Partners: An 'Essential' Element in Microsoft's SMB Plans

Microsoft announced at WPC that November 12 will be the official launch date of Windows Essential Server Solutions.

Microsoft used the occasion of its 2008 Worldwide Partner Conference today to announce that November 12 will be the official launch date of Windows Essential Server Solutions, which are all-in-one software solutions for small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) based on Windows Server 2008 and other Microsoft server technologies.

Although November will be the launch date, Microsoft plans to give hardware manufacturers a step up by delivering Windows Essential Server Solutions to them in September, as explained by Redmond Channel Partner Editor in Chief Scott Bekker, who reported today at the Houston-based event.

Windows Essential Server Solutions encompass two basic products. One is Windows Small Business Server 2008 (SBS), designed for organizations with up to 75 users. The other is Windows Essential Business Server 2008 (EBS), designed for organizations with up to 300 users.

Both products are near Release Candidate 1 stage, according to Steven VanRoekel, senior director of Microsoft's Windows Server Solutions Group, in a released statement. Partners may be already familiar with earlier versions of SBS, but EBS 2008 will be a new product when it is released in November.

The two products are "reliant on the partner channel," according to Joel Sider, senior product manager of Microsoft's Windows Essential Server Solutions. He added that Essential Business Server and Small Business Server products can be used for "businesses with small or no IT staff," and those businesses may have the same needs and wants as larger ones.

The deployment of one or the other product isn't solely dependent on the business' size or number of users, Sider explained.

"Essential Business Server is kind of a step up in terms of IT sophistication…in terms of system management, consolidating more IT workloads, potentially more advanced security requirements, edge security and supporting applications," Sider said. "In a lot of cases, Essential Business Server does assume that there is some onsite IT staff and Small Business Server assumes there's none. Small Business Server assumes there's probably a partner in the mix and they're doing some sort of managed service providing or maintenance. With Essential Business Server, the partner will often be a key player, but there is probably an IT pro -- at least a few -- on staff that the partner is working in conjunction with."

Microsoft offers SBS and EBS in both standard and premium editions. One of the more important distinctions between the two editions is that users get a second copy of Windows Server 2008 and a full version of SQL Server when they buy the premium editions.

Some observers have questioned the increased cost of SBS 2008 compared with its previous version, but Sider attributed the price increase to meeting customer and partner needs.

"We did make some changes in the product and the way we've licensed the product," he said. "When you compare Small Business Server 2008 -- the new product -- vs. the existing product, SBS 2003 R2, in the majority of scenarios, from one to 75 users, the newer product is actually less expensive. And that's the standard edition. In the case of the premium edition, that is going up to some degree. It is going up in price because we are adding another copy of Windows Server and that full version of SQL Server that is going to run on a separate box. Customers, and especially their partners, really asked for that -- they want to run those line-of-business applications on a clean box that they know that the ISVs have certified their applications for."

Currently, there are more than 160 applications certified as compatible with SBS and EBS 2008, according to Microsoft's announcement.

In terms of standard vs. premium editions, Sider noted that it will be more expensive for businesses to buy the solutions separately. The premium editions provide a "cost savings on these products of 35 to 45 percent," he said.

Microsoft is currently rolling out software development kits for Windows Essential Server Solutions on its Microsoft Developer Network. The company is also investing in partner training. It plans to get 25,000 partners trained on Windows Essential Server Solutions technologies over the next year. In addition, the company launched an online tool called Solutions Pathway to assess customer deployments of Microsoft technologies, helping partners offer upgrade incentives to their customers.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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