review

Essential Business Server 2008 overview

In November 2008 Microsoft released a new server software bundle aimed at businesses with up to 300 users. I recently deployed my first Essential Business Server 2008 (EBS 2008) and was instantly impressed. EBS 2008 mixes proven technologies like Windows 2008 Server and Exchange 2007 with new technologies Forefront and management tools like System Centre Essentials. The combination of products works well together and has the potential to save a lot of time both during the initial install and over the lifetime of the system.

What is EBS 2008?

EBS 2008 deploys onto 3 servers. It is supported on both Physical and Virtual environments. The Premium edition adds a forth Windows 2008 standard server (with 1 free Virtual License included) and SQL 2008 Standard Edition.

Following the installation you get environment with these roles / features:

  • 2 Domain Controllers (Management and Messaging servers)
  • System Centre Essentials 2007
  • Exchange 2007
  • Forefront for Exchange
  • Forefront TMG (next generation ISA)
  • Remote Web Workplace
  • Terminal Services Gateway
  • Windows 2008 standard edition (premium edition)
  • SQL 2008 (premium edition)
  • WSS 3.0 (free download)

The 3 standard servers require 64bit hardware. The premium server can be either 32bit or 64bit.

Installation

A preparation tool is provided to examine an existing environment or help you design a new one. Once this is complete it is simply a matter of putting the first DVD into your server (make sure the hardware meets the system requirements) and following the prompts until the 3 servers that make up the EBS 2008 environment are installed. The standardised installation removes many common configuration issues and helps build a core network that will perform well and work with very little tweaking.

Some of the more difficult parts of a typical network installation where positively simple with EBS 2008. Exchange 2007 installed perfectly with only a few simple questions, Forefront TMG (the replacement for ISA 2006) also installed perfectly and Remote Web Workplace’s TS Gateway options just worked.

Management

Once EBS 2008 is installed, System Centre Essentials agents can be deployed to other Windows based servers and PC’s in the domain giving enterprise style management of your network from a single point. Common tasks like installing Windows updates, ensuring antivirus software is install and up to date, deploying software and producing an inventory of hardware and software can be done with minimal effort.

The EBS Management Console supports third party plug-ins and provides a nice management dash board SysAdmins will love.

Managing licenses is simplified too. Microsoft sell two different EBS Client Access Licenses (CAL). The standard CAL includes Windows 2008 CAL and Exchange 2007 CAL. The premium CAL adds a SQL CAL. It is simple to assign either standard or premium licenses to specific users and report on usage. The CAL pricing also provides a good saving over purchasing individual user CAL’s.

Gripes

I don’t have many gripes about EBS 2008 but it does have some room for improvement. Forefront for Exchange seems a little bit ‘clunky’. Additional Forefront client licenses are required and while pricing is was difficult to get information from Microsoft about this (in New Zealand at least). ¬†Microsoft don’t include a backup solution other than Windows Backup which doesn’t support Exchange or SQL.

I also found that many vendors either don’t know what EBS 2008 is or don’t have upgrade options for software from Small Business Server.

Conclusion

EBS 2008 is a excellent solution for those who have either out grown Small Business Server or are moving from Windows 2000 or 2003 server and have less than 300 users. The time savings for management alone make this bundle well worth considering.