Life after Small Business Server 2011 with Office 365
This article discusses some of the options, their pitfalls and benefits for life after SBS 2011.
Microsoft retired Small Business Server 2011 in January 2015 with extended support ending in January 2020. There are still many companies out there with SBS 2011 running their business but it is time to move on from this platform and to consider the alternatives.
SB 2011 was a great product, it provided email, intranet, file storage, user management and security in one box at an affordable price. There is no direct replacement for this suite of products. The platform that provides the closest functionality is Windows Server Essentials however this doesn’t include some essential services such as Exchange server which is costly to implement standalone.
The alternatives to SBS 2011 need some considerations which help to narrow down suitable products:
How many users are on the system?
What kind of connectivity is available?
If the number of users is less than around 25 and the connectivity is good, there is a strong argument for Microsoft Office 365. This is what Microsoft sees as the successor to SBS 2011. A monthly subscription per user provide the latest version of the Office suite, fully licensed, Exchange Server in the cloud, File Storage and sharing in the Cloud plus many collaboration and communication tools such as Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams (intranet). Without good connectivity this tool stumbles somewhat. The File Storage becomes tiresome for the user and the installation of Office 365 aware onsite storage is required to get the best out of it. This onsite storage could either be a separate physical box or the synchronisation of files with the users PCs. Both of these methods work well and the user experience once this has been set up is good. the cost per user per month is £9.40 ex VAT for Business Premium which includes the full suite of products plus the cloud services.
When a company has over around 25 users the cost effectiveness of using the cloud diminishes. Suddenly the Office 365 subscription is costing £235 per month. That is £2880 per year ex VAT. Over three years the customer will have spent £8640 for which they could have purchased a physical Exchange Server, licenses and some file storage. Financially, Office 365 doesn’t stack up in this case, although there is an argument that an additional £9.40 to enable an employee to be productive is well worth it.
In the case of poor connectivity what to do? When there are a small number of users (less than 25), Exchange in the cloud is the answer, but NOT cloud based file storage. There are some Office 365 subscriptions with Exchange services only (from £3 to £6 per month) however they don’t include the Office license (so you don’t get Microsoft Outlook, the mail client). To get Outlook, Business Premium is once again required at £9.40 per user per month. In this case Files should be stored locally on a file server, NAS or synchronised with users PCs to minimise the need for connectivity.
One point to note is that in the UK some of the areas with the poorest connectivity are industrial estates and commercial areas. This means that many customers need their IT service provider to consider and discuss the options with them with this in mind. Things are improving out there but it takes time so hybrid solutions with offline files are becoming the norm.
This article has discussed alternatives to Small Business Server 2011 utilising Office 365 being deployed in various ways. Please feel free to email the author firstname.lastname@example.org with comments, suggestions or for IT services.
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