How to sell Windows Server 2008: Products and services

Even though Windows Server 2008 won't be out until February, Microsoft partners should already be getting their customers ready to upgrade.

Analysts expect customers will be lining up to buy Windows Server 2008 when it comes out in February – partially because they can't ignore a Windows upgrade – but also for its better security and remote access, even though its attractive virtualization features won't be available for months after the initial release.

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But value-added resellers (VARs) and systems integrators (SIs) will also be lining up to sell it. Service providers will have to sell themselves and their unique abilities to customers before they can even begin talking about the potential benefits of Windows Server 2008, according to Kevin Fream, CEO of Tulsa, Okla.-based service provider Matrixforce.

That will require resellers to aggressively market their technical abilities which go beyond simple installation and integration, he said.

"There's going to be a lot of people selling it," he said. "What are you doing that's different?"

For Fream, the answer to that question is Justice, a new practice management system Matrixforce is developing for customers in the legal field that is designed to take advantage of the new features of Windows Server 2008.

But there are plenty of other opportunities to create custom products using Windows Server 2008 such as Office Comunications Server, Exchange Server 2007 and Microsoft's desktop applications, Fream said. Microsoft also plans to release Visual Studio 2008 in February and SQL Server 2008 later next year, providing more integration and customization opportunities for partners.

"This is the foundation for the next wave of products," Fream said.

Before Microsoft partners can tailor those kinds of solutions for their customers, they need to get their technical and sales staffs trained on the new features of Windows Server 2008, said Alan "Skip" Gould, president and CEO of BrightPlanIT.

BrightPlanIT, a Microsoft Gold partner in Buffalo, N.Y., sent its chief technical officer and a lead trainer to Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash. for training. Other employees learned about Windows Server 2008 at recent Microsoft conferences in Orlando and Denver.

"Training's going to be huge," Gould said. "They have to be up to speed on it to sell it."

Matrixforce also sent employees to Microsoft conferences for training, and the company has already begun deploying Windows Server 2008 through a Microsoft program to develop case studies in time for the full roll-out in February.

"We're supposed to be experts and be ahead of the curve," Fream said.

Despite all the training, Gould acknowledged there will be bumps in the road. Partners need to make sure their clients' licensing is up to date and that they enroll in the Microsoft Software Assurance program to make sure they can spread their payments out over a longer time, and ensure themselves access to all the new versions and updates of Windows while their licenses are valid.

Compatibility with third-party software could be a problem because other vendors are "sometimes slow to test things," Gould said said.

To avoid that issue, Microsoft partners should test their clients' software to make sure it works with Windows Server 2008. If it doesn't, resellers should push their clients' independent software vendors to release versions that will be compatible, Gould said.

Once employees are trained and software is tested, it's time to start selling. Fream suggests highlighting the new features of Windows Server 2008, and both he and Gould agree on what tops that list: its virtualization capabilities and the savings they will bring.

"The virtualization technology in Server 2008 is a huge plus," Gould said. "We see more server center consolidation, more server virtualization opportunities and more consulting for our clients around the virtualization concept."

The virtualization technology will also help Microsoft partners reach more potential Windows Server 2008 customers, because "it's going to mean less hardware and easier migrations," Fream said.

Another new feature is the Terminal Services Gateway, an alternative to virtual private networking (VPN) that controls remote network access. Customers will like the improved support it provides for applications and the fact that it requires fewer manual updates than VPN, Fream said.

Microsoft's increased emphasis on integrating security is another selling point, Gould said.

"They've integrated it better and better with each subsequent release," he said.

Windows Server 2008 could also help partners sell upgrades to Vista, because Microsoft designed Windows Server 2008 and its other upcoming products to work optimally on that operating system, he said.

"It will be clear that if (customers) had Vista, they would have capabilities that they maybe discounted before," Gould added.

Besides the training it has offered, Microsoft is providing other help for partners selling Windows Server 2008. Gould said he particularly likes the incentive program for partners that sell it along with other deployments, such as SQL Server 2008.

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