Microsoft SMB Server set to roll

Microsoft Corp. will leverage its integration abilities as a way to strengthen its hold on smaller accounts Oct. 9 when it formally rolls out two versions of its Windows Small Business Server 2003 at its annual partner conference in New Orleans.

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

"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," said Katy Hunter, group product manager with Microsoft's Windows Server Division in Redmond, Wash.

Analysts agree that the smooth integration of the components is the key ingredient for attracting smaller shops, particularly those buying their first server, that typically do not have the technical expertise or 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," said Ray Boggs, vice president in charge of Small and Medium Size Business Research at IDC in Framingham, Mass.

While Microsoft has made strides in simplifying the installation and configuring of the product compared to its predecessor, Windows Small Business Server 2000, 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," said Mikka Krammer, research vice president with Gartner's Small and Medium Business Group in Stamford, Conn.

As one example of how tighter integration across the components helps simplify things, Krammer said that instead of having to go out to the Exchange Server or Active Directory to add a new user, administrators just enter a user's name once and the system automatically goes out and does the necessary background work to make sure the new user can work with those products.

"Adding new users is pretty intuitive if you are familiar with a computer. It 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 said.

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 that is in the Standard Edition and adds the company's Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000, SQL Server 2000 and OfficeFront Page 2003.

Hunter contends that there has been a slow acceptance of standard IT technology among user companies of less than 100 employees because often it is too difficult to integrate and many shops remain unconvinced such investments return much economic or productivity value. Citing market penetration numbers, Hunter said only 19 per cent of small companies in the U.S. market have servers, although 66 per cent have more than one desktop computer 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 said.

Microsoft officials believe there is a lavish opportunity ahead of them among smaller companies. Citing research the company has conducted, Hunter said only 19 per cent of all U.S.-based companies with 100 employees or less have a server. But 66 per cent of those companies have two or more desktop computers making them potential candidates for connecting those systems to a network-based operating system such as Windows Small Business Server.

"One of the top requirements smaller companies have is to centralize and secure all of their business information from a wide range of sources. Some of it is digitally captured, some is paper based and some is in people's heads. This sort of overflow is what hinders them in moving forward in their business," Hunter said.

Pricing for the Standard Edition is US$599 and includes a license for five clients while the Premium Edition costs US$1,499 and also includes a license for five clients.

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