CRN Test Centre: Small Business Server 2003 options

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Microsoft's launch of Small Business Server 2003 demonstrates the company's desire to address the largest segment of small businesses possible. That product comes in two versions, a low-priced Standard Edition and a higher-cost, feature-laden Premium Edition.

Standard Edition combines Windows Server 2003, Exchange 2003, Share Point Services and Microsoft Shared Fax Service into an easily managed, quickly deployed package, while the Premium Edition adds SQL Server 2000, ISA Server 2000 and Front Page 2003 to the mix. Both versions support as many as 75 users.

But with variety comes some complexity. The channel will have to think carefully about which version offers the best value for their clients. While Premium Edition might get the initial nod because of the additional feature set, solution providers will find the needs for those features few and far between and the scaled-down Standard Edition the best buy.

For example, the inclusion of ISA Server 2000 in the Premium Edition is aimed at businesses looking to leverage a software-based firewall integrated into the operating system, but most small-business implementations leverage broadband connections and readily available low-cost hardware firewalls. With that in mind, deploying ISA Server 2000 makes less sense for most sites and ceases to be a driving force for choosing Premium Edition over Standard edition.

Premium Edition's inclusion of SQL Server 2000 offers the ability to host complex databases but is only needed if an additional application requires SQL Server 2000. Many small-business applications don't require the power of SQL Server 2000, and some line-of-business applications come bundled with database engines such as MySQL. In those cases, Premium Edition has reduced value for prospective customers.

The final element added to Premium Edition is Front Page 2003, an advanced Web site authoring and management tool. Front Page 2003 is critical for getting the most out of Small Business Server 2003 sites that plan to use the product's integrated Internet and intranet functionality. But Front Page 2003 is also available separately as a low-cost upgrade or as part of the Office 2003 suite.

What's more, consider that there is no price penalty to move to Premium Edition at a later date. The charge for the upgrade to Premium Edition is the same as the initial difference in price between the two editions.

Channel partners will be faced with one other factor when deciding which edition to sell: to upgrade an existing system or to start a new installation. That's because customers using a previous edition of Small Business Server only have the option to upgrade to the new Premium Edition, which as an upgrade is priced the same as the scaled-down Standard Edition.

After evaluating both editions of Small Business Server, the CRN Test Center recommends that channel partners choose Standard Edition for new installations and integrate a hardware security appliance or firewall that offers content filtering, antispam features and antivirus services.

For sites requiring SQL Server or sites upgrading from a previous version, solution providers should go with the Premium Edition. However, it's still worthwhile to consider deploying a hardware-based security solution to reduce load on the file server and improve network performance.

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