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Microsoft unveils new Windows Small Business Server

Microsoft's Windows Small Business Server 2008 adds a new server box to the Premium SKU and tight ties into Office Live Small Business hosted services.

Microsoft is breaking out its Windows Small Business Server 2008 a week in advance of the Windows Server 2008 launch event.

The new entry, now in private beta and slated to ship in the second half of the year, adds a second server to the Premium SKU that could offer partners virtualization and other opportunities even in the small businesses targeted, said Steven VanRoekel, senior director for Microsoft's server and tools division.

Windows Small Business Server 2008 will also tie into Microsoft-hosted Office Live Small Business online offerings. When a value-added reseller (VAR) installs and configures the server, it will help automate acquisition and setup of a Web domain if the customer wants it.

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"When the server is initially set up, the next step is walking the customer through buying a domain name, making sure to configure that, and we connect you with Office Live," VanRoekel said.

Some partners may actually view that linkage to Microsoft-hosted services and applications as a threat, although Microsoft is trying hard to present Office Live as a broader partner opportunity for customization and consultation with very small businesses.

Family affair: Microsoft intros Windows Essential Server Solutions Family

The latest small business server, like its predecessor, tops out at 75 users. Companies that outgrow that limit can migrate to Windows Essential Business Server (aka Centro), which debuted last year. The two servers together make up what Microsoft is calling its Windows Essential Server Solutions Family.

The Standard Edition bundles Windows Server 2008 (with its embedded SharePoint Services Version 3), Exchange Server 2007 email, Forefront Security for Exchange, Windows Live OneCare for Server and the aforementioned Office Live linkages.

The Premium Edition adds a second copy of Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 to run on a second box. That should please businesses that are not comfortable putting line-of-business applications on the same hardware as their directory and mail.

That "creates a sandbox for those line-of-business applications in a way that gives you more stability. If an app goes down, it won't take out the whole business," VanRoekel noted.

Lyf Wildenberg, president of MyTech Partners, Inc., a Minneapolis-based Microsoft Gold infrastructure partner, said the new, more bullet-proof install will let VARs more quickly deploy the server in small companies.

With the existing Small Business Server 2003, there were lots of potentially different ways to install the product, which was flexible, but that variability could cause problems.

The more locked-down installation will mean faster, more solid installs. "From a VAR perspective that could sound threatening -- especially if you have a lot of lifestyle or IT people out there doing installs, it could drive revenue for installs down," Wildenberg said. "But ultimately it will [also] push Microsoft VARs at the higher end into more business-level discussions with customers."

In particular, the additional server in the premium version could be a bonus for partners who may sell hardware and additional applications into that account.

"There are a lot of small companies running business applications that require a second server running SQL that you don't want on your main Active Directory or email server," Wildenberg said. "With that second server you can now run a number of other Microsoft solutions, terminal services, HyperV, so now you can help your small business client start getting into virtualization, a big opportunity," Wildenberg added.

Brad Schow, general manager of Compudyne, Duluth, Minn. said the new packaging would ease add-on sales of things like terminal services.

With the existing SBS "if we saw an opportunity for some kind of terminal services, we would just go with standard Windows Server and Exchange. Now we'd say, buy SBS and we'll sell you terminal services atop that.

That's because new Small Business Server brings back Terminal Services in application mode where the previous version offered administrative mode on the premium SKU, VanRoekel said. "The second server is enabled to run Terminal Services and applications running on that server can be made available for clients," said VanRoekel.

Schow agreed that separating SQL Server from the rest of software was the way to go. "We have many customers who have line-of-business applications that require SQL Server and don't want to put that on their main box. This is a great step for Microsoft and for us."

The Office Live linkage sounds promising, but it's still too early in the game to assess partner opportunity there, Wildenberg and Schow agreed .

Price was not disclosed. The current Small Business Server 2003 Standard Edition lists for $599 per server, including five client access licenses (CALs). The Premium Edition lists for $1,299 per server with five CALs. Additional CALs cost $99 each.

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