The REAL hardware guide to SBS 2003 [Advanced Small Business Server 2003 Best Practices book excerpt]

Hiya – harryb here – I am the publisher of the Advanced Small Business Server 2003 Best Practices (SBS) book and I like to hold virtual book readings. So here you go!

The Real SBS 2003 Recommended

Hardware Guide

In an ideal world, SBS would run well on a platform built strictly around Microsoft’s recommended hardware list. But that’s the sweet, sugar-coated version of the story. In reality, you’ll want much more muscle. In this section I’ll set you on the right track given today’s hardware scene.

Building the Best Server on a Budget

Capable hardware is relatively inexpensive, as I mentioned earlier, so it doesn’t pay to scrimp—especially when you can actually extend the useful life of your server and client machines by investing in more powerful components. For example, an entry-level HP ProLiant ML 110 server starts at under $500 and includes a 2.6 GHz Celeron. It’s hard, though, to make valuations on clock speed alone these days, because Intel and AMD have both given up using actual frequencies in their product names. AMD instead uses a model rating for its desktop products and an arbitrary number scheme for its server chips, while Intel uses a similar number scheme for the Pentium 4; only its Xeon family is still sold on the basis of operating frequency. But I digress.

The point is that even a $500 server is significantly more sophisticated than
anything on the SBS 2003 recommended hardware list, and I’d be reluctant

CHAPTER Chaper 2 1 So Understanding You Want to Hardwre Be an in SMB the SBS Consultant?!?! Environment

even to use a 2.6 GHz Celeron (Intel’s value desktop solution) when more capable hardware is readily available. There’s an old saying, that nobody ever got fired for buying an IBM machine. The same holds true for Intel processors. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and tell you that the smart buy isn’t necessarily the one from the biggest blue-chip manufacturer. Rather, when you buy, choose the components that offer the most value today. While large enterprises seek warmth under the blankets of big names, know that plenty of companies recognized AMD’s innovation early on and adopted Opteron for their custom 64-bit environments.

So when it comes to choosing a server platform, I’d recommend looking either to Intel’s Xeon at 2.8 GHz and higher, or to AMD’s Opteron 240 and higher. Both products, though not inexpensive, support up to dual-processor configurations for ample expansion and more than enough performance in SBS 2003. However, there are other servers available for under $1000 that still have the Xeon chip, such as HP’s ProLiant ML330.

After sinking a fair dime into a modern processor, you might be tempted to leave an entry-level server with its preconfigured 256 MB of system memory. But keep in mind that SBS 2003 requires 256 MB and Microsoft actually recommends at least 384 MB. Memory isn’t the high-end commodity that it once was, though, so try to make room in the budget for at least 1 GB of RAM, or 512 MB at the bare minimum. Because most platforms utilize dual-channel configurations, a pair of 512 MB modules will put you at the ideal capacity and in most cases will leave at least two more slots for expansion, should you desire an extra gigabyte or two down the road. Using two modules will also guarantee peak performance. I’ve seen more than one name-brand server sporting a single memory module, which cuts theoretical bandwidth in half (from 5.3 gigabytes per second to 2.6 gigabytes per second on Intel’s E7525 chipset with DDR333 memory).

The goal here is balance, so erring on the side of overabundance will keep your server’s proverbial gears well oiled. And if you’re looking for a point of reference, I’ve been running 1 GB of RAM for well over a year now in my workstation, and it’s as responsive as ever.

When it comes to hard drives, there’s no such thing as too big. There is such a
thing as too expensive, though, so you’ll want to weigh performance against


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capacity. Enterprise-level SCSI hard drives (10,000 to 15,000 RPM) are naturally the most popular, by virtue of their speed and phenomenal reliability ratings. But I don’t consider them to be necessary implements, especially in smaller applications where a mail server might be doing double duty as a file server for five to ten client systems. In those cases, I’m a big proponent of Serial ATA hardware, which is significantly easier to install and configure than older SCSI technology, plus is much cheaper.

This doesn’t mean that you should sacrifice redundancy. Most of Intel’s server and workstation boards include at least some form of Serial ATA RAID support, and standalone RAID cards now offer up to Serial ATA RAID 5 for peak performance and data security. Maxtor’s near-line MaXLine III, for example, is available in capacities up to 300 GB, with massive 16 MB buffers and a 1,000,000 hour mean time between failures (MTBF). Suddenly the recommended 4 GB of storage space doesn’t seem like much, does it? A more mainstream recommendation for businesses with low I/O throughput would be a simple pair of 160 GB drives in a RAID 1 mirroring configuration for data redundancy. The result is reasonably fast and relatively secure, and is substantially less expensive than an exotic hot-plug SCSI array. More demanding applications could use the extra performance of a RAID 5 array.


BEST PRACTICE: One of Microsoft’s most basic requirements for SBS 2003 is a CD-ROM drive, or they optionally recommend the use of a higher-capacity DVD drive. Either option works just fine, but I’ve also had luck using a DVD writer as an alternative backup device. Some of the best 16x drives write at 22.8 megabytes per second and finish 4.7 GB discs in less than six minutes. While media is somewhat expensive and is only usable once, many backup applications are fully capable of recognizing and spanning entire hard drives over 4.7 GB optical discs. Consider optical backup if you anticipate the need to locate individual files, which is much easier with an optical disc than with the slower access time of a tape drive.

While we’re on the subject of backup, Microsoft’s list doesn’t really emphasize
the importance of saving your information on a regular and consistent basis.
My personal business server has a 146 GB SCSI drive for primary storage, a

CHAPTER Chaper 2 1 So Understanding You Want to Hardwre Be an in SMB the SBS Consultant?!?! Environment

160 GB external USB 2.0 drive for primary backup, and a DVD±R/RW drive as a secondary backup. This might sound excessive, but I have lost all of my data on more than one occasion and on more than one system as a result of negligence, and I’m not going to let it happen again.

My own business operation doesn’t call for tape backup, but that’s something you’ll surely want to consider for a larger business. Tape backup offers a few benefits over optical storage and even external hard drives. For starters, tape can cost mere cents per gigabyte—a fraction of the price you can expect to pay for other, perhaps more convenient solutions. Tape also enjoys a wide range of capacities, between 4 GB and 500 GB uncompressed, making it easy to run daily incremental backups or more thorough and complete backups, depending on your strategy. Then there’s the fact that tapes are rewritable, shock-resistant, and durable, lasting up to 30 years. If you choose tape in favor of a disk drive, make the backup procedure easy by buying a drive with enough capacity to do the job in one cartridge.


Harry Brelsford, CEO at SMB Nation (

MBA, MCSE, CNE, CLSE, CNP, MCP, MCT, SBSC (Microsoft Small Business Specialist)

PS – did you know my Windows Small Business Server 2008 (SBS 2008) book is almost here? Yes!



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