Microsoft Centro Redubbed Windows Essential Business Server

Aims at mid-market segment that's outgrown Small Business Server

Microsoft's long-awaited mid-market server bundle now has a name: Windows Essential Business Server, which is slated to hit beta two in 30to 60 days.

The offering, which had gone by its code name Centro, fills a big gap in Microsoft's infrastructure lineup, targeting companies with up to 250 desktops. The current Small Business Server is restricted for use on one server and tops out at 75 users. Customers have clamored for agraceful growth path between that and the complex-and-pricey enterprisebuy in.

The new mid-market product, in beta since this summer, is positioned as a complete solution for infrastructure, management, e-mail and security, said Russ Madlener, director of product marketing inMicrosoft's Windows Server Solution group.

There will be two SKUS: Standard Edition with Windows Server 2008, Exchange Server 2007, and System Center Essentials for management, ISA Server and Forefront Security for Exchange. The Premium Edition will add SQL Server 2008. The software can run across three server boxes,distributing the workload.

No pricing is available, but the offering will come with a single, central client access license (CAL), along with a set of tools to ease CAL management for IT managers, Madlener said. Small business customers and the partners who service them have beenclamoring for an easy-to-install offering to act as an upgrade from SBS.

"We have lots of clients on SBS and bursting at the 75-seat limit. Until now they were forced into the enterprise Windows level, getting into multiple boxes and managing that gets very messy and hard to control. Centro will help amazingly in terms of CALs," said Steve Rubin,president of WorkITsafe LLC, a New York City-based solution provider.

Lyf Wildenberg, president of MyTech Partners, Minneapolis agreed."Seventy percent of our customers are on SBS and the rest have grown outof it or are working on migration plans.

Like SBS, the new bundle will offer Windows remote management, allowingan on-premises or remote IT professional to log in and work on local machinesthrough a terminal services session. But "the real play there is that the tools will let the user, just as in SBS, go to a portal, log in and takecontrol of his or her work machine remotely," Wildenberg said.

Splitting up functions across multiple servers may also erase barriers to entry for other Microsoft applications and products, he noted. "With SBS so much was on one server, a lot of companies wouldn't run other stuff on there," he noted.

George Podolak, IT manager for Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, a 150-person New York architectural firm, is looking at the product. For him, the major selling point is the new Exchange Server with its edge services as well as the overall management capabilities. But the company may or maynot take the plunge, since it has already implemented standalone Exchange 2007 and spent a lot of time getting the network runningwell.

Madlener said the typical user company will be one with 75 to 250 employees and one or maybe two dedicated IT people.

Madlener said the product should be available through both OEM and other partner channels in the second half of 2008. Windows Server 2008 is due early next year and SQL Server 2008 is expected in June, so it ispossible that delays to those core products could impact delivery date.

--Barbara Darrow