10 questions for Small Business Server/Essential Business Server guy, Russ Madlener

Russ Madlener, Microsoft's director of planning for the Windows Servers and Tools division
Brad Pitt
Today, Nov. 12, is the day that Microsoft officially releases two new Windows Server 2008 products, Windows Essential Business Server 2008 and Windows Small Business Server 2008. Both of them are integrated packages of server software (including WS2008, Exchange, and other stuff) with end-user licenses. The idea is that these bundles are not only more affordable for SMBs than buying the individual products, but that they offer unique integrated installation and management features. While the SBS product has been around since Windows Server 2000, the 2008 version is a major rethinking of it, says Eriq Neale, author of the Windows Small Business Server Unleashed book series. EBS is a new variation altogether. Both of them are available in two editions: standard and premium. For these reasons, we invited Russ Madlener, Microsoft's director of planning for the Windows Server and Tools division, to join us as a guest for a "10-questions-for" interview to clarify some information about the new products.

You might be asking, what does any of this have to do with Brad Pitt? Stay tuned until question 10, on page two, when all will be revealed. Editor's note: This month, Eriq Neale is writing a guest blog for Microsoft Subnet and we are giving away 15 free copies of Windows Small Business Server 2008 Unleashed. Entry details can be found on the Microsoft Subnet home page.

Microsoft Subnet: Hi Russ, thanks for agreeing to be the guest for this "10-questions-for series" interview. We'll start with an easy-peasy warm-up question. No. 1: On Nov. 12, Microsoft is officially releasing two Windows bundles, Small Business Server 2008 and Essential Business Server 2008. What is the difference between SBS and EBS?

Russ Madlener: Hello. SBS is designed for businesses with up to 50 PCs (the product is "technically" limited to 75). EBS is designed for businesses with up to 250 PCs (the product is technically limited to 300). The other difference is hardware scale. We designed SBS to run on one physical server, while EBS spans three physical servers. Of course, by using Hyper-V, the number of physical EBS servers could be changed.

Microsoft Subnet: No 2: The product literature says that these products include "Windows Server 2008 Standard technologies." What is Windows Server 2008 Standard technologies and how is it different from "Windows Server 2008 standard edition"? (Plus, Hyper-V isn't prominently mentioned in some of the materials … is it included in "standard technologies"? In the "Premium editions" of each of these products?)

Russ Madlener: When we built Small Business Server 2008 and Essential Business Server 2008, we based the products on Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition. An important goal of this process was to keep the underlying operating system "intact" -- we didn't want to change it. Customers and partners told us they wanted to be assured that the underlying OS was the same as Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition. We achieved this goal, except we did add "limits" to the operating system to ensure the products are used by small and midsized companies. For example, SBS is limited to 75 users (User and Device CALs), while EBS is limited to 300 users (User or Device CALs).

These small limitations require us, legally, to use the word "technologies" vs. "standard edition." It's an unfortunate legal requirement, because other than these limits which will have no effect on small and midsize businesses, the underlying operating system is identical to Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition. Yes, in SBS and EBS we ship the version of Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition, which includes Hyper-V. 

Microsoft Subnet: Please clarify what you mean by "technically limited to" and describe what happens if, for instance, a 76th user tries to connect to SBS.

Russ Madlener: The product would not allow the 76th user to connect. We do give many warnings ahead of reaching the 76th user so no one will ever be surprised. If a company were to outgrow SBS, it would have options. For example, it could choose to move to EBS, or to "transition" out of SBS to the individual versions of the component products. We will offer discounts associated with these options. For example, if a company that has outgrown SBS, wants to move to EBS, Microsoft provides an additional discount above and beyond the discount of EBS. We've created a Web site where people can review options for discounts. The program is called "Solutions Pathway."

Microsoft Subnet: No 3: What if a user wanted to choose different editions of some of the software included in the bundle. For instance, SQL Server 2008 Enterprise edition has lots of nifty tools not available in other editions. What would be involved if a user wanted the EBS package, but wanted to swap an edition here and there?

Russ Madlener: The products are integrated solutions, so there is no "swapping" offered. Certainly people could "add-on" all the products they want.

Microsoft Subnet: No 4: The CAL licensing specifies "user" or "device" … what's the difference and how is Microsoft calculating that? For instance, if one user has a PC and also a Windows Mobile device, does that count as one CAL user or two?

Russ Madlener: A "User" CAL is for one user (and they can have multiple devices). A "Device" CAL is for a single device (PC, mobile phone, etc.) which could be used by multiple users.

Microsoft Subnet: No 5: Both of these products include one-year subscriptions to Microsoft's security products Forefront Security for Exchange Server and either Live OneCare (for SBS) or Threat Management Gateway (for EBS). But what if an organization already has security software from a vendor other than Microsoft, was happy with it and didn't want to change or add ForeFront/OneCare? Are other security vendors certified to work with these products and if not, would Microsoft's support be affected by using such products?

Russ Madlener: Our aim is to give customers and their partners maximum choice to make the right decision to meet their needs. Both Forefront Security for Exchange and Windows Live OneCare for Server trials can be uninstalled, or during an installation from SBS media, [users] can opt out of deploying these trial services, if desired, from an SBS 2008 server. Additionally, OEMs and system builders can choose to build an SBS 2008 image without the Windows Live OneCare for Server and FSE trials from the start.

The good news is, because SBS and EBS include the "standard" versions of the included products (Windows Server, Exchange, etc.) any product certified to work with these products will work with SBS and EBS. So any "security" product designed to work with Windows Server 2008, will work with SBS, for example. If you check out www.thedreamserver.com (the SBS and EBS launch site), you'll see that Symantec, Trend and CA are all sponsors of the SBS and EBS launch event.

Microsoft Subnet: No. 6: Since these are packages of existing Microsoft servers and apps, my assumption is that they do not offer unique features or functionality that isn't found in other products. But you tell me – if there are unique features what are they? Even if not, what are the best little-known features of the suite that make IT executives say "wow" when they see them.

Russ Madlener: Small Business Server and Essential Business Server are dramatically more than just a combination of their component products. *If* these solutions were simply a collection of Microsoft products "put in a box" I wouldn't need a development team, and I could release a different solution every month.

Instead we have an entire engineering team whose goal is to integrate the included products into a solution. The "whole" truly is greater than the sum of the parts. When we started development of SBS and EBS, we did many, many customer visits where we sat with small and midsize businesses and asked them what they needed in IT, what their concerns were, where they needed help, etc.

Many customers told us that they weren't even sure what companies of their size should buy. We heard: Does Microsoft recommend a company of my size purchase Forefront? How big do I have to be before Microsoft thinks I should purchase System Center Essentials? They told us they really weren't sure how to setup all their Microsoft software in an integrated/best practice manner. We heard: Exactly which Exchange configuration does Microsoft recommend for a company of my size? We heard: How should I setup Threat Management Gateway (new version of ISA) with my hardware firewall? We heard: How should my Active Directory be setup?

So to begin with, SBS and EBS offer a single product (server and CAL) to buy, no more guess work. Next, SBS and EBS have a single integrated setup experience, which not only sets up all included products, but the products are installed in a "Microsoft best practice" fashion. An example: If you were to individually setup all the products included in EBS, you would see approximately 129 setup screens, and you would handle six DVDs. EBS's setup has approximately 30 setup screens, and you handle three DVDs, one for each server.

Another area where we did a lot of development work was administration/management. Each individual product in SBS and EBS has its own "management console," all mainly built for enterprise companies. SBS and EBS offer a single administration console which reports across applications and which gives small businesses and/or midsized business a single console for doing ongoing monitoring and management.

A last area I'll mention is remote access. SBS and EBS have a feature called "Remote Web Workplace," which provides end users with a simple and streamlined way of accessing company resources while at home or on the road. There are several technologies or workloads that are working in concert to enable Remote Web Workplace, which both SBS and EBS configure during setup.

Microsoft Subnet: No. 7: These integrated packages are not brand new to Microsoft, there were 2003 versions of each, is that right? So is the "remote access" feature new to the 2008 versions? Were the meetings with SMBs part of the 2008 design process?

Russ Madlener: SBS has been around for several years and versions (there was SBS 2000, and SBS 2003 for example). EBS is a brand new product. The "Remote Web Workplace" feature is currently in SBS 2003, but we've dramatically simplified the UI of the feature. Meetings with small and midsize businesses are integral to the development of these solutions. We even have a "customer advisory board" which we consult on a very regular basis.

Microsoft Subnet: No. 8: Microsoft offers a free tool known as Windows Essential Business Server Preparation and Planning Wizards, which is also bundled with the EBS product. What kinds of technology should an IT department have in place before it can run EBS?

Russ Madlener: There really isn't any mandatory technology, the idea behind the preparation and planning wizard is to check the environment for any anomalies that could impact the setup process. These are technical anomalies that could be left over from any number IT projects which happened in the past. The idea is to identify any issues "pre" setup to ensure successful configuration.

Microsoft Subnet: No. 9: SMBs are already the target of current offerings from cloud SaaS vendors like ServePath and Intermedia, and others who offer hosted versions of WS2008, Exchange, SharePoint, Office. Why should an SMB buy, install and maintain its own servers instead of using the cloud? (Also, what can you say about plans to integrate these bundles with Azure or other MS cloud initiatives?)

Russ Madlener: Small businesses vary tremendously, in terms of industry, organizational structure, skill sets and technology needs. For small businesses that want to "host" their infrastructure, there are many options (including OfficeLive Small Business from Microsoft). There are, however, many small business customers who will choose to manage their own IT infrastructure, and for those customers SBS is the best integrated option. In fact, SBS 2008 is a literal example of [Microsoft's] software+services [strategy]. In SBS 2008, we include integration with Windows Live OneCare for Server, and SBS 2008 offers integration with OfficeLive Small Business for customers who want to create a public Web site, etc.

Microsoft Subnet: No 10. I was told that you are a funny guy and we all know that life is too short not to have a little fun. I promised that I would toss in a "James Lipton Actors Studio" type question. Here goes: If you were a Hollywood director making a film called "Microsoft: The Movie" who would you cast as the lead character(s) and why?

Russ Madlener: Brad Pitt, as me - for obvious reasons.

Microsoft Subnet: Russ, I mean, Brad, who would be your co-star?

Russ Madlener: George Clooney, of course.

Microsoft Subnet: LOL, we've covered all of my questions. Again, thank you for joining me today.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Take IDG’s 2020 IT Salary Survey: You’ll provide important data and have a chance to win $500.