Fresh on the heels of a fixed Windows Home Server, Microsoft is preparing to release two integral business products which may be as impactful as Windows 7

DailyTech covered over the last half year Microsoft's efforts to restore Windows Home Server (WHS) to health.  These efforts finally succeeded with the release of Power Pack 1, which not only fixed the underlying file system issues, but also added new functionality.  Now Microsoft is forging ahead in the server market, looking to gain traction in the small-to-midsize business and home markets.

Leading the effort are two new Windows products, Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2008 (codenamed Cougar) and Windows Essential Business Server (EBS) (codenamed Centro).  Both were released in Release Candidate 1 form on Thursday and are available for public trial in preparation for a November 12 launch.  With these products, Microsoft is aiming to provide big business server expertise to companies with 300 workstations or less.  The new products are not individual pieces of software, but packages of Microsoft server software components. 

Windows SBS 2008 is the first of the pair and will support up to 75 workstations.  It is the successor to previous SBS products 2003 and 2000, which were modest successes.  Microsoft looks to improve on these efforts with its new SBS edition, which is based on the well-received Windows Server 2008 and includes Windows Exchange Server 2008, Windows SharePoint Services 3.0, and 120-day trial subscriptions to new Microsoft security products.  Trials of both Forefront Security for Exchange and Windows Live OneCare for Server are provided as well.

The standard edition of SBS will come with one server, while the premium edition will come with both Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008, with the option of running the SQL Server outside the main SBS server.

On a more detailed level, SBS brings a number of new features to the table, mainly focusing on the need for hassle-free security in small businesses.  Microsoft's Joel Sider, Senior Product Manager of the Windows Server Solutions group spoke to DailyTech about the increased efforts on the security front. 

He describes, "There’s no question security is a big concern for companies of all sizes. A big focus of both SBS and EBS is making IT setup easier, whether it’s done by a solution provider or an IT staffer, and consolidating most IT tasks into one place. Both Solutions provide security status and monitoring in one place, so IT managers can easily view and address security issues quickly and easily, whether its data protection, updates, anti-virus, messaging security, etc.”

The second product, Windows EBS is designed to work for slightly bigger business or "mid-sized" as Microsoft puts it.  It provides support for up to 300 workstations.  The standard edition is expected to include 3 Windows Server 2008 x64 Standard Servers and 3 Windows Exchange 2007 servers.  Additionally it will come with Microsoft System Center Essentials, Microsoft Forefront Security for Exchange Server, and Forefront Threat Management Gateway.

The premium version of EBS will come with SQL Server 2008 and will also have an additional Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition.  Like SBS, EBS provides administrators with a central console, through which the other clients and servers can be managed and protected.  It also focuses on security with many built in security-oriented features.

EBS is already showing signs of strong third-party support, a major objective according to Microsoft.  Computer Associates, Citrix Systems, Symantec Corp. and Trend Micro have all demonstrated products which work with EBS. 

Overall EBS and SBS represent the increasingly cohesive efforts by Microsoft to capture and support the smaller size business server markets.  In many ways its growing new business, as this is a real that in the past has relied heavily on custom solutions.  Frequently small business run on proprietary software programmed by a small contractor.  Microsoft looks to take away the uncertainty of adopting such custom solutions and offer a more tested solution at what it feels will be a reasonable price.

Says Mr. Sider:

In small business the biggest competition, per se, is no server infrastructure at all. Small businesses typically have no IT staff, and are often reliant on consultants or solution providers. We want to help small businesses – and the consultants that work with them – understand and take advantage of all-in-one IT that will help them be more secure, increase productivity and grow the business. The biggest challenge for us may be creating awareness.

This holds true in the midmarket, too. Mid-sized organizations have been historically under-served by the industry. They commonly pay the most for software and struggle to make enterprise software work for them. They often have very few IT professionals asked to do everything a big enterprise IT staff does. By streamlining setup and centralizing most IT management into one view, Essential Business Server is aimed at solving this. SBS and EBS are both priced for small and mid-size IT budgets, too, offering savings of 30%-45% versus buying the Solutions’ component products separately.

While EBS and SBS reaching RC1 is the biggest news out of Microsoft, it is also continuing its Windows Home Server efforts, looking to continue to encourage home users to adopt its server products as a means of managing backup storage.  The Windows Server Solutions group headed by Mr. Sider is developing both updates to WHS and working on the product's eventual successor.

Mr. Sider says a focus with WHS is PR efforts, to get people familiar and comfortable with WHS.  He states, "It is a new product category, so our efforts will center around education and explaining how it will help consumers protect, organize and share their growing archives of digital media.  There are online campaigns, webinars, a lot of involvement in industry and company events, and more."

He says that hardware partner HP, which has a WHS-featuring MediaSmart Server, just launched a new community, which should help familiarize users with the product.  He states that hardware partnership continues to grow with Fujitsu-Siemens SCALEO and Tranquil PC offering WHS products in Europe and the UK.  Norco and Hush are also offering WHS systems.  Finally, he encourages users to check out the list of add-ons on We Got Served, a popular community for WHS.  The add-ons offer new functionality to the product which some users may find very handy.

With its increasingly cohesive efforts in the home and small business server market, Microsoft seems dedicated to increasing business in these sectors.  How its efforts will be received will likely be influence by a variety of factors, including pricing, public perception, and ease-of-use.  However, early impressions of EBS and SBS seem good and they seem likely to find a home among many small businesses that are willing to try something new. 

The release candidates for the products are available here from Microsoft.

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