Microsoft Small Business Server 2011 — Install Quirks

Well, maybe not quirks exactly, but, there do seem to be a few points of interest.

To review, Microsoft Small Business Server 2011 is a bundled combination of the following:

Windows Server 2008
Microsoft Exchange 2010
Microsoft SharePoint 2010
Microsoft SQL Server 2008

In its usual confusing way, Microsoft can’t offer a single version of this but rather, they have three editions. There is Windows Small Business Server Standard (with the software described above), Windows Small Business Server Essentials (which substitutes cloud versions of SharePoint and Exchange for the bundled server versions that come with Standard). There is also an supplementary Small Business Server Premium Add-On which adds another SQL-Server box for running back-end database applications or web sites. I’ve been working with Standard. This can serve a maximum of 75 users, which I’m sort of assuming means 75 currently connected users, and that you could configure more than that number.

On installation, the SBS server wants to be a DNS server as well as a DHCP server. It is helpful to have the server connected on the LAN, with a working internet connection. If, as in my case, you run a separate DHCP server (the box which doles out IP addresses for workstations as they come online), then you need to disable it temporarily while setting up the SBS machine. Otherwise, SBS will complain and fail to configure its connections to the internet.

Another quirk is that when you first install the operating system everything is installed on drive C: including users shares, Sharepoint folders and Exchange mailboxes. Presumably you’ll want these to reside on a separate set of disks, or partition from the O/S partition, and there is a series of “wizards” that allow you to accomplish this without pain. Once the folders are moved to the data drive or partition, the default new user folders are created in the correct location.

The SBS server must be the top level domain controller in a Windows network. Other Windows servers can be secondary domain controllers but not primary. There is an elaborate multi-page migration methodology which is supposed to allow you to migrate users for SBS 2003 to SBS 2011, however much of the discussion on the technical boards suggests that the migration is a nightmare. So, in the two instances that I’ve been upgrading, I’m starting from scratch. I don’t went to be caught in the middle where the old installation isn’t working and the new one isn’t ready for some unknown or odd reason.

I’m still on the fence as to whether SBS is a good idea. If you’ve already got a POP eMail server going, which has Spam filtering and all the standard features provided by an ISP, managing Exchange on a local server just seems to me to provide an opportunity for additional work and maintenance. It also places all critical applications on a single piece of hardware. On the other hand, Exchange has evolved as a pretty nice calendaring and eMail server, and SharePoint, for those who can use it, works well as an internal knowledge base. SBS includes other tricks, like VPN capability, OutLook web access for accessing your OutLook mailbox from the web, and lots of management wizards which tend to ease some of the burden of maintaining things.

As a practical matter, servers are pretty reliable these days… and you have to go out of your way to practice and rehearse a disaster-recovery scenarios because they just don’t happen that often.

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