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6/7/2006
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Microsoft Releases Small Business Server 2003 R2 To Manufacturing

R2 offers automated network patch and update management, a new Green Check feature that yields security information, and support for 75 Gbytes of e-mail. The Premium Edition also includes SQL Server 2005 Workgroup Edition.

Microsoft is releasing Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 to manufacturing this week.

The Small Business Server (SBS) upgrade will be officially launched at Microsoft’s annual partner summit in July, but OEM pre-installs on servers and general availability isn't expected until later this summer, the Redmond, Wash., company said.

SBS 2003 R2 had been scheduled for delivery by the end of June, but few solution providers are sweating out the delay. R2 offers automated network patch and update management, a new Green Check feature that yields security information, and support for 75 Gbytes of e-mail. The Premium Edition also includes SQL Server 2005 Workgroup Edition.

Many partners think current SBS customers will bypass the upgrade because it uses Windows Server 2003 SP1 rather than the recently released Windows Server 2003 R2 and offers few compelling new features.

"No, there's not much interest at all. The Green Check feature isn’t worth the price of the upgrade. There just is not a lot of compelling value in SBS R2 that makes us want to recommend it to our clients," said Jason Harrison, president of Harrison Technology Consulting, Nashville, N.C.

"The only case would be if we have a client who needs [update services] or SQL 2005 for some reason. SBS R2 Premium might make sense in that scenario," Harrison said. "New installations also make sense, but upgrading will be light."

Microsoft is the undisputed leader in the small- and midsize-business server market, but Linux rivals have lined up new SMB products and channel incentives just as SBS 2003 R2 nears delivery. Last month, Novell shipped its new Linux-based Open Workgroup Suite. Xandros and Collax also stepped up to the plate in May with new SMB servers and channel initiatives that target SMB customers and VARs in the United States, respectively. And South African Linux vendor Ubuntu last week launched its first server for enterprise customers, and industry observers expect the company to make a play for SMB customers as well.

Despite Linux's success in the enterprise server space, the open-source operating system has yet to make a significant dent against Windows SBS 2003 in the SMB market.

"Microsoft has this segment completely wrapped up, and SBS has no competition from what we have seen. There are other small-business server offerings out there, but they do not compare," Harrison said. "Demand in this market is driven by our recommendations. Most small-business owners are so disconnected from the tech tools available to them. They don’t know what is possible without our help."

Harrison advised Linux rivals to abandon the grassroots marketing approach that succeeded with IT administrators in enterprise firms and government offices. Linux may be priced right for the cost-conscious SMB market, but Linux vendors won't get any traction without getting channel support, he said.

Novell, Xandros and Collax seem to be heeding that message. All of the vendors recently launched new products and initiatives to make solution providers aware of their SMB alternatives to SBS, especially as Microsoft prepares to ship SBS 2003 R2 and the next-generation SBS, code-named Cougar, in the 2007-2008 time frame.

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