Sunday, June 03, 2007

Overloading SBS

SBS is an extraordinarily complicated product. But it's sold to end users as if it's a plug and play appliance.

"You can host your own internet site: web and email! In addition, you've got all the benefits of Server 2003 and Exchange! Firewall protection. Microsoft's most powerful database. Plus Remote Web Workplace and Sharepoint. And every one of these has been completely revamped and replaced in the last three years. It really is the best $600 product in history."

"Golly Gee, Mr. Balmer, That's Swell!"

Many people don't sell SBS Premium because . . . to be honest . . . we're already asking that little box with 4GB Max RAM to do an awful lot.

Here are a few notes from a conversation with someone on the SBS development team. I don't have permission to attribute his comments, but I don't think the term "NDA" came up either.

Consider this as a strategy going forward:

Don't install anything on an SBS box.

That means SQL-based products go on a second server.

No line of business applications on the SBS box.

No business critical applications on the Small Business Server.
(Except domain control, A.D., Exchange, SharePoint, file shares, RWW, Faxing, DNS, DHCP, and Group Policies.)

We're already putting Terminal Services on a second server.


The theory is this: A plain vanilla SBS2003 install is complicated enough.

When you control (or at least understand) everything about the basic operations of the server, you can handle most troubleshooting in short order.

With R2, you can sell a separate SQL server and use the SBS CALs to access it. So that saves some money.

Just because we CAN load a nearly unlimited amount of stuff on a server doesn't mean that it's a good idea.

So what's your primary Line of Business app? Dentrix? American Contractor? PC Law? Whatever it is, start moving that stuff to a separate server.

How hard is this? I don't think it will be hard at all.

Begin saying this line and teach it to all of your technicians: "SBS already does more than enough work for your company. If you have any other applications that need to be installed on a server, you're going to need another server."

Tatoo this on your arm.

Don't make it a variable. Don't make it a discussion.

From now on "We really can't install additional applications on the Small Business Server."

From this date forward, the standard SBS install requires two servers. Neither one is very expensive (SBS is limited to 4GB RAM, and the second one doesn't need to be too beefy because SBS is still doing most of the work.).

Remember: Centro will require three servers. And that marketing space starts at fifty users.

At the end of the day, it costs money to do business. Clients need to know that this decision will save them time, trouble, and money over the three year life span of their servers. After all, support on that second server will be extremely cheap.

When you call the horribly incompetent SBS2003 support line, your chances of success will go up if your SBS box is pretty darn vanilla. And if you eliminate ISA and SQL from the mix, your chances will go up even more.

When you call PSS/CSS for support on Server2003 and SQL, those lines are staffed by people who actually know the product. The first engineer you get to will actually have seen the product before. And you'll know that you can trust them to muck around because they can't break anything they can't fix.

So, I propose that we work on this angle. And my friend on the SBS Development Team will work from inside the belly of the Leviathan.

It would be a great help if Microsoft would take the official line "We don't support the installation of additional programs on a Small Business Server." Not that they wouldn't support it, per se, but that you know you're working on an un-approved environment and you can expect downtime, delays, and problems.



Many LOBs require a separate box. Many consultants use ConnectWise. It cannot be on the domain controller and must be on a separate box. We use Kaseya. It must be on a separate box. Anyone who uses these three products has a Small Business Server, a ConnectWise Server, and a Kaseya Server.

This is a very reasonable and rational setup.

Clients will get this.


  1. hmmm. *Some* clients will get this. Others will not. My under-20 PC clients all have some sort of LOB app, anything from a custom VB app that keeps track of parisioners for a church, to one of the typical SMB accounting apps. All of them work just fine on their SBS box. No problems. None. Before I go hard-line telling people they must have another server for a LOB app, I'd need to see some evidence that they really do.

    That said, I do not sell SBS Prem. I have several good options for a separate hardware firewall, all good choices for different budgets. I like it that way. I don't like ISA on my clients' SBS systems. And if someone really needs a SQL server, as opposed to MSDE (or Express or whatever it's called this week), that does usually warrant a separate machine

  2. I think you meant to say max RAM for SBS is 4 GB, not 3. See

  3. You are correct, of course. I'll fix the post.

  4. Anonymous6:32 PM

    I would guess we support 50-60 SBS installs. More than half are running SQL with a lob in addition to Exchange. Some accounts don't really use Exchange but most do. Rare are the accounts that have a second SQL, Oracle or Progress server. Some of these servers are chugging along with a gig of ram and a PIII processor.

    It is sort of rare but not unheard that I call for support. I have called twice in the past two weeks though and I have gotten exceptional support.

    If they are going to suggest that you cannot do anything besides what comes in a SBS standard then they should spec the maximum spec as a P4 2.8 with 2 gigs max. Yes we have specced new servers with fancy dual Xeon processors and SCSI hard drives that show 8 processors in task manager. If you are going to tell me that I can overwork that box then you have no credibility.

  5. As I see it, the real issue with putting extra stuff on the SBS box is not that the hardware can't handle it, but rather that you increase the likelihood of bringing the entire business to a grinding halt when some little thing goes wrong. For example, suppose you put Blackberry Enterprise Server on SBS. Many people have done this and when it works, it works fine. But if something goes wrong with BES and you have to uninstall and reinstall it for some reason, you're looking at a minimum of 2 server reboots and maybe more. That's a lot of downtime that could have been avoided if BES was running on a separate box. Every application you add to SBS adds to the problem.

  6. Anonymous9:42 PM

    i'm not sure that premium vs std and the amount of ram matters that much because they are two topologies that are understood when designed.

    The key issue is compatibility and servicing. It's incredibly completed to engineer the pieces of SBS onto a single server. When that is completed it's a little hard to cover some other cases like with CRM, without CRM, WSS v2 or WSS v3, WSS back end in full SQL, reporting services added, WSUS 3, build the matrices and then add the 3rd party LOB app of your choice. SBS 2003 is like 20 products that I can define and another 100 that i can't. I installed everything on my SBS servers, then i moved them all to a second server. Life is a lot different for me.

    Is it a struggle to get the business owner to cough up the $$, perhaps it was easier for me because i only charge a $1 per year for my services. But i provided (threatened) them with a picture of what it would look like if I did bill them for my hours cleaning up the messes.

    Find better customers if necessary or charge the existing customers a lot to plan and test and deploy updates.

  7. I'm not saying you'll overload the machines with regard to hardware. No, I think most good consultants are selling Xeon or dual Xeon machines (or dual/quad core processors) with plenty of RAM and hard disc space.

    Hardware's not the issue.

    The issue is more in line with what problemsolver and anonymous point out: Line of Business applications make the the very complex system just that much more complex.

    When an LOB needs to make a change to .NET or (worse) cannot go above a certain patch level for some core component, that affects the whole system.

  8. Anonymous7:12 AM

    I don't accept a line of business app not allowing me to patch on even a member server. That's unacceptable in my book.

    Push back on the vendor, and test the patch, determine the risk and if necessary, patch without them.

  9. Anonymous3:33 PM

    I'd say you position is not too off based. Let's change the focus to become better focused; Car's. The guy who can tear down a carb, and do wonders on a 1970- car. may not be able to do didly, on todays cars. albeit, somethings remain similar, and he 'can get it done.' A lot of consultant's are great at cfg's, but don't really know how the parts interact. What makes the RAM or Proc spike? I enjoy underpowering software, to see how it really works. If you have the time to break things you could learn so much. "How bout' SBS Prem on a Duron?" 10 users, med email, med SQl, Profiles. Never went past 2.5GB

  10. Anonymous3:00 AM

    Of course, the next editionof SBS ("Cougar") will not support two-NIC configurations and therefore not be expecting to run ISA as an edge firewall. You will need to put ISA onto a separate box or rely on your hardware firewall appliance instead.

  11. Anonymous7:19 AM

    I think it's hugely self indulgent of you to say "It would be a great help if Microsoft would take the official line "We don't support the installation of additional programs on a Small Business Server.""

    This may be great for *you*, but I pretty much wholeheartedly disagree with your post so it sure as hell wouldn't be great for me.

    I have quite a number of SBS clients with less than 10 PCs who use LOB applications which are installed on their SBS system. There are relatively few if any problems with these various configurations, and any problems that do occur we have always managed to rectify without great difficulty.

    Having a solid understanding of the various components included in SBS as well as the applications you are installing is of course a fundamental requirement. If you have that understanding, I don't agree that adding additional applications to SBS causes any undue or unwarranted additional complexity.

    To suggest to these customers [who in some cases were wary of making the investment in *any* servers] that they need another one, just to run a single [and often relatively resource-unintensive] application, is ludicruous.

    Of course, the client expectations have to be managed suitably. Most importantly, every LOB application is different. Some certainly justify if not demand their own dedicated server - but the key here is that it should be a consideration of not only the SBS system [which can, and does handle additional applications comfortably] but the LOB application in question. BES for example I have running on a number of SBS sites without causing any problems. On the other hand, I've seen quite a few CRM3 installations that cause numerous problems [as well as having a fairly hefty resource footprint] and I would like to see the SBE edition available to install on it's own server within an SBS domain - but this is a reflection on the CRM product rather than the SBS.

    Hourses for courses, as they say.


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