AMY BABINCHAK still remembers the first time she saw Microsoft Small Business Server. It was at the office of a company already using the solution when that firm became one of her first clients. The ready-made network-in-a-box offering made an immediate impression.
“All you had to do to come out with a perfectly configured, error-free environment was stick in the DVD and run the setup to completion,” says Babinchak, owner of Harbor Computer Services, an IT services firm in Royal Oak, Mich. “It really was a pretty amazing engineering feat.”
Pretty soon, she was using SBS at every customer she supported. “My entire business was built off of Small Business Server,” Babinchak says.
Hers and a lot of others. Indeed, from its humble beginnings in 1997 as an edition of Microsoft’s BackOffice server suite to its introduction in 2000 as a standalone product, SBS all but defined an era in the evolution of the SMB channel.
The end of that era began in July 2012, when Microsoft announced that with its future in the cloud, it was discontinuing the on-premises Small Business Server line. Seven and a half years later, on the same day that extended support for Windows 7 expired, so too did support for the last product to bear the SBS name, Windows Small Business Server 2011.
Almost no one noticed. “People have had a lot of time to move on,” observes Dave Seibert, CIO of Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider and former SBS reseller IT Innovators. Many SBS partners have retired since 2012 as well, and the IT industry has changed in a thousand ways. Yet for those who once sold and supported it, SBS may be gone, but it’s far from forgotten.
“The channel’s never really seen its equal,” Seibert says.
To understand why longtime channel pros speak so fondly of SBS, one must first understand what life was like before that product’s debut. The industry’s leading vendors, Microsoft included, had few if any server products specifically for SMBs, forcing would-be providers of small business networks to cobble together a domain controller, file/print services, email application, and other necessary components on their own. Worse yet, each of those systems required its own dedicated hardware. Big businesses had no problem with that model. Small ones struggled with it.
“They didn’t have the money to buy all of those servers,” Seibert notes.
SBS rid small businesses and their IT partners of such frustrations almost literally overnight. “What Small Business Server did was to take what normally would have been a whole bunch of capital expense, a whole bunch of physical servers, and a whole bunch of technical time to set up all of these servers, and put it into a single SKU,” Seibert says.
Included in that SKU were DHCP, DNS, file, print, internet, remote access, and backup services, plus Microsoft Exchange Server for email, built-in patch management, and more. “It was enhanced monitoring that nobody had before. It was centralized management that nobody had before. It was centralized reporting that nobody had before,” Seibert explains.