Microsoft Readies Small Business Server

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Microsoft is leveraging its integration abilities to strengthen its hold on smaller accounts. Next week, the company will formally unveil two versions of Windows Small Business Server 2003 at its annual partner conference in New Orleans.

The upcoming Standard and Premium Editions of the product technically stitch together a collection of Microsoft's core server applications and its server operating system, Windows Server 2003, in a way that helps smaller users get essential pieces of its technical infrastructure up more quickly. Company officials believe that this tighter integration can serve as a foundation for smaller companies to build customized solutions more easily.

"We have taken core technologies and built simplicity integration code that ties all of them together, so users can build out a variety of small-business scenarios they can get better value from. It is more than just offering Windows and applications bundled together," says Katy Hunter, group product manager with Microsoft's Windows Server Division.

Pricing for the Standard Edition is $599 and includes a license for five clients. The Premium Edition costs $1499, also with a license for five clients. This is an increase over the price of previous versions.

Integration Essential

Analysts agree that smooth integration of the components is the key to attracting smaller shops, particularly those buying their first server, since these buyers typically lack the technical expertise and the inclination to do technical tweaking and fine-tuning.

"A smooth job of integration is what smaller companies are going to need in large measure with a product like this, where typically they do not have IT staffs to do all the fine tunings and tweaks to get up and running," says Ray Boggs, vice president in charge of Small and Medium Size Business Research at IDC.

While Microsoft has made the product simpler than its predecessor (Windows Small Business Server 2000) to install and configure, small users will still need the help of value-added resellers (VARs).

"They have made it easier to set up, but you definitely need the support of a VAR. The average small business, unless it has a strong IT background--meaning it is very familiar with networking and the setup of clients--will need a VAR. And that VAR will need SBS training to understand its lingo," says Mikka Krammer, research vice president with Gartner's Small and Medium Business Group.

Krammer points out one example of how tighter integration across the components helps simplify things: Instead of having to go out to the Exchange Server or Active Directory to add a new user, administrators can just enter a user's name once, after which the system will automatically do the necessary background work to ensure that the new user can work with those products.

"Adding new users is pretty intuitive if you are familiar with a computer. [The software] automatically sets up Exchange or Active Directory for users, giving them an ID and password for remote access to a Windows Sharepoint intranet site for that enterprise, for example," Krammer says.

Product Bundle

The Standard Edition of the product includes Windows Server 2003, Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, Windows Sharepoint Services, and the Microsoft Shared Fax Service. The Premium Edition includes everything in the Standard Edition plus the company's Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000, SQL Server 2000, and Office FrontPage 2003.

Hunter contends that small companies are slow to accept standard IT technology because they often find it too difficult to integrate, and because many shops remain unconvinced that such investments return much economic or productivity value. Citing market penetration numbers, Hunter says that only 19 percent of small companies in the U.S. market have servers, though 66 percent have more than one PC, making them candidates to gravitate from personal computing to business computing.

"We discovered that smaller companies often can't articulate their technology needs because they don't have a baseline from which they can start that discussion. So a lot of the R&D work we did was observational, just watching how they got their jobs done," Hunter says.

Microsoft officials believe they have abundant opportunities among smaller companies, he adds.

This story, "Microsoft Readies Small Business Server" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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