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Microsoft To Release Public Beta Of Server For Midsize Businesses

System Center Essentials is aimed at customers with 50 to 500 desktops and will be built into Small Business Server 2007.

Microsoft plans to roll out a public beta of System Center Essentials (SCE) this fall and release the software to manufacturing in the first half of 2007, company executives said Tuesday at Tech Ed 2006 in Boston.

SCE, which is Microsoft's first management server for midsize businesses, is aimed at customers with 50 to 500 desktops and will be built into Small Business Server (SBS) 2007 and the company's planned midmarket server, code-named Centro, that's due to ship in 2008, Microsoft said.

"We have a great partner opportunity with these products," said Osman Mohiuddin, senior product marketing manager for Microsoft's Windows Division, during a session at Tech Ed. "The midsize business is a big challenge and an opportunity for Microsoft. We've built great products in the enterprise space, in small business and in the consumer space. But the left-out sector was the midsize sector. "

SCE will offer proactive management, deployment and software updating as well as ease of installation, monitoring, integrated troubleshooting and asset tracking, Mohiuddin said.

For example, SCE offers a three-step installation process, and Microsoft automatically configures the server by default after asking end users a set of questions, he said. Customers also can use the common management interface of Centro or SBS if deployed as part of those integrated products.

In addition, SCE provides one console that gives summary views, drill-down views or reports on the status of servers and asset tracking. For instance, the platform tracks a customer's inventory of client and server software, hardware and services, Mohiuddin added.

Centro, dubbed internally as "SBS on steroids," will offer an integrated bundle of servers tailored for midsize business needs, including an instantiation of Active Directory, networking, file system, security and management, Mohiuddin said. Solution providers can deploy SCE at customer sites and System Center Operations Manager 2007 at their shop to create an end-to-end managed services platform, he noted.

One Microsoft solution provider with a managed services practice said the product may not be an effective replacement for IT administrators.

"We haven't seen much interest in System Center Essentials. To be honest, I think our current model serves that market much better than such a product does," said Michael Cocanower, president of IT Synergy, Phoenix. "To me, this model makes much more economic sense for a medium business. We realize economies of scale because we are managing hundreds or thousands of nodes across multiple companies. We have extremely detailed information on each environment, which allows us to troubleshoot quickly and effectively.

"The SCE model, which just gives IT staff another management tool, doesn't really recognize either of the factors I cited above: the need to escalate and the need to provide redundancy," Cocanower added. "In order to get those elements with SCE, the only answer is to hire more staff, which is expensive and a long-term commitment."

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