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Microsoft Lays Out Long-term Commitment to Midsize Business Server

Microsoft on Wednesday laid out a roadmap extending the recent Windows Server System Midsize Business promotion to 2007 and beyond with a Longhorn Server version of the package code-named "Centro."

Centro, to be formally unveiled during the opening keynotes of the Microsoft Business Summit at Microsoft's Redmond campus Wednesday morning, is a new midsize business infrastructure solution to be available in the post-Windows Longhorn Server timeframe. The package, which will probably consist of 2-3 servers, will include multiple copies of Windows Longhorn Server and provide infrastructure for e-mail, PC and server management and security. Designed for IT professionals at organizations with 25-500 PCs, the package will focus on simplified deployment, ongoing management and use of server technology.

"This is really the equivalent of Windows Small Business Server for the midmarket," said Steven VanRoekel, senior director for Windows Server Midsize Business Solutions.

With Microsoft currently planning to ship Longhorn Server in 2007, Centro is a long way off. According to VanRoekel, Microsoft wants to reassure midmarket customers that Microsoft is aware of their special requirements and is working on them for the long term. "We want to send the message loud and clear to customers that we are investing," he said. Microsoft is focused on allowing the IT professionals at midsize organizations to shift from a reactive to a proactive mode. The special concerns of midsize organizations that Microsoft emphasizes include end user support; applying updates, service packs and patches; lack of midsize business appropriate documentation and guidance; complexity of pricing and licensing; and data backup and restore.

VanRoekel also hopes the early discussion of plans gives channel partners, OEMs and ISVs a head start on preparing solutions. "This is really a paradigm shift for OEMs to sell multiple machines with one solution," he said.

Microsoft took a public step in the direction of Centro at its Worldwide Partner Conference in July with the unveiling of the Windows Server System Midsize Business promotion.

That $6,400 promotion includes three copies of Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition, Exchange Server 2003 Standard Edition, Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 Workgroup Edition and 50 CALs that provide combined access to Windows and Exchange. Customers can buy up to 250 CALs for $76 each.

Microsoft will build on the promotion between now and Centro's release. "We'll do obvious things, like when SP2 for Exchange comes out in the next month or so, and when R2 is done, we'll make sure that we slipstream that as well," VanRoekel said. "We're also looking at what complementary promotions may exist. When SQL Server 2005 launches, we can look at whether it make sense to do a promotion there."

The Centro package will be constructed from elements Microsoft will deliver in the next few years. In addition to Longhorn Server, Centro will depend on Exchange 12 and the next version of Internet & Security Acceleration Server. Additionally, Centro will include integrated setup and management similar to what is currently in Small Business Server. Microsoft also plans to cherry pick midsize business-appropriate components from the System Center product family, which includes MOM and Systems Management Server.

The current Windows Server System promotion for midsize business is about a 20 percent discount from list prices, and VanRoekel says Microsoft is looking in that ballpark for Centro. "We want to have continuity with where we are with SBS and where we are with Enterprise Agreements. Today, if you're small enough to take advantage of SBS, you have great pricing. If you're big enough to take advantage of Enterprise Agreements [more than 250 seats], you have great pricing," he said.

As for the code-name Centro, it's a Latin word used on signs to point to the central square of a town, VanRoekel said: "The life of the town revolves around that central square. In our case, Centro is really the heart of the network."

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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