Readers Beg To Differ With Small-Business Server Review

"Small-Business Server Bake-Off"

Frank Ohlhorst, director of CRN Labs and head of the CRN Test Center, had quite a busy day Monday sorting through all of the e-mails he received about his review of small-business server offerings from Microsoft, Net Integration, Novell and Xandros. The article, which is the lead news story in the current issue of CRN, generated quite a storm of response among the solution provider community.

Here's what some readers had to say about the review, as well as the Test Center's response:


The CRN Test Labs typically do a good job of presenting all sides of their tests and comparisons. Sadly, this article does not follow that same path.

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The first glaring error is the price assigned to Microsoft's Windows Small Business Server 2003. There are two versions of this product: Standard and Premium. The MSRP for Standard is $599; this product includes Windows Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003 and an assortment of SBS-specific tools and wizards. The Premium version MSRP's for $1,499; this product includes Windows Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003, ISA Server 2004 and SQL Server 2005.

The price comparison between SBS and the Nitix solution (a great product in its own right) is nowhere near correct, and makes a substantial impact on the overall value of the product.

Microsoft has just released the R2 version of SBS, and the changes are evolutionary, but worth noting. The upgrade from SQL 2000 to SQL 2005 is a huge leap, especially for those end users that recognize the importance of knowing and understanding their business. The reporting tools that are built into SQL 2005 are robust and easy to use, facilitating a constant awareness of how a business is doing. ISA 2004 is just as easy to use as SQL's reporting tools, yet offers protection that I believe these very Labs have noted as being well above average.

Finally, the new networkwide patch management tools and their all-important integration into the SBS product should not be overlooked; the daily security of the SBS network is now much easier to maintain and watch.

As noted, the Nitix solution is a very good product; however, it lacks a lot of the finesse and extended toolset available in SBS 2003 R2, and that toolset is a huge part of the value to both the end user and the reseller. Apples to apples, Microsoft definitely looks rosier on this scale.

Bill Hersh


I am writing to comment on your recent article on the small-business server bake-off.

You say that "the Nitix product is priced at $599 for five users compared with $1,299 for five users for Microsoft Small Business Server." What exactly are you comparing? The five-user CAL SBS 2003 server software costs between $450 and $500.

Looks like the $599 price you quoted for Nitix is only for software, whereas the $1,299 for SBS 2003 is for server software on an entry-level server hardware.

You also say that "Nitix went a different route, bundling ExchangeIT Groupware, which offers Microsoft Exchange compatibility." How does ExchangeIT offer MS Exchange compatibility? Did you mean MS Outlook? Or that ExchangeIT does a good job of mimicking MS Outlook /MS Exchange functionality?

Nitix--especially when installed on Net Integration hardware--is a great product, but I fear your apples-to-oranges comparison might leave a sour taste in the mouths of potential Nitix/Mark I/II/III buyers.

Kwabena Adu

The CRN Test Center's response to both letters:

ExchangeIT supports Outlook and offers a management experience with the same level of ease of use as Exchange. What's more, ExchangeIT uses terminology that Exchange users will find familiar--that's the compatibility gist on the product.

SBS Premium ($1,299) for the comparison was justified due to the fact that all of the products looked at bundled in both advanced firewalls and SQL support--so from a feature stand-point, Premium was the way to go.

Also, the Small Business Linux Distributions looked at were each of the vendor's top tier products aimed at the SME market, so for Level playing field, Premium had to be compared against the "premium" equivalents from the Linux vendors.

The features offered in R2 are welcome enhancements, but one of the biggest features touted is the patch management--if SBS did not have all of the security issues associated with it, the patch management would not be such a big deal. The Linux distros include patch management and update services also, but are those are less important than they are in SBS. Linux tends to be more secure (mostly because the virus and malware authors don't see it as a target) and stable.

There are many things that SBS does well and I am a big fan of SBS (I have contributed to two books, spoken at SBS Conferences, etc.). But small businesses are becoming more and more cost-sensitive and are looking for solutions that need less and less administration and enhanced stability. Microsoft's delays behind SBS' replacement (Cougar) only creates an opportunity for others to muscle in to the SME market.

Frank J. Ohlhorst
CRN Labs