Trying to help a very small business decide on technology that will last for 5-10 years has always been an interesting challenge, and the choices are completely different now than they were just a few years ago. Small Business Server 2003 was an obvious choice for a long time but Small Business Server 2008 is only one of many possibilities now, and I’m frequently recommending alternatives, especially for businesses with 4-10 computers where SBS 2008 might be overkill.

Microsoft has quietly released an interesting product, Windows Foundation Server 2008, and I’m not sure yet where it fits in. It is a fully functional version of Windows Server 2008, which is a very solid platform indeed. In order to sell it cheaply, Microsoft limited it in several ways:

It is limited to 15 user accounts. It can’t be set up for more than 15 users, and it can’t be a domain controller in an existing domain with more than 15 users.

It is limited to a single physical CPU, and limited to 8Gb of RAM.

It cannot be virtualised and cannot act as a Hyper-V host.

For a small business that does not intend to grow beyond 15 users, those limitations are just fine. It makes it easy to buy a small server or two for file and print sharing, or to run a line-of-business application.

The pricing is interesting. Let’s use tonight’s Dell pricing on a PowerEdge T105 server to show you how Microsoft is positioning this product.


Windows Server 2008 SP2 is $799 for 5 users. Additional users are required to buy Client Access Licenses in 5-packs, so licensing a total of 15 users would cost an additional $398 for ten more CALs.

Windows Server 2008 – total for 15 users: $1197

Small Business Server 2008 starts out slightly cheaper, even though it includes Exchange Server and other valuable components – $749. (Notice the $200 rebate, too.) But licenses for additional users for SBS 2008 are almost twice as much as CALs for Server 2008, so ten more licenses would add another $730. The equations get much more complex if you’re buying two servers and the Premium Edition of SBS 2008; let’s ignore that for now.

Small Business Server 2008 – total for 15 users: $1479

Then there’s Windows Server 2008 Foundation Edition, for $259 – and no client access licenses are required for the fifteen users.

Windows Foundation Server 2008 – total for 15 users: $259

$259 is a really cheap price for Windows Server 2008.

A business on a budget could do very well buying a file server with Windows Foundation Server 2008, and handling the mail through Microsoft Online Services. That’s a huge price difference.

This seems so obvious that I’m confused by the marketing for Foundation Server 2008, because there hasn’t been any. It’s invisible. I barely became aware of it when it was announced with no fanfare a few months ago. Windows Foundation Server 2008 is only being sold through OEMs. Dell and HP are the only vendors selling it that I’m aware of, and it is almost impossible to find on either company’s web site. I had to hunt for it on Dell’s site tonight until I finally found it as an option on two starter servers, the PowerEdge T100 and T105. Those are cheaper, flimsier servers than I like to see clients buy but it’s not possible to get Foundation Server on a beefier piece of hardware. There’s no buzz about it, no ads, virtually no discussion of it on the blogs.

I don’t like it when products are invisible. They have a way of disappearing. Since this really is the complete Windows Server 2008 platform, I don’t think there’s a risk of it becoming “obsolete,” but I can’t figure out why it’s being hidden.

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