What Happened To Microsoft Small Business Server?

In September of this year Microsoft announced the release of its new server product. Server 2012. Times like this are always joyous occasions for gadget guys like me. Something new and shiny with new, shiny features to tinker with. The interesting thing about this announcement was that it had been preceded by some very unpopular news. Only months earlier, Microsoft had announced that it was be discontinuing it’s Small Business Server (SBS) line of products. This was a very popular line of products and the decision has caused outrage in the small business community. So why would Microsoft make such an unpopular decision? And what do they expect people to do now that they have lost SBS as an option?

What is SBS?

Making the decision to move your business onto its first server is not always a small one. For the bigger businesses out there it may be obvious but for some smaller start-ups and businesses that have grown from perhaps a single user or two it is a big step. Many small businesses still look at their IT as almost a one-off expense rather than an ongoing business investment and moving to a server-based environment is the beginning of a change in this thinking. SBS has always been a way to soften the financial impact of this paradigm shift. It includes several different Microsoft products that are useful to small businesses at a severely reduced rate and all in the one tidy package. It can manage your company’s emails, its intranet and control your user’s logins and profiles. It is also quick and easy to deploy which is what made it so very appealing to its target audience. So why would Microsoft get rid of such a popular and useful product? Simple. The cloud has rendered the need for small businesses to host these services in-house unnecessary in Microsoft’s opinion. Why would you want to host your email in-house when you could just pay a small monthly fee to have it hosted in the cloud? Why would you want to have your company’s internal website hosted locally when you can have someone do it remotely? Besides, moving to the cloud is the thing to do right? Well not according to everyone.
Why are people so unhappy?

Not everyone is pleased with Microsoft’s decision. Many disgruntled SBS users see this as a power play by Microsoft to try to force people to their Office 365 platform which is basically all of the services provided by Microsoft SBS hosted in the cloud for a monthly fee. The idea of this upsets people. Many users are concerned with the security of the cloud and have internet that is too slow to use it effectively. Many also object to the feeling of being forced onto a product they know little or nothing about. There are even reports of businesses being so unhappy they are petitioning their IT support providers for alternate, non-Microsoft based solutions to their server needs but with Microsoft’s almost total monopoly of the SBS market, alternate solutions are not easy to come by.

Is this a good thing?

Almost daily I hear one of my IT friends complaining about Microsoft SBS. It does have some inherent attributes that are very unpopular with IT professionals. This alone is not enough of a reason to drop the product altogether however I can understand where Microsoft is coming from. They have two products that essentially do the same job for the same people. Why would you spend money and resources making the same thing twice if all those products do is split your market? What business person among us could say they too would not try to consolidate them into one? But what about people’s concerns? In my line of work I talk to people about the cloud a lot. Many people have not yet made the move and many of those people have no intention of doing so in the near future. In my experience, the biggest concern people have by far is security. I find this to be an interesting concern as it has several components. When worrying about data security you need to think about protecting it from unauthorised access, protecting it from physical factors such as fire or flood and also from inaccessibility. After all, what good is your data if you can’t access it yourself? In my opinion, if you are concerned about any of these factors then you should be considering the cloud, not shying away from it.

1) Unauthorised Access: When people think about unauthorised access they usually think “hackers”. While statistically speaking this is very unlikely to happen, it is still something to think about. The thing is that most (if not all) managed services providers have already thought about it and chances are the intrusion prevention in place in their data centre is far better equipped to handle unwanted attempts to access your data better than the router in your office.

2) Physical Security: This is another factor that cloud providers have to think about as well. If you’ve ever been to a data centre you will know that they are usually in places that don’t flood, have excellent fire prevention measures, all of the servers are locked away in cabinets and they are extremely well protected from overheating by the multiple, high-powered air conditioners. Once again, this is far beyond what most small offices have.

and lastly,

3) Inaccessibility: An oft used argument is what if the internet goes down at my office? How will I access my data? Yes it is true. The internet sometimes goes down at your office. Sometimes for days on end. Many people mistakenly believe this means you cannot work for this entire length of time. If you have a cloud based environment, most people can get going again by using a cellular data connection such as 4G and the biggest benefit is that your customers won’t be getting all of their emails rejected. To them it’s as though you don’t have a problem at all. If your infrastructure is hosted on site then sadly there isn’t much you can do with your email until you get your internet running again. Of course, if your internet is down at the office there is always the option of working from home.

As I mentioned earlier, many people are also concerned about the speed of their internet. For many Australians it simply isn’t fast enough or the files they use are too big to really make effective use of cloud technology. This is why Freshmethod has developed a hybrid cloud solution that makes use of the best of both worlds. The finer details are probably beyond the scope of this blog post but it is definitely something worth asking about if you are considering making a move.

While the end of the SBS line of products is something that is causing concern for many people, ultimately I think it is the way things had to go eventually. Moving to the cloud is something that can seem scary at first but I truly believe that eventually it is going to be almost as common as the internet itself. It is simply a matter of asking the right questions of the right people at the right time and for many that time is now.

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