Selecting Hardware for Windows Small Business Server 2003

Buying the right computer hardware can make your small business network fast, allow it to function smoothly and prepare your business for maximum growth. To work best, Microsoft® Windows® Small Business Server 2003 requires a server computer and related network components that are equipped to meet the unique demands of your business, which include the size and working style of your company. This guide will help you determine the server system hardware and network components you will need for your Windows Small Business Server 2003 network.

Server Hardware Considerations

Like buying a car, when you buy a server you have many models to choose from and there are also many additional options and ways to modify it to improve performance. No matter what you buy, there are a few key components that have a fundamental impact upon performance. These are the motherboard, processor, memory, and hard drives. Other important components are the tools you use to back up your server and the speed with which you connect to your network and the Internet.

Microsoft has worked with independent hardware vendors to create a list of compatible hardware. The Windows Catalog Web site describes devices that are tested for compatibility with Windows Server 2003 operating systems. Any server you buy should be built with hardware that is listed in the Windows Catalog at the Microsoft Web site (

Before you begin selecting the hardware for your server system, you should carefully consider where it will be located. Physical security of a server is a critical component to keeping the system and your network running. The server should be kept in a cool, well ventilated area that is not accessible by the public. For information on server security read “Securing Your Windows Small Business Server 2003 Network” at the Microsoft Web site ( Also, see the Microsoft Security Central Web site (


The motherboard is the main circuit board of the computer that ties together the components of the computer including the processor, memory, hard drives, the monitor, keyboard, and other peripheral devices. While Microsoft does not have an explicit specification for Windows Small Business Server 2003 regarding motherboards, and while Windows Small Business Server 2003 can be run on a workstation-class motherboard, for best performance, you should strongly consider purchasing a server-class motherboard.


A processor is also called a microprocessor or CPU (central processing unit). You can think of it as the “brain” of the computer.

When buying a processor for your server, clock speed is the primary consideration. Clock speed is expressed in megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz). Processor clock speed determines how fast your computer can perform computing tasks. In addition to processor clock speed, the number of processors in your server should be considered.

If you have a growing business and you plan to rely heavily on your server for collaboration, communication, and to run line-of-business applications, you should buy a server with two processors. Using a server with two processors will enable Windows Small Business Server 2003 to handle many simultaneous computing tasks quickly so that network users do not wait as long for server resources. Windows Small Business Server 2003 supports up to 2 physical processors, and can support up to 4 logical processors using hyperthreading. Put simply, hyperthreading is a technology that makes a single physical processor appear as two processors to your operating system.

Windows Small Business Server 2003 Processor System Requirement

The minimum processor speed required for Windows Small Business Server 2003 to run is 300 MHz. However, to best prepare your server for long-term performance, you should use a processor with a clock speed of 2 GHz or higher. In general, when considering the purchase of a processor for your Windows Small Business Server 2003 system, you should purchase the highest clock speed processor and the most processors (2 physical processors) that your budget will allow.


Memory is also referred to as physical memory, main memory, or RAM (random access memory). Because the amount of memory in your server (measured in megabytes, MB, and gigabytes, GB) determines the amount of data it can “think about” at one time, the amount of memory in your server can have a dramatic impact on performance.

Windows Small Business Server 2003 Memory System Requirement

Windows Small Business Server 2003 requires a minimum of 256 MB RAM to function. However, for most business environments, it is recommended that you use at least 512 MB of memory and 1 GB of memory or more (maximum 4 GB) for long-term performance considerations.

Since additional memory is easy to install, if you need to make an initial tradeoff in the purchase of your server hardware components consider that, if necessary, you can easily add additional memory to your system later as your budget allows.

Windows Small Business Server 2003 Processor Memory Requirement

Storage and Disks

Since RAM data is lost when a computer loses power, it is important to have a way to store important information long-term. Storage of data on a computer is usually accomplished using disks. All disk storage is measured in bytes the same way memory is measured.

Hard Drives

Hard drives are disk storage devices. Today’s hard drives are only available in billions of bytes (gigabytes or GB) ranging in size from 40 GB to over 200 GB. A server computer can hold multiple hard drives, so it is not necessary to get the largest size available as you can use more than one. Also, it is valuable to configure multiple drives to help protect your valuable data (this is called fault tolerance).

The way in which a hard drive connects, or interfaces with the computer has a direct impact upon the speed at which data can be transmitted from the drive to other parts of the computer to get you the information you want. There are three important interfaces to consider for your server hard drives: IDE, SATA, and SCSI.

Types of Hard Drives

Description Considerations Recommended For

IDE, or integrated drive electronics. Also used to refer to ATA, or advanced technology attachment type drives.

  • Typically slower than the other types of hard drives. ATA hard drives have a maximum transfer speed of 100 megabytes per second (MBps)
  • Even with multiple drives installed, only one drive can be accessed at a time
  • Typically cheaper than the other types of hard drives

Windows Small Business Server 2003 networks where no intensive reading and writing to the server hard drives is required. For example, a network of 5 or less users who use e-mail occasionally and access files on the server occasionally.

SATA, or serial advanced technology attachment

  • Typically faster than IDE with transfer speeds at least 150 MBps
  • Typically more expensive than IDE but less expensive than SCSI

Windows Small Business Server 2003 networks where no intensive reading and writing to the server hard drives is required. For example, a network of 5 or less users who use e-mail occasionally and access files on the server occasionally.

SCSI, or small computer system interface.

  • More expensive than IDE or SATA
  • Typically faster than IDE and can be faster than SATA
  • Allows more than one hard drive to be accessed simultaneously

Windows Small Business Server 2003 networks of more than 10 users. For example, in a network where tasks commonly require intensive reading and writing to the server hard drives, such as heavy file access or heavy e-mail usage.

Use Redundant Drives to Prevent Data Loss Due to Drive Failure

If server availability is a critical factor in your business, consider using RAID to provide fault tolerance for your data. RAID (redundant array of independent disks) is a technology that allows a computer to share disk operations across two or more hard drives. Software built in to Windows Small Business Server 2003 will allow you to easily use RAID technology. Of several types of RAID arrays available, the two that will probably be of most value to your business are RAID -1 and RAID -5.

RAID Levels

Description Considerations Recommended For

RAID-1 - Often called “disk mirroring” or “duplexing.”

  • Keeps an exact copy of your hard drive on another drive as a “mirror”
  • “Reading” from the hard drives occurs at a high rate
  • “Writing” to the hard drives occurs at the same rate as a single-disk configuration
  • Windows Small Business Server 2003 networks where system availability is critical
  • Server systems where obtaining more than two hard drives is not feasible but fault tolerance is desired

RAID-5 - Often called “disk striping with parity.”

  • Accesses data across several disks in “stripes”
  • “Reading” from the hard drives operations occurs at a high rate
  • “Writing” to the hard disks occurs at a higher rate than a single-disk configuration
  • Requires a minimum of 3 hard drives
  • If one drive fails the server continues to function using the remaining drives. (Note that this does not replace the need for a backup. If two drives fail, the server will go down.)
  • Windows Small Business Server 2003 networks where system availability is critical
  • Server systems where fault tolerance is desired
  • File and application servers; E-mail servers; database servers


No matter what RAID configuration you choose, you should use hard drives that are the same size (GB) and same speed (in rotations per minute or RPM) to avoid wasting resources.

Windows Small Business Server 2003 Hard Drive System Requirement

Windows Small Business Server 2003 installation requires a minimum partition size of 6 GB. In general, you should purchase more than 1 hard drive and implement RAID Level 1 or 5. Also, to best position your server for long-term data storage needs, you should obtain the largest hard drives your budget permits. Finally, if you need to make a tradeoff in the purchase of your server hardware components, consider that since installing an additional hard drive can be a moderately simple task, (depending upon the server chassis form factor) you can easily add an additional hard drive later as your budget allows.

Using a Backup Solution

Tools like RAID provide a level of data protection through redundancy, but they will not guard against catastrophic problems like fire or physical demolition of your hard drives or server. You need to consider a complete backup solution for fast recovery in the event of data loss that will capture all of your critical business and computer system information. And you need to complement that solution with a process that will keep your back up data in a safe place, preferably a separate location from your server where it is protected from fire and other physical hazards.

A good backup solution will allow you to recover quickly from catastrophic problems.

This can be accomplished using a variety of solutions including tape drives, external hard drives, or a network share.

Backup Solutions

Description Considerations Recommended For

External Hard Drive – An IDE hard drive packaged in a portable case.

  • Attaches easily via USB or IEEE 1394 cable
  • External hard drives can be installed and removed quickly and easily
  • Fast interface. Short time to run back up jobs
  • Inexpensive relative to other solutions
  • Drive failure is possible, and makes data difficult to recover
  • Should be USB 2.0 compliant
  • Can be automated with Windows Small Business Server 2003

Backup of non-critical data or additional copy of data

Tape Drive – A device that reads a removable magnetic tape.

  • Tape cartridges are not prone to mechanical failure
  • Multiple tapes can be recorded and archived from one tape drive device
  • Multiple tapes can be saved off site to restore systems in case of disaster
  • Tape drive device failure does not result in data loss
  • Slower to recover data than a hard drive
  • Can be automated with Windows Small Business Server 2003
  • Most standard Windows Small Business Server 2003 system backup scenarios
  • Comprehensive back up including core server system and business critical data

Network Share – A networked hard drive location to which you can record server data for backup.

  • Uses existing computers and storage space for back up
  • Many dependencies, requires other computer(s) and the network to be running
  • If dependent devices fail, the back up job will fail, saved back ups in that location could be lost
  • Can be automated with Windows Small Business Server 2003
  • Backup of non-critical data or additional copy of data
  • Alternative to a dedicated back up device

Using the Windows Small Business Server 2003 Backup Configuration Wizard or a Third-Party Backup Tool

While Windows Small Business Server 2003 does not require a back up solution, it is an industry-standard practice critical for the safety of your important business data. Windows Small Business Server 2003 provides a great tool, Microsoft Small Business Server Backup, to help you in configuring and maintaining back ups of your server. If you are planning on having multiple servers, you may consider using software from an independent software company created exclusively to perform back up. However, for single server installations of Windows Small Business Server 2003 use the Microsoft Small Business Server Backup program included with Windows Small Business Server 2003.

Floppy Drives

Floppy disk drives are not required for Windows Small Business Server 2003. However, it is important to note that floppy disks are used for important tasks other than data storage like software installation and running diagnostic and system recovery tools.

CD-ROM and DVD-ROM Drives

CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives use an entirely different technology than floppy or hard drives to write and read data and are currently the common way to install software. Optical drive devices like CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives are not as well equipped to write data multiple times to the same disc as hard drives, but they do provide the added value of ease-of-use and great portability.

Certain CD-ROM drives allow you to create or “burn” (copy) data to a CD. These are referred to as CD-RW for read-write as they will read and write CD-ROM discs. The ability to create CD-ROMs is very convenient and it is reasonably easy and fast.

Windows Small Business Server 2003 CD-ROM or DVD-ROM Drive Requirement

Windows Small Business Server 2003 requires either a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM device. Because DVD-ROM discs contain more data, it is more convenient to use the single DVD-ROM disc (if included) version of the Windows Small Business Server 2003 installation software rather than the 4 CD-ROM discs for installation. You may also consider a CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive, which will read and record CD-ROM discs and read DVD-ROMs. This will give you the most long-term flexibility and will still be a great value.

Additional Components

Network Adapter

A network adapter, also called a network interface card (NIC), is a card that is inserted inside a computer to allow it to physically connect to a network. While there are many types of networks, the most common is Ethernet. Windows Small Business Server 2003 was created on the expectation that you will have an Ethernet network. In order to use an Ethernet network with Windows Small Business Server 2003 you must have an Ethernet network adapter in your server computer. Many modern computers have an Ethernet network adapter built in to the motherboard.

Ethernet networks can run at different speeds, depending upon your hardware. The newest network adapters are built to handle any of the speed standards: 10 Mbps, 100 Mbps, and 1 Gbps. Regardless, you must ensure that all network devices are capable of the network speed you have selected in order for the devices to communicate. You will probably find that a Fast Ethernet network (100 Mbps) will work well for your business and that it is a good overall value.


Protecting your network from external attacks, like viruses, requires placing a barrier to Internet traffic between your Internet connection and your users and computers. Such a barrier is called a firewall. Firewalls can be created using either hardware or software. Windows Small Business Server 2003 Premium Edition contains excellent firewall software called Internet Security and Accelerations Server, which will not only help improve security but can also improve network performance. Alternatively, you can also purchase an inexpensive hardware firewall and use it with Windows Small Business Server 2003, or you can take advantage of the basic firewall software built into Windows Small Business Server 2003 Standard Edition. You should also consider that many internet access devices such as cable or DSL modems now come with built-in firewall capability. If you choose to secure your Windows Small Business Server 2003 network with a software firewall you must install two network adapters in your server

Additional Network Hardware

You also need to consider hardware needs for connecting to the Internet. There are many options to consider for your Internet connection, and Windows Small Business Server 2003 will work with most of them. The most basic and lowest cost option is dial-up which will give you a maximum speed of 56 kbps.

High speed connections, also known as broadband, are extremely valuable if you rely on the Internet for information and communication. You have two widely available options when you consider broadband: cable and DSL.

Broadband Connections

Description Considerations

Cable - connects your network to the Internet through a coaxial cable line.

  • Often the highest speed for the lowest cost
  • Connection “bandwidth” is often shared with other cable customers, which could reduce speed
  • Download speed is usually significantly greater than upload speed
  • Requires a cable modem which is often supplied by the Internet service provider (ISP)

DSL - or digital subscriber line, provides Internet access via telephone line through a special DSL modem.

  • Connect to the Internet via the phone line without sacrificing phone call and fax capabilities
  • Bandwidth is not shared, connection speed is often guaranteed
  • Download speed is usually significantly greater than upload speed
  • Requires an ISP for Internet service in addition to DSL service from your phone company
  • Requires a DSL modem which is often supplied by the ISP

Broadband offerings vary widely by location relative to availability and speed. No matter what you choose, you should research your options carefully to evaluate what is available and how your business uses the Internet.

To complete your network and connect it to the Internet source in your business, you will need to have a device separate from the server and modem that ties together all of the computers in your network. Besides the Internet connection device, your network will use at least one of the following:

  • Hub – A hub simply transmits data from the computer sending it to all other computers on the network. With a hub, all communications are sent to all computers, and thus connections can be slower than when using a switch.
  • Switch – A switch is programmed with additional logic to more selectively transmit information between computers. Because communications are allocated to each port, connections are not slowed down by other computers accessing unnecessary resources.
  • Router – A router is a special kind of switch that performs additional logical functions to enable Internet access to a network. Because of these additional functions a router can also be configured to be a hardware firewall and help secure your network.
  • Wireless Access Point – A wireless access point is a device that translates the wired network information into a wireless transmission. The most common wireless specifications are 802.11b, which provides connection speeds up to 11 Mbps, and 802.11g, which provides faster connection speeds. If you plan to support wireless devices, you will need a wireless access point.

You should consider that many current Internet connection devices combine the functions of the devices listed above into one, integrated device. Depending upon your business environment, this “all-in-one” device could be suitable for your Windows Small Business Server 2003 network.


A modem allows a computer to transmit information through a telephone line or television cable. For example, the devices that facilitate the cable and DSL connections described above are considered modems. If you are not using a broadband modem to connect to the Internet, you will need a dial-up modem.

You may also want a modem to allow Windows Small Business Server 2003 users to “dial-in” to the network using virtual private networks (VPN). A VPN connection allows secure communications by remote users to directly connect to your network from remote locations using either a broadband connection or modem. If you plan to allow remote access using a dial-in connection rather than a broadband connection, you will need a modem attached to the server for every connection that you plan to support. You must also set aside a separate phone line for each modem that will accept incoming calls.

The availability and low cost of Internet access makes dial-up/dial-in modem connections a secondary option to consider. However, if you choose this connection type, you should use a business class modem. For more information on business class modems, see the Windows Catalog Web site.

Fax Modems/Fax Devices

Many conventional modems are fax modems, meaning that, in addition to providing Internet communications, they can send and receive faxes from the computer. This allows your server to act as your fax machine, as well. Features in Windows Small Business Server 2003 allow you to receive faxes in a central location on the internal company Web site accessible to all of your employees. You can also route faxes via e-mail, print, or save and archive them in addition to queuing many messages to be sent at appropriate times.

Since a fax modem can send, receive, deliver, and store faxes you may find that maintaining a traditional fax device is unnecessary. However, for many businesses the convenience of having a traditional fax machine is worth the cost of ownership. If you plan to buy a fax machine consider a device that has network capabilities, so that it can be integrated into your network. Many modern fax machines have software that allows you to control the fax machine from your computer. Depending upon the demands of your business, you may also find it valuable to buy an all-in-one device that combines print, copy, and fax functions in one machine. Business quality fax devices that are compatible with Windows Small Business Server 2003 are included in the Windows Catalog.


You can install your printer in your network or you can keep it connected privately to one machine. Using a network printer has the advantage of sharing a single device with other people in your office. This can save considerable money depending upon the size and nature of your business. Using Windows Small Business Server 2003 makes sharing printers easy.

Client Computer Considerations

Choosing a Client Operating System

When you order a computer from a manufacturer it usually comes with an operating system preinstalled. Often, the preinstalled operating system is Windows XP Home Edition, which cannot join a Windows Small Business Server 2003 network. However, Windows XP Professional is designed to work with the Windows Small Business Server 2003 network environment. It adds security, reliability, performance, and functionality to the local network for all users.

Client Hardware Considerations

For Windows Small Business Server 2003 client machines, consider the following hardware requirements:

  • Processor – Windows XP Professional requires a minimum processor speed of 233 MHz, but for best performance in most business environments you should equip PCs with a 1 GHz or faster processor
  • Memory - While the requirement is only 128 MB of RAM, you should install 256 MB RAM or more for best performance.
  • Hard drive - You will need at least 4 GB of hard disk space for your Windows XP Professional installation. Hard disk drives have become relatively inexpensive and because of this the smallest size available is usually 40 GB.
  • CD-ROM/ DVD-ROM - Your computer will need to be equipped with a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive.
  • Network adapter - You must have a network adapter that is compatible with your network. This will usually be a 10/100 Mbps Ethernet adapter.

Laptop Considerations

If you plan to use laptop computers in your network there are some other important things to consider. You will still want to ensure that you have the Windows XP Professional operating system and that the computer meets all of the other hardware specifications outlined above.

Since laptop users are often mobile network users, wireless networking has become the network connectivity technology of choice for these users. There are a variety of wireless network adapters available and they operate on different specifications. If your laptop’s wireless network adapter is not configured to use the same specification as the rest of the network it will not connect to the network. Many wireless network adapters are compatible with both specifications, but you will need to ensure that what you get is compatible with the wireless network you plan to use.

Mobile Devices

A number of mobile devices, including the Windows Mobile-based Pocket PC and Smartphone, are compatible with your Windows Small Business Server 2003 network and can take advantages of remote access features, including the ability to access your e-mail and schedule through Windows Mobile devices. Specific features were created in Windows Small Business Server 2003 to ensure that you can be connected on a variety of devices in nearly any location. For more information on compatible devices see the Windows Mobile Web site (

Second Server Considerations

Windows Small Business Server 2003 allows you to easily add additional servers to your network with a feature called the Add Server Computer Wizard. Microsoft has created specific prescriptive security guidance around using a second server with Windows Small Business Server 2003. You can find that information and more security related content on the Microsoft Security Central Web site (

You can use an additional server to run client or server applications or to enable a Terminal Server connection. Using Terminal Server, you can host your users’ desktops or host line-of-business applications for employee use from the server itself.

Depending upon the purpose of your second server, you will need to consider the type of hardware it will require as a completely separate undertaking from your Windows Small Business Server 2003 server. Also, your second server will need to use a Windows Server 2003 operating system edition other than Windows Small Business Server 2003, such as Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition, since you can only have one Windows Small Business Server 2003 server running in a network.