Microsoft Corp.s next Small Business Server Windows bundle, SBS 2003, is going to live up to its name.
At its WinHEC developers conference in April, Microsoft Group Vice President Jim Allchin told attendees that all of Microsofts Windows .Net server products would be released by the end of 2002, including the next release of the Microsoft SBS.
But in reality, Microsoft isnt planning to ship SBS 2003 until some time in the spring of 2003, according to Katy Hunter, a Windows Server group product manager. The first, true beta of SBS 2003 isnt expected until around July -- shortly after Microsoft delivers Release Candidate 1 of Windows .Net Server.
Since SBS inception, Microsoft has pitched and positioned the product as an all-in-one bundle for small businesses. A number of the big operating system and software providers, including IBM, Novell and Oracle, offer some type of similar bundle.
Microsoft SBS 2000, which shipped in February 2001, includes Windows 2000 Server; the SQL Server 2000 database; the Exchange 2000 e-mail server; the Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000 Web caching and firewall product; Windows Media streaming audio and video technologies; fax services; and systems-management tools.
But Microsoft isnt committing to shipping the same set of products in its SBS 2003 bundle. The SBS 2003 release will include the Windows .Net Server operating system, an updated release of Exchange Server, and an updated version of the SharePoint Team Services that Microsoft currently makes available as part of Office XP. Hunter says the rest of the elements of the bundle are still under consideration and not set in stone.
Start with us, grow with us
Microsoft also is shifting subtly its positioning of the product. In keeping with its fiscal-year 2003 marketing campaign, Microsoft will emphasize that SBS should be a companys first multifunction server -- basically a stepping stone to stand-alone versions of Microsofts Windows .Net Server operating system and other .Net back-end servers.
"Start with us, grow with us is the message," says Hunter. "Were trying to be more prescriptive about when a customer should use what."
One change that Microsoft is not making to the SBS product is a new licensing scheme that will allow customers to install and run the different modules on multiple servers. If customers want to do that, they need to buy a full-fledged version of the individual .Net servers, says Hunter.
But one SBS expert says that many customers want to run SBS this way, and primarily for security reasons. Harry Brelsford, a Bainbridge Island, Wash., consultant and author, says Microsofts requirement that users run the Internet Security and Acceleration Server on a single machines domain controller results in weakened security, compelling SBS customers to purchase hardware firewalls.
Hunter denies that running the security server on the same box reduces the firewall protection of the product.
All in all, however, Brelsford says SBS customers are satisfied with the product and the direction its taking. Its a positive that Microsoft is waiting longer to introduce the next version, he says; a new update of the Windows operating system alone wouldnt be a compelling enough reason for users to upgrade.
"Were not calling for more features. The last release had everything and brought stability to the product," Brelsford adds. "And our clients are fine with a longer amortization period."
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