The times really are getting smaller and smaller. You really need to have 5 or more machines active. Running e-mail out of house can be done but it’s not easy as exchange really wants to be the mail hub(which makes since as it IS a full featured mail server). The issues are the high cost as well as the high system requirements. You really need a minimum of 8 gigs of ram and you really need true hardware raid 1 or higher. I have found dual cores to suffice if they are fast enough but quads are so cheap there’s no reason to skimp. Unfortunately this is another example of Ms products getting very very bloated.
I think for my small clients server 2008 standard or even server 2008 foundation for simple AD and file sharing is going to be the best bet. If you aren’t tied to the MIcrosoft backed(say folks who run progbrams that require a windows server to share databases) then I have a couple of alternatives:
Both of these are Linux based groupware suites..and you can’t beat hte price…free. If you aren’t tied to a Microsoft backend and are a small shop there’s no longer any need to spend 2-3k on a ms based server…you can get a $500 server and use one of these packages. The only additional cost is an installation fee from ECC…that’s it.
If you are tied to a Microsoft backend then SBS may be a good fit for you. I have been testing using Google apps for business for my own business and personal domains…and it’s worked out well. With a few addon plugins you can use Mozilla to calendar and check e-mail. With a few setting changes you can also share calendars between users. It’s not quite as flexible as Outlook/exchange…yet but Google is constantly putting new features in that means you don’t have to be shackled to the exchange/outlook pair anymore.
Now that there are truly some alternatives it only means good things for my clients as i can now give them the most effective options for their businesses. SBS 2003 was a great package at a great price…SBS 2008 has gotten really really expensive. Frankly those consultants that have hooked themselves exclusively to the MS train are doing their clients a grave disservice in my opinion.