More SBS 2003 Best Practices book: Advanced Plannign Issues

I am Harry Brelsford, the author of Windows Small Business Server 2003 Best Practices and I am posting up my book, a bit each day, over the next few months before SBS 2008 arrives!

Thanks for reading.

Harry Brelsford, CE< SMB Nation

www.smbnation.com

Advanced Planning Issues

This part of the chapter presents more details on software and hardware issues surrounding your SBS project. I offer a few comments with respect to SBS budgeting and the purchasing process.

Software

SBS ships in a variety of configurations. It’s important that you check the SBS 2003 product SKUs at the SBS page at Microsoft (www.microsoft.com/sbs), as these SKUs occasionally change to reflect market conditions (e.g., a competitive upgrade SKU being introduced), changes in pricing, or a new build (e.g., a service pack is slipstreamed into a SKU). You want to pick the right SKU for the right job. For many people, that’ll be the OEM SKU for SBS 2003, as they’ll be upgrading a server machine at the same time that SBS 2003 is being installed. For others, it’ll be the retail SKU of SBS 2003, because it’ll fit better if your reusing an existing server machine.

BEST PRACTICE: I’m not trying to cop-out here and shorten my typing in this chapter by not going into painful detail on product SKUs, part numbers, and a review of the legal agreement. Rather, in my past books when I’ve dedicated 10 pages to pricing, licensing, SKUs, and the such, I’ve found my writing is out-of-date six months later when Microsoft makes significant changes in the product category. Ergo, I’m not kidding when I say visit Microsoft’s SBS Web page at http://www.microsoft.com/sbs for the very latest. No book could stay current in this area!

There’s even an SBS 2003 SKU that is, in effect, a time-bombed trial version. This evaluation SKU (Part Number X10-04043), typically given away at Microsoft events such as TS2 (www.msts2.com) will allow you to run SBS 2003 for 180 days before you must purchase and install the “real” SBS SKU. That good news is that the evaluation SKU can be upgraded in-place, and you don’t need to FDISK or perform a complete reinstall to apply the “real” SBS SKU.

Don’t forget part of your SBS 2003 software purchasing process involves securing sufficient client access licenses (CALs).

BEST PRACTICE: There is an exception to the rule, just like US Tax Law (where there always seems to be an exception to the tax code). If you add another Windows Server 2003 server machine to your SBS network (perhaps to work as an application server and run an accounting application), you will NOT need to purchase Windows Server 2003 CALs (which are a different type of license from SBS

 Visit http://www.microsoft.com/technet for the latest updates for any Microsoft product.

CALs) for each user who intends to log on to the new Windows Server 2003 machine. That’s because the SBS 2003 CAL converts to per-seat for the network operating system component in that case (the Windows Server 2003 operating system). This was done to encourage the appropriate use of additional servers on a SBS 2003 network and not penalize the customer.

And just to throw another twist at you, SBS CALs are not bona fide Terminal Services CALs. For your information, Terminal Services CALs are very expensive and a separate product from anything else that we have discussed here in this chapter. Learn more about Terminal Services and its CALs at http://www.microsoft.com/servers.

Other Software

It is not uncommon to purchase other software to run on the server machine running SBS. I have found that SBS customers typically purchase:

                      Third-party tape backup applications, such as Veritas Backup Exec for Small Business Server

                      Virus detection applications, such as Trend Micro’s OfficeScan Suite

                      Accounting applications, such as Great Plains

                      Other business applications

 

The key point is that SBS is rarely purchased and installed in a software vacuum. There is typically a supporting cast of other software applications running on the SBS machine to provide an organization with a complete computing solution.

Notes:

BEST PRACTICE: Don’t forget that no software discussion is complete without considering what to deploy on the client computers. As of this writing in late 2003, the choice is clear with respect to workstation operation systems: Windows XP Professional. Throw on the latest Microsoft Office 2003 software family and you’ve got a rootin’, tootin’, wild workstation ready for some serious business!

Hardware

With respect to hardware, you name it, and it has probably been run on an SBS network. Why? Because smaller organizations often have lots of legacy equipment that they want to continue using on their SBS network. And small businesses aren’t known for overspending.

Microsoft has a set of recommended hardware specifications for the server and client workstations on an SBS network. These specifications can be found at— you guessed it—www.microsoft.com/sbs. Here again, I’ve elected not to list the specifics found on Microsoft’s Web page because its SBS hardware specifications are periodically updated to reflect real-world improvements, cost reductions in storage and memory, and good old-fashioned customer feedback.

BEST PRACTICE: So a few real-world tidbits to share. First, as of late 2003, I’d recommend 1GB of RAM memory, 50GB or higher of hard disk space, and dual processors (say Intel P4 in the 3 GHZ range). My words will fall on deaf ears a year after the book is written, of course, as memory and disks drop in price and processors become more powerful!

SBS Cheapskate

, Beware!

Don’t poor-boy that SBS hardware purchase. I’ve seen people scrimp several ways with SBS-related hardware, none of it acceptable. Here are three examples. First, small businesspeople have attempted to recycle older monitors from retired workstations so that they didn’t have to purchase a new monitor with the new server (a cost savings of perhaps $150). The problem is that older monitors can’t provide the screen resolution you need to work with the Server Management

Visit http://www.microsoft.com/technet for the latest updates for any Microsoft product.

console. In fact, if you can’t create an 800×600 screen resolution on the server during the setup of SBS 2003, you’ll receive a blocking message that doesn’t allow you to continue.

Second, I’ve observed small businesses that wanted to use the SBS server machine as a workstation for one of its users. At a land development company, the president (the heiress to a well-known Pacific Northwest retail empire) ran Microsoft Word, Outlook, and CompuServe right on the SBS server machine. The performance was unacceptable. Several months later, the president purchased a workstation, allowing the SBS server machine to do what it does best: act as a dedicated server. Needless to say, both the president and I were much happier from that point forward in our SBS relationship.

Finally, there is the case of the green machine. Here, a paving contractor decided to save a few bucks by using a workstation as an SBS server, resulting in some strange behavior. In this case, the BIOS-level energy-saving function couldn’t be turned off, so each night, when the server had several hours of inactivity, it went to sleep. Well, the underlying network operating system in SBS didn’t like that one bit, forcing the general manager at the paving company to reboot every morning. I finally solved this problem by creating artificial server activity every 15 minutes (I ran a ping program called PingPlotter that you can learn about at http://www.nessoft.com).

BEST PRACTICE: Better yet, leave the hassles of the cheapskate world behind and buy an honest-to-goodness name-brand server, such as those from HP, to run SBS and avoid many of the problems described above.

Notes:

Hardware Necessities

It goes without saying that you should purchase the tape backup unit—once listed as “optional” in Microsoft’s server requirements (in the SBS 2000 time frame)—to back up your valuable data. Some form of backup, often tape based, is hardly optional and the Microsoft SBS 2003 development team is well aware of that (you’ll learn about backup improvements in both Chapter 4 and Chapter 11). Other necessities include an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to protect your system and properly shut it down in a power outage. UPS devices from American Power Corporation (APC) ship with a free copy of PowerChute.

BEST PRACTICE: Another item to consider is a Zip- or Jaz-type drive with removable cartridges. I’ve used these in one specific case with great success in an SBS scenario. That case is SQL Server. SQL Server allows you to run an on-the-fly database backup separate from the SBS-based tape backup you typically perform at night. This internal backup to SQL Server typically runs at midday, so you get a fresh SQL Server database backup between tape runs. I like to drop these internal SQL Server backups down on a Zip or Jaz drive or CD/DVD burner so that the tape drive is not disturbed. It’s something to consider if you are working with SQL Server on your SBS network. And, as an aside, if you ever hear a grinding sound with a Zip or Jaz drive, beware, as trouble is looming on the drive.

Hardware Compatibility List

One of the final hardware issues to be discussed is hardware compatibility. The good news is that SBS 2003 is much less finicky about the hardware you select for use on the server machine compared to prior releases. Here is what I mean. If the hardware runs and is supported on Windows Server 2003, it’ll work with SBS 2003! Hardware devices that have been tested for Windows Server 2003 are listed on the Hardware Compatibility List (HCL) at http://www.microsoft.com/ hcl. This list should be honored under all circumstances. More important, if you don’t select hardware from the HCL, it is likely you won’t receive official Microsoft support when you have problems. And it’s a sure bet that noncompliant hardware won’t have the cute Windows seal of approval on its retail box!

 Visit http://www.microsoft.com/technet for the latest updates for any Microsoft product.

BEST PRACTICE: Please honor hardware as a critical supporting actor on your SBS 2003 network. I’ve become partial to name-brand network adapter cards, such as Intel. With modems, I can truly say you get what you pay for. If you’re serious about the Shared Fax Service in SBS 2003 (to be discussed in Chapter 9), then you need to purchase a robust and capable modem, such as the v.Everything model from US Robotics/3COM. Such a modem, known to sell for around $250 USD, delivers your basic five 9s or six sigma of outstanding performance.

SBS Budgeting

And as the corner is turned on Chapter 2 with its focus on planning, don’t forget to keep an eye on the financial farm, that is the SBS budget. I’ve seen many a good SBS project fail not for technical reasons, but because business basics, such as creating and adhering to a budget, were ignored.

BEST PRACTICE: When budgeting for your network, be sure to consider the following budget tip: If you’re eyeing a more powerful server than you planned on purchasing and are concerned about its cost, perhaps the more powerful one isn’t as expensive as it first appears. For example, let’s say a server with more processors, RAM, and storage would cost you an additional $1,500. Now, assuming you recover your costs or depreciate the server over three years, that incremental amount ($1,500) adds up to an extra $500 per year, or roughly $1.50 per day in aggregate for the entire company. So ask yourself this: For an extra $1.50 per day, shouldn’t I purchase the server I really want? In all likelihood, you will probably enjoy more than $1.50 per day in increased network performance, as measured by your staff’s ability to get more work accomplished. Think about it!

Summary

You’ve now completed two chapters of SBS definition, needs analysis, and planning, and you know what? It’s now time to move on and actually install SBS 2003.

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