagging problems of the past vanished. Setup was easy, intuitive, and repeatable. The HCL was extensive, but hardware not on the list generally worked without problems. If installation problems did arise or required hardware was installed later, the integrated setup could be rerun to correct the problem.
As in previous releases, SBS 2000 saw refreshes to the latest Microsoft products. NT Server was replaced with Windows Server 2000, and, because the interface had been standard across most products, those familiar with other Windows 2000 products were able to find things in their usual places. SQL Server 7 was replaced with the more robust SQL 2000 with integrated Windows security and functions, allowing better applications with better administration and access controls.
Another leap forward in Microsoft technology and in SBS was the tag out of Exchange 5.5 by Exchange 2000. The first improvement was that Exchange 2000's database was integrated into Active Directory and no longer required its own database for mailbox and contact stores. The email store itself was still separate. This also meant that lookup of email and other contact information could be done through both Active Directory and the Exchange/Outlook combination. Outlook Web Access saw great improvements in Exchange 2000 with an interface that matched Outlook's form and functionality better and was relatively easy to access and deploy.
The other major replacement of SBS 2000 was that Proxy Server 2.0 was replaced with the new and super improved Microsoft Internet Acceleration and Access Server 2000 better known as ISA 2000. Proxy was good, but ISA was really good. Both products provided companywide, shared Internet access, but ISA provided faster and more secure access than before. Greater capability to adjust the limits and retention of cached content made it possible to reclaim bandwidth previously used by repeated access to the same Internet content. Along with this was the ability to manage employee Internet access based on time of day, group membership, and job roles. With the ever-increasing number of Internet applications, the expanded filtering made it possible to still allow access to the Web while blocking those applications that were not appropriate for that environment. Access and control to the network through virtual private networks (VPNs) were enhanced with ISA 2000; securely accessing the network remotely became easier to implement and manage. And what good would all this functionality be without the monitoring and reporting? That was taken care of too. ISA 2000 provided detailed overviews and reports on all activity through the external interface of the server.
With little change in the price of the product and the major gains in its functionality, SBS 2000 was well worth the price of admission, but the SBS development team was not satisfied to stop there. The small business administration console and wizards were improved and extended. The design of SBS remained to provide ease-of-administration capabilities wherever and whenever possible, and even though administration could be performed outside the wizards the easiest way to keep the system healthy was to follow the wizards. The wizards performed an increasingly complex scripted process that saved many steps.
Internet and email connectivity was accomplished with the new Internet Connection Wizard. User and computer setup wizards were further expanded and improved, and even though the mystical "SBS setup disk" wasn't needed, it still simplified setup. SBS 2000 software installation capabilities included the Add User Wizard or the Define Client Applications link but continued to use Windows installer files and not Group Policy for software deployment. By doing this the need for a Windows 2000-only environment was eliminated and allowed more flexibility in SBS 2000 to customize application installs without direct user intervention.
Shared Fax and Modem Services Fax continued into SBS 2000. Although the shared modem service use declined, the shared fax continued to grow. Furthermore, the wizards created appropriate settings in Windows 2000, ISA Server, and Exchange, and if needed could be rerun to change appropriate settings and configurations.
A new tool emerged from the development team in SBS 2000, the Microsoft Exchange POP3 Connector was designed to fill the gap for those wanting native SMTP service of Exchange while maintaining the identity surrounding their current POP accounts. Even after migrating to SBS, many small businesses were unable to separate themselves from the identity and connectivity they had built around their current accounts. Because of this, the POP3 Connector was designed to translate existing POP3 email into Exchange's Information Store, allowing users to keep their POP3 email accounts while taking advantage of the new features of Exchange Server.
Interestingly, SBS could be configured to support both the POP3 Connector along with the native SMTP capabilities of Exchange 2000. Why would you want to do this? The first reason would be to allow the graceful transition from POP3-based accounts to native SMTP emails over time and without loss of contact. After a reasonable transition period, the old POP3 account could be cancelled and deleted. The other reason for this would be to provide a degree of disaster recovery and redundancy in cases of unavailability of the SBS server. The MX records could be set to provide delivery to an alternative location; thus emails wouldn't be lost in the process. After the return of connectivity or availability of the server, the email could be pulled down from the POP3 server to the Exchange store on the SBS server with no loss of emails in the process. This provided great power in being able to connect and stay connected with customers. Add to this, email aliasing and mail-enabled public folders, and you had solutions that were the envy of larger organizations.
IIS 5.0 along with FrontPage 2000 increased the capability to provide companies with web-enabled presence and solutions giving potential customers increased access to information and products. After SBS 2000 was released, the recommendation of hosting externally oriented websites on SBS was discouraged but could still be done and was a solution for smaller companies looking for their first web presence.
Advances in Microsoft Health Monitor provided more robust monitoring and reporting, providing more advanced warning of potentially critical problems. Terminal Services replaced Net Meeting for not only remote administration but also remote access to the server, allowing unprecedented remote access to the system.
Although the applications on the client side remained relatively unchanged, changes on the server side were remarkable. The majority of the problems that had plagued SBS in the past had disappeared. Installation and setup had become straightforward, stable, and repeatable. The narrow list of acceptable hardware was expanded to easily work with most Windows-compliant hardware. Although SBS 2000 was still mainly deployed by partners and consultants as a first server solution or as a platform for other applications, the number of OEM offers increased significantly. SBS finally became a feasible product for Microsoft and continued on despite the discontinuation of Microsoft BackOffice Server Suite.
Fourth ReleaseSBS 2003
The fourth iteration of the product, SBS 2003, was again a product born of a new paradigm. The Windows 2000 platform provided great form and function, but at the same time was released with most of its services turned on by default. This had been a friendlier and safer time, but the advent of the Internet also saw an increase in malicious activity. Microsoft came under increasing scrutiny for its vulnerabilities and lax security. The emphasis had been on revolutionary increases in productivity while leaving the security and lockdown of the system to those using the system. This all changed with Microsoft's security lockdown in 2002 along with the beginnings of the trustworthy security initiative. The mantra became secure by design, secure by default, secure by deployment. So, moving forward, products would be shipped to have all but the needed services for core functionality turned off and remote access blocked or secured from malicious access.
In the same time frame, Microsoft and others began to realize that the computing world was approaching the limits of increased productivity and that the individual, even if given better tools, could not provide greater productivity alone. The greater emphasis on collaborative solutions began to emerge. With better collaboration and access to information, teams of individuals could be more productive and waste less time looking for information or re-creating work that had been previously performed.
So into this environment SBS 2003 was born in late 2003 after an extended development and testing process. Whereas SBS 2000 was thought of as the first real release of Small Business Server, SBS 2003 is the follow-up to that and provides leaps in functionality and usability. SBS 2003 is built on Windows 2003, which takes advantage of the stability of Windows 2000 Server and as noted before boots up with none of the server components turned on, reducing the attack surface to minimal levels.
Other improvements in Windows Server 2003 were improvements to Active Directory and the inclusion of the capability to delete classes from the schema, which had been impossible under Windows 2000. Group Policy was improved to help with administration along with improved scripting and command-line tools. Disk management and backup were enhanced, and the inclusion of Volume Shadow Copy now allows backup of open files along with other benefits. Many of these improvements do not directly impact most users but are the technologies on which SBS 2003 are built.
By default SBS 2003 installs Active Directory, Windows SharePoint Services, and Exchange Server. Other services include a robust basic firewall, DHCP server, and NAT routing using two network cards. The interface has been enhanced to assist the new administrator to manage the environment while providing advanced tools for the seasoned SBS professional. Even though designed to be a first server solution for many companies, SBS 2003 is easily expandable to a multiserver solution. A terminal server is often the first additional server deployed within an SBS domain because Terminal Services in Application mode has been removed from SBS 2003. Realizing the increased market for small to medium-sized business and that often companies ran into problems with the previous user limits, Microsoft again raised the user limit, this time to 75 congruent users. Now additional licenses can be added without the need of the licensing disk and can be activated over the Internet.
At SBS 2003's one-year anniversary, Microsoft revealed the fact that in the first four months after its release, SBS 2003 sold more units than were sold in the entire first year after the release of SBS 2000. According to Scott Bekker, "Microsoft announced that it [had] sold 262 percent more Small Business Server licenses in the year since launching SBS 2003 than it did in the 12 months after the launch of SBS 2000." Part of this is due to the new technology mix, but it is probably more because of the continued economic value of SBS. More importantly there has been a shift to the majority of the deployments coming from OEMs and larger system builders. Although consultants are still deploying SBS in record numbers, they are no longer the largest category of deployments for SBS.