Microsoft’s Missing Small Business Servers

sbs2011essentials

In April, with little fanfare, Microsoft released three new server products to manufacturing and to the hardware vendors: Small Business Server 2011 Essentials, Windows Home Server 2011, and Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials.

Small Business Server 2011 Essentials is so well-designed and fits its niche so perfectly that I expected that it would become the standard platform for many very small businesses, as ubiquitous as SBS 2003 was in its day. I excitedly previewed SBS 2011 Essentials back in November 2010, and I began using it in my own office earlier this summer. It’s great! Ever since the final product shipped in April I’ve been waiting to detail some of its best features – waiting until the inevitable burst of promotion from Microsoft, waiting until Dell and HP start selling it preinstalled on their servers, waiting until there was something concrete for you to look at and consider buying for your office.

Waiting.

Waiting.

Waiting.

We’re halfway into August and it’s still not possible to buy a server from Dell with SBS 2011 Essentials preinstalled. If HP has a server ready to ship with SBS 2011 Essentials, I can’t find it tonight. The software can be purchased from CDW and some of the other usual sources for server OS licenses but certainly not with any banner ads or promotional attention. Even with a simplified license scheme, it’s possible to have the usual Microsoft license confusion – for example, is it a good idea to buy SBS 2011 Essentials from NewEgg, which has a version “subject to the terms of the Microsoft OEM System Builder License”? (Probably not.)

It’s not essential to get the server OS license shipped with a Dell or HP server. The installation routine for SBS 2011 Essentials is just as polished as Windows 7 and it’s likely that hardware will be recognized without difficulty. And yet – there is still a lot to be said for the knowledge that Dell has sorted out any odd difficulties with its RAID controllers or motherboards or NICs so we don’t have to do the research ourselves.

Paul Thurrott wrote a column a few days ago, “Waiting On The Attack Of The Small Business Servers.”  Susan Bradley wrote tonight, “So one of the questions that I get is questions about Windows Storage Server Essentials R2 platform is when it will be on some hardware that partners can buy?” Her answer includes an announcement of a product that isn’t shipping yet and a box from Tranquil PC available only in the UK.

Side issue: Windows Storage Server Essentials is a server that provides network attached storage in an existing domain as well as doing workstation and server backups. It was announced as “Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials.” Paul Thurrott’s article refers to “Windows Storage Server 2011 Essentials.” Is that a rare slip on his part or is there actually a branding change on the way? Do we literally not even know the name of the product we’re supposed to be selling?

I’m not sure why there’s a delay. I’m not aware of any problems with the software. Microsoft is quietly supporting it and updating it; last week it released an add-in for SBS 2011 Essentials to deploy pre-configured security settings and control folder redirection on Windows 7 Professional workstations. One important piece of SBS 2011 Essentials is an add-in that will integrate it with Office 365; the add-in won’t be ready for another few months, but there was never a plan to delay SBS 2011 Essentials until that piece was ready.

If you have an aging SBS 2003 server, or you’re in a small office looking to get a first server, hang on for a while longer. SBS 2011 Essentials is inexpensive, easy to manage, and has some features that you’ll like a lot – nightly workstation backups, remote access to office computers and files, and more. All we need is a way to buy it, and some indication from Microsoft that it cares.