Microsoft small-business server futures: 5 things to know

Summary:At the Worldwide Partner Conference this week, I had a chance to ask Guy Haycock, Senior Product Planner for Windows Server Solution Marketing, some of the many questions that both my readers and I have had about "Aurora" and Small Business Server (SBS) ever since word of Aurora's existence leaked earlier this year.

Microsoft is trying some new things -- and sticking with some tried and true ones -- with its next-generation small-business server offerings.

At the Worldwide Partner Conference this week, I had a chance to ask Guy Haycock, Senior Product Planner for Windows Server Solution Marketing, some of the many questions that both my readers and I have had about "Aurora" and Small Business Server (SBS) ever since word of Aurora's existence leaked earlier this year. Here are five things worth knowing about what's coming from the Softies on the Windows Server front for small-business (beyond the initial Aurora/SBS 7/Vail information I blogged yesterday).

Q: What, exactly, is Aurora? And how does it compare and contrast with SBS 7 and Vail?

A: Vail is the next version of Windows Home Server, Haycock reconfirmed. He said there will be one more test build (the Release Candidate) of Vail before the product is released to manufacturing (but he didn't provide a target date for that). SBS 7 is the successor to Small Business Server 2008 and will include the Windows Server 2008 R2 core. Aurora is based on the same code base as Vail, but like SBS 7, is aimed at the small-business (rather than the consumer/entertainment) market. Aurora will be comprised of a small on-premises Server core and will be supplemented by a number of cloud services, starting with Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), plus some as-yet-unspecified others, he said.

Q: Might Windows Intune, Microsoft's systems-management in the cloud offering, be one of these complementary Aurora services?

A: Could be, but nothing official to say yet, Haycock said. Microsoft's CRM Online is also an obvious possible add-on service for Aurora (though, again, there hasn't yet been an official commitment). I also wondered aloud whether the rumored BPOS Lite product -- about which Microsoft officials here wouldn't comment at all this week -- could be the add-on for Aurora. Haycock had no comment. He added that any third-party service that can access Active Directory and make use of Microsoft's directory-federation services also could be configured to be an Aurora add-on.

Q: What happens to Windows Foundation Server, another of Microsoft's entry-level servers, as a result of the introduction of Aurora?

A: Nothing, Haycock said. Microsoft will continue to develop and market Foundation Server as its solution for customers with 15 users or fewer. Aurora is its solution for customers with 25 and fewer users. SBS 7 is its solution for 75 or fewer users. Microsoft will return to marketing Vail WHS as a consumer-focused solution, rather than both a consumer and small-business one, he said.

Q: What are the pricing/licensing/availability details for SBS 7 and Aurora?

A: Microsoft isn't yet ready to talk turkey about when any of these three products will debut. But Haycock did share a few new tidbits. He said to expect the first Aurora and SBS 7 public previews in late August. Also in August, there will be a preview of a software development kit that will work with both Aurora and SBS 7 (some refer to it as the "Colorado extensibility SDK," Haycock said.) Microsoft is planning to continue to make the next version of SBS available via PC-preloads with select OEMs, as well as via volume licensing and retail. Aurora will likely be available through the same set of channels, Haycock said, though he added things could change before the product goes final.

Q: Is SBS 7 the last version of on-premises SBS?

A: Haycock said it's too early to say whether there will be an SBS 8 or whether SBS's future is a hybrid one, based on the Aurora concept. I've heard from at least one very vocal reseller who thinks Microsoft would be shooting itself in the foot if it does away with an on-premises SBS offering. He cited privacy, security, connectivity and margin pressures as reasons for his and his customers' cloud reticence.)  That said, it's  interesting to note that Microsoft is touting as SBS 7's biggest new feature its support for Office Web Apps, as a result of the inclusion of SharePoint 2010 in the bundle.

What else do you want to know about SBS 7, Aurora and/or Vail?

Topics: Microsoft, Hardware, Operating Systems, Servers, SMBs, Software, Windows

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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