5 tips for setting up Microsoft Small Business Server

SBS may be for the small business, but it comes with a fully functional Exchange 2010 SP1 -- so take advantage

Microsoft's Small Business Server (SBS) is aimed at small businesses, but it comes with a fully functional copy of Exchange 2010 SP1. However, many SBS customers probably aren't taking advantage of what the SBS-Exchange combo can do or are fearful of the more complex Exchange part. Here are five tips to help.

Microsoft Small Business Server tip 1: Easy mailboxes creation. If you just want to get Exchange up and running and not fuss with the fancy tools offering more granular control, you can do that. The SBS Administration Console lets you create users and mailboxes at the same time -- there's no need to open either Active Directory Users and Computers or the Exchange Management console or shell. Obviously, if you want to do more than create the mailbox and provide for a simple quota on the size, you'll have to jump into the Exchange management tools provided.

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Microsoft Small Business Server tip 2: Get a certificate via the SBS certificate wizard. In order for people outside your organization to send email to your SBS Exchange server, you need to register the name of your organization (the domain name where you want to receive email, not necessarily the one you use internally -- the two don't have to be the same) and obtain a simple certificate for the SBS server. To do so, run the wizard for generating a certificate through the SBS Administration Console. This doesn't provide you with a lot of flexibility, but it lets you obtain a cert that validates your domain.

Microsoft Small Business Server tip 3: Configuring DNS properly. Under DNS settings, you want to configure an @ host record that points to your router's outside IP address. It also enables port forwarding to your SBS server for ports 25, 80, 443, and 997 (for SMTP, HTTP, and SSL), if you plan on using Outlook Web Access and client access methods other than simply sending and receiving mail through the server.

In addition, you'll want to create a remote host record that points to the same IP address for the external router port. To do so, create an MX record with the @ record for host; that record has to point to remote.yourcompanyname.com (or .net. .org, or whatever the case may be). Finally, for autodiscovery to work for Outlook 2007 and 2010 clients, create a SRV record for the _autodiscover service that points back through port 443 to remote.yourcompanyname.com using the _tcp protocol.

Microsoft Small Business Server tip 4: Configuring a smart host. This is essential -- if you don't configure a smart host, your email may not be accepted by other domains. In many cases, you might try and set up a Send connector with a wild card (*) that says all email not going to an internal user will be sent to the Internet using DNS MX records. However, the problem with such a wild-card approach is that it is a hit-or-miss proposition as to whether a person will receive the email if you're using SBS behind a router that is part of a block of email addresses. Unfortunately, that router may be blocked by IP Block List providers simply because it's part of a group of IP addresses not considered valid (it happens all the time).

That's where a smart host can be helpful: Basically it's a go-between server that takes your email and sends it out from a different spot. You can check with your Internet service provider to see if it offers a smart host for you to use. If not, you might try Socket Labs, which offers free smart host support for a small number of messages per month that you can use for testing; you can then subscribe to a plan for your actual volume of email each month.

Microsoft Small Business Server tip 5: Understanding where SBS and Exchange capabilities differ. The two tools are practically identical, with the same Exchange Management Console, the same Exchange Management Shell cmdlets, and nearly the same features, such as the ability to configure transport rules and mobile devices' ActiveSync policies. But there are a few exceptions. One logical feature missing in SBS is the ability to use high availability through database availability groups (DAG), a natural consequence of that fact that SBS is a single-server deployment built from the Standard flavor of Windows Server 2008 R2.

Small Business Server 2011 really impresses me with how much of Exchange it makes available to the admin. Add in SharePoint Foundation, easy-to-use tools, and remote administration features, and you have a very powerful tool for your small business.

This article, "5 tips for setting up Microsoft Small Business Server," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.