A widely circulated official quote, from Microsoft corporate vice president Bob Kelly, sought to crystallize the product's value proposition:
Windows Essential Server Solutions? The former-Cougar is a pillar of the new Windows Essential Server Solutions product "family" that includes Small Business Server 2008 and Windows Essential Business Server 2008 -- previously code-named Centro. The audience for this new family is smaller businesses with up to 250 employees (Microsoft's tag line: Enterprise-class Server Solutions, Designed and Priced for SMB). Small Business Server 2008 supports as many as 50 users or devices and Essential Business Server 2008 up to 250.
"There are 31.9 million small businesses and 1.2 million midsize companies worldwide in need of powerful IT solutions and they typically have very small IT staffs or none at all. Windows Essential Server Solutions make the benefits of enterprise-class IT accessible, affordable and simpler for smaller organizations and their technology advisors."
Microsoft's senior director of Windows Server Solutions, Steven VanRoekel, touts the "family" as an all-in-one solution that rolls up the functionality of Windows Server 2008, Exchange Server 2007 and other MS products offering improved administration and management features.
A key difference -- beyond the number of users supported -- between Small Business Server and Essential: Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration Server that provides internal monitoring and management of Internet access is not included in Small Business Server, though it can be installed on a separate server. ChannelWeb's roundup of reaction deems this a non-event, but another change, splitting of the Client Access License (CAL), does give some pause as does exclusion of System Center Essentials.
As for Windows Small Business Server 2008, there are the expected standard and premium flavors. Standard includes Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition, Windows SharePoint Services 3.0, Exchange Server 2007, Forefront Security for Exchange, antivirus service via Windows Live OneCare for Server, and integration with Microsoft's Office Live Small Business services. Forefront Security and Windows Live OneCare are offered as one-year trial subscriptions.
Premium is a two server solution that runs Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 Standard Edition for line of business applications. Each version has now has its own CAL -- the aforementioned point of concern -- rather than a common CAL for both and the option to purchase additional CAL singly or in increments of five, 10 or 20. Processor and memory limits for both versions match Windows Server 2008 Edition.
The reality of this product will come into sharper focus as the official product launch nears. Look to events like the April SMB Summit to dig deeper into how these solutions will perform for smaller business.