Microsoft sets higher prices for SBS, Essential server packages

There will be quite a bit more added to Microsoft's upcoming mostly-preconfigured packages of Windows Server 2008 for small and medium businesses; but it will expect those firms to pay quite a bit more as well.

Last February, we learned Microsoft would be devoting more humanpower and resources to the task of marketing specially configured Windows Server 2008 packages for small and medium business. Today, we know what it expects those SMBs to pay, releasing details on suggested prices for four configurations for two to four servers and five clients apiece minimum, ranging from just over a thousand dollars to over $7,000.

This news comes as the company makes available a public preview of its first Essential Business Server 2008, and begins signing up prospects for previewing Small Business Server 2008.

The basic configuration for the new edition of SBS 2008 will bundle one Windows Server 2008 along with one Exchange Server 2007 Standard Edition and one SharePoint Services 3.0, for $1,089 with five client access licenses (CALs), and additional CALs for $77 apiece. That's for starters; the Premium edition throws in a second WS2K8 with one SQL Server 2008 (once that becomes available) for a second server, for $1,899 with five CALs, and $189 apiece for additional CALs. Presumably, these prices will exclude enrollment in Microsoft's Software Assurance Program, which entitles customers to service, upgrades, and add-ons.

The basic price represents an 82% increase over the non-Software Assurance basic package for SBS 2003 R2, which currently sells for $599 with five CALs. That version includes Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows SharePoint Services, and Exchange Server 2003 SP2. The Premium edition of SBS 2003 R2 sells for $1,299 with 5 CALs, so the new version represents a 46% suggested price increase.

Essential Business Server 2008, meanwhile, is the company's first venture at directly attracting those customers in-between single offices and major enterprises, with pre-configured systems for three or four servers. In the Standard configuration, three servers all get WS2K8. One will get the System Center Essentials administrative package, another will get Exchange Server 2007 with Forefront Security added on, and a third will get Internet Security and Acceleration Server. That package will sell for $5,472 with five CALs, and $81 apiece for additional CALs. The four-server Premium configuration adds a fourth WS2K8 and a copy of SQL Server 2008 (again, when that's available). This will sell for a suggested retail price of $7,163, and $195 apiece for additional CALs.

Last February, BetaNews spoke with Steven VanRoekel, the senior director in charge of marketing both new brands, just after Microsoft formally announced EBS. We asked him why another brand was even necessary; couldn't Microsoft have essentially extended SBS for bigger customers?

"For us, the family is really about giving us the ability to have a vocabulary that extends outside of one product," Van Roekel told us. "We only had Small Business Server at market and we could only talk about that, and it was hard to tell the solution story around flexibility for customers, [with regard to] what to choose depending on where they are in the IT lifecycle, how fast they're going to grow outside of what maybe SBS could do for them, or things like that."

Both SBS and EBS will be designed for administration to take care of itself for a good part of the time, under the presumption that most businesses this size will not have a full-time admin.

"A lot of the things that you would expect an IT staff to be doing for you, we just automate that out. Today's version [SBS 2003 R2] actually has this report e-mail that we send that has...the status of the server and things like that. That gets even better in the 2008 version, in that we allow people to customize them," Van Roekel told us. "So if a partner were to deploy it for you and walk away, that partner could set up a report [where] a certain report goes to the business owner, [and another] certain report goes to the technician inside the partner company with more details. So it's a fully customizable reporting infrastructure to say, 'The things I care most about as a business owner are: Are all my machines backed up? Do I have the latest patches? Am I safe?"'

For enterprises, Microsoft gives seminars for how to run their servers according to "best practices;" but for SMBs, they may not have time for a bunch of lectures.

"We gathered the best practices documentation at Microsoft for this set of three servers right here [in EBS 2008 Standard]. It was 600 pages long. We do that for you; we take it down to literally answering six to twelve questions...and in a weekend or a day, we set up the core infrastructure for you, [maybe] in about three or four hours, actually, we set up those three servers for you automatically to best practices. As if you consumed 600 pages of guidance, then pumped it into setup -- we do that for you automatically, so at the end of the day, you're set up in a way that adheres to those 600 pages," remarked Microsoft's marketing director for SMB products.

What Microsoft neglected to mention this morning was that all four new editions will have more direct tie-ins to Office Live services, especially for getting businesses an online storefront with a domain name.

"When you're finished setting up the server, one of the most difficult things in today's word in configuring any server structure, not just SBS, is buying your domain name, getting your MX record [mail exchange] plugged in the right way and your DNS, all that configuration stuff. So we have a wizard that now does that in five clicks and you've got your stuff set up. Once that's done, you can go and set up an Office Live account, we wizard-ized that," he said.

And then there's the part about getting more small businesses into the more lucrative money center in software these days: online advertising. There appears to be a little wizard for that as well.

Van Rockel told us, "We do a business card Web page, secure SharePoint -- this is all free of charge -- and then we trial you into buying ad keywords and things like that. So [our objective is] to capture the disproportionate amount of money that these businesses are spending on marketing themselves, versus on their IT show them that their IT spend can actually help their businesses in more profound ways, and show them the new world of digital marketing that leads from Yellow Pages and direct mail and radio advertising, as their main avenue today, to buying search engines in your local area and placement."

More of my conversation with Microsoft's Steven Van Roekel appears here.

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