Next month Microsoft will release Windows Server 2008, a dramatically improved product over its predecessor, Windows Server 2003. It is one of the more important releases in Microsoft’s history; Microsoft and many other vendors will use it as a platform to deliver the new web services and business applications that will occupy us for the next five years or so. There’s a huge industry already devoted to Windows Server 2008, preparing for the launch, but if you want some quick reading try this roundup of its “top ten” features, or this short overview.

Later in 2008 Microsoft will release Small Business Server 2008, built on Windows Server 2008, Exchange Server 2008, and Sharepoint Services v3. The first details are appearing about what to expect from the new SBS version – not enough information yet to evaluate its pros and cons but some useful facts.

Businesses will be required to buy a new server for SBS 2008 and replace their existing SBS 2003 server, even if the existing hardware is nice and robust. The 2008 platform is 64-bit only, which has some advantages but requires setting up the hardware from scratch. It will be a natural upgrade for businesses outgrowing their present server but it’s not obvious yet whether it will be compelling for businesses that are currently stable and comfortable. There will be a path to migrate from SBS 2003 to SBS 2008 but no clear details yet about how that will be accomplished.

Even more interesting is a change in licensing. SBS 2003 has always been a pretty full load for a single server – file and printer sharing, plus running the mail system with Exchange, plus responsibility for all Internet traffic in some setups. That’s enough work to keep a server occupied! A second server is required for any sizable line-of-business application or for hosting a terminal server that allows multiple people to connect from remote locations, and licenses for the second server are currently expensive. A full version of Windows Server 2003, plus client access licenses for Terminal Server, plus frequently a license for a full version of SQL Server to run the business application. It adds up fast!

The new premium license for SBS 2008 will permit Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server to be installed on a second server, which can also host Terminal Server sessions. We can get to the same result today but the SBS 2008 license will likely be a fraction of the current price, making it much easier to agree to the second server.

We’ll be talking more about this! Here’s more details about the information that’s currently available.