It sounds like Microsoft is readying new beta builds of two low-end Windows Server releases -- known as "Vail" and "Aurora" -- to be released next week, timed with the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, according to my sources.
Vail is the next release of Windows Home Server. Aurora is a small business server based largely on the same code base as Vail. (There's also a common framework, some kind of "client computer connector," that extends across the two products, that is codenamed "Colorado.")
A Community Technology Preview test build of Vail leaked to the Web earlier this year. At that time, the "Aurora" codename became known, though the actual Aurora code didn't leak (as far as I know). In April, Microsoft released a first public beta of Vail, but didn't deliver a public test build of Aurora.
So what's the difference between Vail and Aurora? And how does Aurora fit in with Windows Small Business Server, the next version of which (expected to be based on the Windows Server 2008 R2 code) has gotten little to no public mention in recent months?
At Microsoft's TechEd Conference in early June, I got a couple of snippets about Vail and Aurora from Microsoft Server and Tools President Bob Muglia, with whom I had a one-on-one interview.
Muglia described Aurora to me as a "small business appliance." He said Windows Home Server Vail will be its "kissing cousin." While Vail is aimed primarily at home users, Aurora will be aimed at the traditional SBS market, and will include Active Directory as part of it.
The idea with Aurora is to take some of the Windows Home Server features, like PC backup, and make them available to small businesses, Muglia said.
"If you are a small business, it's probably a better idea to run your e-mail (and other business-focused processes) in the cloud," Muglia said. He noted that an on-premises product like Small Business Server requires "a lot of infrastructure," and thus, cost. While Microsoft will continue to make SBS available to customers who want it, "the future for small businesses is to leverage the cloud," he told me.
In March of this year, Microsoft officials announced they had pulled the plug on the company's Essential Business Server mid-market server family. Microsoft made the move just before releasing a test build of the next version of EBS, one that would have been based on the Windows Server 2008 R2 code base, with officials citing the appeal of cloud technologies to this customer segment.
Microsoft officials have been waffling regarding the company's positioning of and plans for WHS and SBS since the start of this year. It sounds like July 12, the kick-off day for the partner show, might be where things get cleared up.
While I've seen a couple of sites claiming the delivery targets for Vail and Aurora are the first half of calendar 2011, I'd be surprised if these products aren't released in final form before the end of this calendar year. Microsoft officials aren't commenting on when new betas will be issued for Vail and Aurora, nor on whether there will be an updated version of the on-premises version of SBS.
Update: In other small-business-focused news, I'm still hearing that we also might hear word from the Softies at the Worldwide Partner Conference next week on the company's planned BPOS LIte suite. BPOS Lite is a small-business-focused version of Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), a collection of Microsoft-hosted Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Communications Online and Live Meeting cloud services.