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Goodbye SBS, Hello to a World of Alternatives

Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2011 LogoMicrosoft yesterday made official with an announcement that a few of us knew was coming or suspected would happen at some point. Microsoft Small Business Server 2011 will be the last version of SBS produced. SBS 2011 Standard and Premium will be available in most channels until June 30, 2013, and through OEM until December 31, 2013.

Windows Small Business Server Essentials will become Windows Server 2012 Essentials, leaving Microsoft’s only SMB focused offering being a hybrid cloud based solution.

The reaction of the SBS Community

As you’d expect, the SBS Community worldwide is expressing a mixture of shock (but perhaps not surprise), anger and, in many cases, betrayal.

I fully understand why. I’m an outspoken cloud evangelist and for years have been banging the drum about the need for SMB IT companies to embrace cloud. I’ve also butted heads with some of my peers who don’t want to embrace that change. But I acknowledge that in all things, choice is important.

Cloud isn’t a fit for everybody

Many end-users don’t want Cloud solutions due to privacy concerns or the fact they are comfortable with on-site solutions. You can educate them, but ultimately they will decide what it is they want.

Many end-users can’t feasibly use Cloud solutions. Broadband Internet in the UK is developing rapidly, and I’m going to guess than even in two years time many homes and offices around the UK will still be limping by with very slow Internet connections.

IT Services into the CloudBy removing SBS from their product range, Microsoft are removing choice for end-users. Some might say they are forcing their world view on their partners.

Sure, you can still buy Windows Server, Exchange, etc. But try explaining to any end-user why they could get those features in SBS for a certain price point, and now they’ve got to pay many times more for individually more complex products with the same functionality.

Not everybody is ready for Cloud, and even by the time SBS 2011 is pulled from the shelves by Microsoft, I’m pretty sure that will still be the case.

Time for SMB IT Companies to re-evaluate

So Microsoft’s decision to end-of-life SBS is a difficult pill to swallow. But it might be the opportunity (or kick up the bum) that many SMB IT companies need to re-evaluate their business choices.

Most SMB IT Solution Provider businesses (including my own) were historically built on the back of a relationship with Microsoft. Customers wanted Microsoft products, and we sold it to them. Microsoft was the best solution available, at the right price, with the right partner model. Everybody wins.

The Alternatives to Microsoft

But take a look around today, and Microsoft aren’t nearly as relevant in the SMB market anymore.

  • Office 365 (and it’s predecessor BPOS) simply aren’t SMB partner friendly offerings. But there are a plethora of other companies who offer similar hosted solutions that are partner friendly. In the UK, take a look at Secure Virtual or ThinkGrid Colt Ceano or any one of a dozen other reputable and partner friendly Cloud vendors.
  • SBS is dead, but for years credible (and in many ways superior) alternatives such as Kerio have been available. Kerio having a thriving user community, great support and a good reputation.
  • As an SMB IT company, I’m betting you found selling Volume Licensing to price sensitive SMB clients difficult – but when Microsoft hiked their Volume Licensing by some 33% earlier this year for EU customers, virtually impossible. Trust me, other Vendors realise there is a recession on and price accordingly.
  • You probably have clients who resent buying Microsoft Office. They use barely any of its functions, and so can’t understand its high price tag. Are you speaking to them about Open Office or Libre Office?

So be aware of these alternatives. Investigate them. Talk to other vendors. Talk to your peers about what they use. Don’t assume you have to partner exclusively with Microsoft to grow an SMB IT business.

Do talk to your clients about Microsoft solutions, but if they balk at the prices or inflexibility – offer them well considered and researched options. In my experience, most clients don’t care about what’s under the bonnet – they just want the solution to work for them.

Conclusion

If your IT business was built on the back of a partnership with Microsoft and selling SBS – the announcement of the end-of-life of SBS is tough. I feel your pain.

But you know your clients best. If they want cloud solutions, offer them cloud solutions. If they want on-site solutions, offer them on-site solutions. If they want a hybrid solution, offer them a hybrid solution.

Remember – you have and always will help decide what’s best for both your client and your own business, not Microsoft.

Further Reading

Taking a look at the SMB MVP Road show as it tours the UK

SMB MVP Community Roadshow LogoLast night I attended a special AMITPRO event at The Arden Hotel in Solihull. More than 50 Microsoft SMB Partners, IT Professionals, and Microsoft MVP’s got together to talk Small Business IT.

The event, the SMB MVP Community Roadshow, was put together by volunteers from around the world – and sponsored by HP, Microsoft and Jeff Middleton of SBSMigration.com

What was notable about this event was whilst HP and Microsoft laid out a considerable sum – not only for room hire, speaker expenses, loan equipment and transport costs – the event had a distinctly independent feel to it. This was no marketing or sales pitch and all of the speakers, who had given their time freely to get involved, spoke about the pro’s – and con’s – of working with Microsoft and HP as vendors.

What is an MVP?

Some background – the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) programme is the highest award given by Microsoft to those it considers “the best and brightest from technology communities around the world” who “actively share their … technical expertise with the community and with Microsoft”. We are lucky to have some great MVP’s within the European SMB IT Community, many of whom made the trip to Birmingham for this event.

Jeff Middleton

Jeff Middleton presenting on Swing MigrationThe event kicked off with Jeff Middleton giving an overview of the road show – which has already visited dozens of venues in North America, Israel, Belgium and the Nordic region of Europe – and is now set for four dates in the UK. Jeff gave some background on the Small Business User Group scene worldwide – how it was founded many years ago by some key individuals (many of whom were sat in the room!) – and initially supported by Microsoft, but thrived based on the work of group lead volunteers such as Andy Parkes of iBIT Solutions.

Our first presenter was SBS MVP Marina Roos of Rotterdam, Netherlands talking about Microsoft’s Multipoint Server solution. I don’t think I’m alone in saying this was an eye opener, as whilst I’d heard of Multipoint – I didn’t really understand the product or it’s application. Marina offered up a live demo of the product for us via Wi-Fi – and a number of people in the audience RDP’d into the HP Multipoint Server via iPads and Netbooks to test it out as Marina gave her presentation.

Oliver Sommer presenting on Microsoft SBSAfter some dinner and networking time, Oliver Sommer, SBS MVP of Trinity Computers in Germany, next spoke on the varying flavours of Microsoft Small Business Server that are now available. Ollie had a very short window to cram in an awful lot of information, and answered dozens of tough questions from the audience, sharing some valuable information – not only on SBS Standard, Premium, Essentials and how they might be deployed – but also on some 3rd Party Apps that could enhance SBS.

Finally, Jeff Middleton of SBSMigration.com talked about his now world famous “Swing Migration” Server Migration technique and how it applied for not only all types of Microsoft en-site server solutions – but also for those considering migrating to the Cloud. As somebody who has used both Microsoft’s “official” Whitepaper on SBS migrations and Jeff’s Swing Migration technique, I found this a valuable reminder of the pitfalls of migrations and how the Swing Migration system offers so many benefits to IT Professionals.

AMITPRO

The evening closed with AMITPRO group lead Andy Parkes explaining to the many newcomers in the room how the Association of Midlands IT Professionals meets on a monthly basis with the intent on sharing knowledge, information and learning, and how everyone was welcome to return in the future. We hope that many of those newcomers found value in the evening and will come to visit us again.

The SMB MVP Road show now rolls onto Reading on Wednesday 16th November, followed by London on Thursday 17th November, and Edinburgh on Monday 21st November. Registration is still open – so if you fancy attending these meetings, get in quick!

Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, not just as an opportunity to learn from some of the best in our industry, but also to meet new faces and see such a healthy debate around SMB IT products, hardware and vendors. It really reminded me of how much I’ve got from the SMB IT Community, both in the UK and globally, over the years – and how many great individuals I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, learning from, and sharing knowledge with.

If you attended the event and found it useful – feed this back to your representatives at Microsoft and HP. Personally, I thought both companies got way more positive exposure to their product range from true experts demonstrating their kit (warts and all) than any amount of vendor product sales pitches – but it’s only by feeding this back to the sponsors that they’ll appreciate this first hand and continue to support the SMB IT Community.

Attendees came from as far as Leeds, Exmouth and Cornwall to attend this event – which shows how valuable people perceive it to be. It’s hoped the SMB MVP Road show could return to the UK for further dates in the North of the Country in the near future. Fingers crossed!

A huge thanks to Robert Pearman, Andy Trish and Andy Parkes for being the lynchpins in organising this event, and to MVP’s Jeff Middleton, Marina Roos and Oliver Sommer for making the trip to see us. It was very much appreciated by all involved! Good luck with the remainder of your UK dates!

Photos courtesy of Vijay Riyait – one of those SBSC Community founders I mentioned. :-)

Webinar – Overview of Windows Small Business Server 2011

Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2011 LogoA heads-up that Microsoft’s Steve Wheeler will be providing an overview of Windows Small Business Server 2011 as well as licensing and estimated availability detail, via a Webinar on Wednesday 16th February 2011 at 2pm GMT.

Microsoft Partners can register for the webinar here.

Steve gave a presentation at the AMITPRO User Group earlier this year, and is an engaging speaker who really knows his stuff – so if you’re a Microsoft Partner and still unclear on any aspect of SBS (and most of us have questions over licensing!) then I’d recommend making time to sit in on the webinar.

 

How to fix “Connectivity to the Remote Computer could not be established” error

We experienced an odd issue today wherein a client trying to connect to a Desktop PC via Remote Web Workplace under SBS 2003 experienced an error.

Despite all necessary Firewall ports being open, and all necessary privileges being given to the user to connect remotely, the client consistently got the error “Connectivity to the Remote Computer could not be established”.

Trying to connect to this PC internally via http://localhost/remoteproduced the same error, ruling out any Firewall issue we’d not spotted.

The answer came by way of a Microsoft Knowledgebase article at http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx/kb/886209- “Users cannot connect to remote desktops by using the Windows Small Business Server 2003 Remote Web Workplace“

The problem was with another process having snatched Port 4125 blocking RWW from using it. In this case, we restarted the IISAdmin service and the issue was resolved – the end user able to connect to the PC in question via RWW again.

We’ve now made the necessary registry changes documented in the article and have scheduled a reboot for the server out of hours to ensure the problem doesn’t re-occur.

How to move the CLIENTAPP folder in SBS 2003

Here’s a handy KB article from Microsoft on how to move the CLIENTAPP folder on Windows Small Business Server 2003.

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/830254/en-us

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been faced with an SBS 2003 C: drive running out of space and frantically looking for folders and files to move to other drives – CLIENTAPP is a prime target for re-location as the default install directory in SBS setup is C:CLIENTAPP.

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