On April 1 (maybe not the best move), Microsoft introduced Windows Server 2008 Foundation, or at least that's the name of the product on the official product page. Sure, it won't be long before we're referring to it as "Foundation" or "Foundation Server" but I digress. The two important items I want to cover in this post are:
- This product is not an April Fool's joke.
- There is already a great deal of confusion about this product.
The first point is fairly self-explanatory. As to the second, yes, the official pages at Microsoft are a bit vague about the limitations of the product, and you do need to be aware that there are some specific EULA and product limitations for this system. Those details will be getting hashed out over time in cyberspace, and at least initially I don't think it's critical for the small business IT pro to get in a panic about knowing or not knowing what all of the limitations are. It's still going to be a bit before you can actually get the product from the OEMs (one of the restrictions), so you've got time to get the skinny on the details of the limitations. What is important to know up front, I think, is where this product really fits into the grand scheme of small business computing.
One common theme I've already seen hashed out in a number of forums is that Foundation is a direct competitor to Small Business Server and Windows Home Server. It isn't. In fact, it can be used to augment networks where Home Server or Small Business Server are already in place. One place where Microsoft does see a need to be filled is in the micro business space (if I can use that term, referring to the less than 5 user business or home business) where cash flow just doesn't allow for a business to implement Small Business Server. The micro business may not need all of the bells and whistles of SBS (perhaps they've already got hosted e-mail and/or SharePoint somewhere) but they do want or need a small server to handle a specific task, such as a central file server or print server, or even a LOB app server (especially if the app is not SQL based) or a small Terminal Server. While we haven't seen specific pricing on the software that the OEMs will be charging (as of the moment of this post), the idea is to have a small scale server available for a small business at a low price point. And in some cases, it makes sense. If a business is looking to purchase a small server in the $500 range, are they all that interested in purchasing an operating system that costs more than the hardware? Not according to the research that Microsoft has done.
So how can Foundation be used in a small business? Well, let's hit a few of the product specs and limitations up front to give you some background for this discussion.
- Foundation is Windows Server 2008.
- Foundation is limited to a single physical processor. That processor can have as many cores as possible, but Foundation will only be sold on single-processor systems.
- Foundation is limited to a max of 8GB of RAM.
- Foundation is 64-bit only.
- Foundation is limited to a maximum of 15 users.
- Foundation is only available through the major OEMs (Dell, HP, IBM, etc.) and not through the System Builder channel.
- Foundation has no support for virtualization - it cannot be used as a Hyper-V host or guest.
- Foundation can be a Domain Controller or a Member Server.
There are many other items not included in this list, but this gives us enough of a basis to discuss what roles Foundation could play as a solution for your clients. I'm going to limit the scope of the rest of this post using examples where the business has no more than 15 users.
If you already have an SBS server in place at a customer site, but you're needing to add a line of business application that you know isn't going to play well with IIS on the SBS server, Foundation might be a good fit. Since it's Windows Server 2008, it supports IIS (along with the other Server 2008 tools) and can be a member server in an SBS network. If the LOB application requires a SQL back end, it might not be a good fit for Foundation, thanks to the 8GB limit (SQL can be very memory-demanding).
Suppose you need to add a Terminal Server that will only be used by a couple of users in the business, and the applications they will be using on the Terminal Server are not memory-intensive. Foundation may make sense as a solution here. You will still need to purchase Terminal Server CALs and configure Foundation with the Terminal Services roles, but it will work.
Suppose you have a customer that has 4 computers in a peer-to-peer network looking for a server to centralize their shared data. They are happy with their current e-mail situation, and they're working on a tight budget. Foundation might make a good solution for them, as they can use it as a DC to use Active Directory for central authentication and file share security on the server.
These are just a few examples of how Foundation could be used to be a first server in a small organization or to augment services in an existing small network. In the new few weeks as the stories become clearer, I'll post some additional scenarios where Foundation could be used. In addition, I'm preparing for a presentation on Foundation server for the upcoming SMB Summit in Dallas in May.
Bottom line, Foundation can be a valuable addition to the small business IT professional's solutions catalog. In cases where the cost of putting in an additional 2008 server into the network has been financially prohibitive for the smaller customer, Foundation may now make that type of solution more fiscally reasonable. Stay tuned for more information.