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How to run your business without Microsoft small business server

Paul Rubens | Jan. 24, 2014
Microsoft left many companies' IT strategies in tatters last year when it announced it was abandoning Small Business Server. To replace it, firms can either follow Microsoft's advice or look at alternatives such as Google Apps and Linux-based servers.

Linux-based small susiness server alternatives aren't hard to find
There are certainly no shortage of options. Popular Linux small business server alternatives include Univention Corporate Server, the Zentyal SMB Edition and Igaware Small Business Server, while Linux-based Exchange alternatives include Scalix, Sogo and Zarafa.

Many Linux small business server vendors bundle their software with Exchange alternatives - particularly Zarafa, which is seen as a very close alternative to Exchange - and are now specifically targeting small businesses that would otherwise have been obvious customers for SBS.

"These vendors are sensing that there's an opportunity here," Miller says. "The only question mark is whether small companies will be willing to try them rather than [do] what Microsoft is pushing them to do."

To successfully sway small businesses away from the Microsoft options, Miller says it's essential that end users can continue to use their Outlook clients. If users don't notice a difference, he says, "then ... these Linux-based, SBS alternatives can work."

SBS, Server 2012 essentials alternatives typically cheaper, more efficient
According to Tim Sexton, sales director of Linux server vendor Igaware, many small businesses have little choice but to find a Linux alternative to SBS. It's not practical for them to move to a cloud-based solution, he says, because they lack fast enough or reliable enough Internet connectivity.

There are other advantages to moving to a Linux-based SBS alternative instead of Windows Server Essentials, Sexton says. There are no user limits, for starters, "so the solution is completely scalable." In addition, the cost per user is similar to Office 365, but the Linux-based options offer additional functionality and more efficient software, he says. "You can run on lower-spec hardware with just 1GB of memory, instead of a machine with 32GB."

Concrete supplier Express Minimix has moved to Igaware Small Business Server and Zarafa as an Exchange alternative. The company's staff accesses email using Zarafa webmail, Outlook clients or their mobile devices (using ActiveSync).

"I've used Exchange before, and switching to Igaware and Zarafa is a no-brainer. The software just sits there and does its job," says Express Minimix's Jon Gordon.

Doing a direct cost comparison is difficult, but Gordon points out that "Microsoft's support costs tend to be a lot higher." He adds that the entire system has also been far easier to maintain and administer than Exchange. "You certainly don't need Linux skills ... I do everything using the Web interface, and I'm not an IT professional."

There's no doubt that a cloud strategy makes a great deal of sense for many companies, even if it involves recurring costs. But if you're unwilling or unable to move to Office365, hosted Exchange or some other cloud-based solution, a Linux alternative may well meet your needs - and the needs of the IT specialists that used to resell SBS.


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