on Wednesday introduced the Windows Essential Server Solutions family of products, built on Windows Server 2008 and the newest Microsoft server technologies and services. The company also unveiled details about the newly named Windows Small Business Server 2008.
"There are 31.9 million small businesses and 1.2 million midsize companies worldwide in need of powerful IT solutions, and they typically have very small IT staffs or none at all," said Bob Kelly, a Microsoft vice president. "Windows Essential Server Solutions make the benefits of enterprise-class IT accessible, affordable and simpler for smaller organizations and their technology advisers."
Blessings and Curses
The essential-solutions family includes Windows Small Business Server 2008 and Windows Essential Business Server 2008. Microsoft said it conducted extensive research and gathered in-depth feedback worldwide to design these SMB-targeted solutions.
The products integrate the technologies of Windows Server 2008, Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, and other Microsoft offerings into all-in-one solutions. That benefit is a blessing and a curse, according to analysts.
One of the strengths and weaknesses of Microsoft products is that they tend to work best with other Microsoft products. That means that although Microsoft products are fairly seamless in unison, they don't fit quite as well into pick-and-choose environments where CIOs select products from various vendors, said Gordon Haff, a server analyst at Illuminata.
"Microsoft has consistently tried to put together integrated collections of products. The one problem is ... that the company often creates so many variants that it complexifies more than simplifies," Haff said.
Microsoft's Argument for Simplicity
Microsoft argues differently. The company said Windows Small Business Server 2008, previously known by the code name "Cougar," helps multiply businesses by helping them protect data, expand productivity, integrate with Microsoft's online services, and add security.
Small Business Server 2008 is touted as a boon for IT managers and technology consultants. Setup and administration are simplified, Microsoft said, with new monitoring capabilities across servers and client PCs, Windows Server Update Services, and customizable reports.
Windows Essential Business Server 2008, meanwhile, is designed for the needs of midsize organizations with up to 250 desktops, helping IT professionals take control of their systems, reduce time spent "fighting fires" and focus more on strategic efforts to drive business growth, Microsoft said.
The Problem with Exchange
One of Microsoft's talking points in the new small-business lineup is integration with Exchange Server 2007. But Haff said applications like Exchange are the "poster child for getting out of your IT shop" because e-mail is not a competitive advantage for most companies. In other words, there are many hosted alternatives to Exchange.
"Microsoft needs to come up with its own hosted alternative. However, in the meantime it behooves them to make it as easy for businesses to consume and deploy and operate Exchange and other similar applications in-house if possible," Haff said. "Microsoft's biggest competition isn't typically product X from some other vendor. It's outsourcing to a service."