A closer look at the next Microsoft Small Business Server

Is Aurora a harbinger of the easy cross-premise management small-scale IT has long sought?

I recently touched on the future offerings for Microsoft Small Business Server (code-named Aurora) and promised that I'd dive deeper into the Aurora offering once actual code became available. I've now had the code for the better part a week and have been toying with this new cross-premise offering, which is meant to allow small businesses to stay focused on their core competencies rather than becoming technology experts or spending a smalll fortune to hire IT experts.

The idea behind Aurora is that a small business with 5 to 25 PCs should have the same high-end solutions that larger businesses use but without all the complexity (and cost) typically associated with such an intricate IT infrastructure.

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Microsoft Small Business Server was as easy to install as Windows Server 2008 R2. It allowed me to install in a virtual machine, but it required me to have a 160GB disk. The installer automatically breaks your disk into volumes, then creates drive letters for users, client computer backups, company, and shadow copies.

The SBS Dashboard
Once Aurora was installed, all the typical tools of a Windows Server were available, which I liked. For example, I could go into Active Directory Users and Computers to create my users and make all sorts of property modifications on those accounts. However, in wanting to understand how a small business would benefit from using Aurora, I had to avoid the big-boy Windows Server tools and go instead for the SBS Dashboard.

Personally, I love eye candy. I love the ribbon interface in Office. I love that SharePoint has picked up on it. And even though the Aurora dashboard isn't a ribbon per se, it's close enough in concept that I give it a thumbs-up for ease-of-use. I'd like to see this same concept applied to all of Microsoft's admin tools, which are so outdated with the MMC console look. The Dashboard is awesome all around; it's customizable through an SDK, but initially, you have the following tabs:

  • Home: Simple shortcuts for getting started with common task links like adding users.
  • Users: Where you can add up to 25 user accounts. You can define which folders a user has access to and to what degree.
  • Computers and Backup: At-a-glance information about systems that have been joined to your server using the Connector software. You can see if there are any warnings or alerts that relate to your system and what you need to do to correct these. You can also ensure backups are being cared for with that system.
  • Server Folders and Hard Drives: Where you manage your server's hard drives and shared folders. If you have two hard drives in the system, you can select Enable Folder Duplication, which allows for two copies of the data to be stored, one on each drive.
  • Add-ins: Your Microsoft or third-party add-ins. I didn't see any just yet, so we will have to stay tuned on that space.

You can also see alerts, server settings, and help from the Dashboard.

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