Microsoft Discovers the Midmarket

Opinion: With plans for such products as its Midmarket Server in the works, Microsoft is acting like it wants to be SMBs' best friend.

Its always pleasant when Microsoft, after years of not paying attention, finally comes around to your point of view. For a long time, Ive complained that Microsoft only created "trickle down" technology. These are things developed to empower huge enterprises and might someday find their way down to the smaller companies where America really does business.

If you had a big programming and IT staff, Microsoft had goodies for you. But if you had a one- or two-person IT shop or—horrors—did the job yourself, Microsoft mostly gave you dregs. Or forced you to hire consultants to implement solutions that really shouldnt be all that complex.

You will be forgiven for not noticing, but this is changing. Microsoft seems to have finally realized something SMB (small and medium-size business) people have known for a long time: Give us something simple to install and immediately useful, and were all over it. A small company can roll out a new technology in less time than an "enterprise" customer can do its research.

Put another way: Microsoft noticed it was leaving money—and a lot of it—on the table.

Blame slow sales to big customers, the commoditization of both enterprise software and hardware, or even an odd arrangement of the planets, but Microsoft has recently been acting like it wants to be SMBs best friend. It may just be an act, but sometimes an act becomes habit, and then one day you wake up and its reality.

But theres real evidence that Redmond is serious.

Ive had a Microsoft Small Business Server for my little company for a couple of years. It runs on a Dell server and has been remarkably trouble-free. Even my Macs like it. I can access anything from anywhere, and the free spam blocking for Exchange works pretty well.

But, SBS has built-in limitations: It supports no more than 50 users and isnt designed to be a real option for branch offices and departments of large companies. Still, it is simple to install and manage, offers important functionality, and seems to be selling quite well.

Now Microsoft says it is readying an SBS variant for the 50-to-250-user market, which is the first time I can remember Microsoft technology trickling up. SBS has worked so well that Microsoft wants to extend the franchise upward. Whoopee!

The Windows Midmarket Server, or whatever they call it, is supposed to have five components. Microsoft wont say, but I am betting these will be Exchange, SharePoint, SQL Server, and ISA Server from SBS and the new Live Communications Server, core of the companys new IM and conferencing strategy. Thats what Id like to buy, and it has the benefit to Microsoft of linking customers to its online conferencing service.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read more about Microsofts Midmarket Server.

To be competitive, Microsoft needs to support MMS running across multiple servers. It also needs to come with networkwide anti-virus, anti-malware and anti-spam. Eventually, Id want a tight linkage to Microsoft CRM software, though a really tight link may take some work and time. After CRM, can accounting be far behind?

Microsoft should also make a real embrace of software-as-a-service. But it needs to do so in a way that encourages the development of the SaaS industry instead of dominating it. That is at least until things start to settle down and the big players—Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SAP and maybe a Linux player—start buying up the success stories.

/zimages/3/28571.gifFor more insights from David Coursey, check out his Weblog.

Microsoft is not alone in the server bundle game. Novell is playing , but its hard for me to get excited about a Linux desktop. And Microsofts ability to tie everything together is unmatched. Especially in a market where small/medium servers and applications have become easily packageable commodities selling for popular prices.

With its domination of the desktop suite, Microsoft is well-positioned to claim the mass-market server suite as well.

Contributing Editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. A full bio and contact information may be found on his Web site,

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