Brace Up for SBS 2008

I recently had the misfortune of promising a friend that I would help them migrate from a failing Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 installation to brand new hardware. The story would have ended right there except that I, being the forward-looking person that I am, advised that since we were getting a beefy quad-core system with the potential of accepting up to 32GB of RAM, we should upgrade to SBS 2008 to take advantage of the 64-bit hardware. Bear in mind that SBS 2003 32-bit can only access 4GB of RAM, a waste of good hardware in my opinion. In any case, SBS 2008 would not even look in your direction if you have anything less than 4GB of RAM on the server during installation.

Things went well until after the installation. That is when the other issues support personnel face with very small business owners came up. I had not thought it necessary to try Jeff Middleton’s Swing Migration method because all the virtual machine testing I did turned out pretty straight-forward: you install SBS 2008 with an answer file and go through the very good migration guide provided by Microsoft.

After the relatively smooth install, all kinds of problems ailing the company suddenly became my problem: accounting software not working, oh, and by the way, can you help us upgrade to the latest version?; emails not being delivered to mobile devices – oh, we have to reset our password with our ISP; printer not working; a user can’t log on, but they only come in occassionally to help us out. Forget the fact that it was possible that the password had expired; a user can’t plug in a USB device on their workstation, but I only worked on the server so how is that my fault? etc., etc. And I was supposed to fix all these problems without documentation – they did not have any from their previous provider who did the installation. “Where is the record for your router and network setup?”, “Do you have the password to your ISP account?” “Who handles your domain?” “Do you host your email or is it done by a third party?” I want you to guess what the responses were. It was fun though.

Anyhow, through patient question and answer sessions, I eventually found out some of these issues were present before I even stepped in.

But the main takeaway from this is that small business owners thinking of holding on to their SBS 2003 should seriously start thinking of moving to SBS 2008. It is a whole new animal. Some things are easier, others are just a pain. But the part that impressed me most was how seamless it was to move the mailboxes from the old server to the new one, without any interuption to mail flow. Of course the moves were done at night so I would not get phone calls of “my email is not working”.