Top 5 Microsoft Small Business Server Alternatives
February 7, 2009 4 Comments
With today’s tough economic climate, certain to be on the agenda for many managers today is how to cut costs and save money on capital spending–specially in IT. Certainly a good starting point for many would be to look at possible ways to save on software licenses.
For the next series of blog postings–I decided I will try to enumerate some good alternatives to some popular enterprise software packages–starting with Microsoft’s Small Business Server (or MS SBS) 2003, an all-in-one server solution for small business or remote office/branch office deployments.
Microsoft SBS 2003 is an all-one suite of products specifically tailored for the needs of small organizations. It incorporates Windows Server technologies, group email and collaboration with a bundled Exchange Server and Microsoft Sharepoint services, network-wide patch and update management, and shared fax services. It brings them all together in a tidy, unified administration screen. Accounts for users are set up once, and are simultaneously configured with other related services with the platform. It is available in Standard and Premium edition, with the premium edition adding on database capabilities with SQL Server 2005 Workgroup Edition and network perimeter defense with Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2004. Overall it is a nice package–if it weren’t for its confusing and costly per-user/device CAL:
The SBS 2003 R2 license gives you the right to install and use the server software. The SBS 2003 R2 CAL gives you the right for a device or user to access the server software. You need both types of licenses in order to be in compliance.
Add to that its artificial limit of only allowing up to 75 users to use the server, after which you have to upgrade to Microsoft Windows Server Standard Edition (or the upcoming Windows Server Essentials).
Its a good thing that in the Linux and open source side of things, there are a host of alternatives that companies can choose from to get the same or equivalent functionality and set of services that Microsoft Small Business Server offers:
- SME Server. We start off with the open source, and community-supported SME Server from Contribs.org.SME Server v7.4 is the latest version of the award-winning e-smith Server and Gateway. The SME Server is available as a downloadable ISO that can be installed and configured in less than 15 minutes. It is a Linux-based server (based on CentOS) that can provide a full range of services – including e-mail, firewall, file and print-sharing, web hosting, remote access and more. SME Server can integrate with Windows, Macintosh, and Unix/Linux clients, and within a Windows network environment. It’s as simple to use as a server appliance, but unlike a “sealed-box” appliance the entire system is modular and extensible, and an ecosystem of package contributors (called contribs) are available so it can be tailored to the needs of individual businesses. SME is released as GPL and is completely free but is community supported.
- Point Clark Networks’ ClarkConnect. ClarkConnect is a powerful server/gateway software solution designed for the small/medium-sized organization. Though ClarkConnect comes with an extensive list of features and integrated services, the solution is easy to configure thanks to the intuitive web-based interface. The platform is also based on CentOS, and what differentiates it from other solutions, including Microsoft’s is its hybrid-hosted approach to managing network services. These services include externally hosted and managed DNS services, Content Filter Updates, Intrusion Detection Updates, Software Updates, Port Monitoring, Resource Monitoring, and ASP Mail Services (antispam and antivirus). Pricing is an annual subscription with no limit on number of users (except in the free Community Edition). It is a complete, robust and low cost solution for small businesses where network security and connectivity is important.
- Collax Business Server. Collax provides a comprehensive, all-in-one server for basic network services such as File-/Mail-/Fax-Server, Firewall, DHCP-Server, Proxy, Web-Server and much more. This is the right choice when you want to consolidate all services on one server software and you want something that is simple to set up and administer. It comes in three editions: a standard, multi-functional edition, and an edition optimized for messaging and collaboration which is bundled with Open Xchange (a Microsoft Exchange alernative), and an edition optimized for routing and network security. Pricing is on a subscription basis and is based on a per user or unlimited user basis.
- Lotus Foundations Server. Lotus Foundations server used to be called Nitix before the company that developed it–Net Integration Technologies, was acquired by IBM recently. Nitix from the start had been playing up to IBM, touting its autonomic or self-healing features (a term coined by IBM scientists) and its integration with Lotus Notes. It installs easily and quickly, with the system deciding common office network and security settings–which is a boon to non-tech savvy users but is annoying to experienced admins. Like Collax, Clark Connect and SME Server, it too is an all-in-one server solution based on Linux but follows Microsoft’s example when it comes to pricing. Pricing is based on per user CAL’s and an annual maintenance.
- edgeBox. edgeBOX is a server appliance (software and hardware solution) which differentiates itself from the others by providing a full business phone system (IP-PBX), plus email, web, fax, security, calendar, contact directory, and much more out of a single appliance that can be managed remotely through an easy-to-use interface. Pricing and is based on company size which it bases on number of connected users. Edgepacks are available to extend the systems functionality for an added price.