Introducing a Simpler Windows Server

In the wake of last week’s announcement about the different product versions that Microsoft will provide with Windows Server 2012, I was trying to figure out how to best encapsulate the many, many changes, when compared with Windows Server 2008 R2. I could almost picture Oprah excitedly telling a crowd of IT pros and admins, “YOU’RE getting Enterprise edition! YOU’RE getting Enterprise edition….”

But it’s so much more than that.

At a high level, Microsoft is dramatically reducing the number of Server 2012 product editions, or SKUs (for “stock keeping units”), from roughly a dozen to just four (or so). This is good news, but it’s worth considering the negative ramifications of this simplification as well: Some product editions, including a few beloved choices, will no longer be offered with this generation of software. I’ll get to that in just a moment.

Looking at the mainstream Server 2012 offerings, we see just two product editions. There’s the high-end Datacenter edition, which at $4,809 (for two processors) is the same price as its predecessor. And there’s the Standard edition, which at $882 (and also for two processors) is actually a bit more expensive than its predecessor, Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard. But before you fret about that, consider the positives: With Enterprise edition gone in this revision, Standard is picking up additional capabilities.

In fact, it’s even better than that. Windows Server 2012 Standard and Datacenter actually support the exact same feature set, with Standard picking up a slew of functionality that was previously reserved only for higher-end Windows Server product editions.

But of course this raises a question: How then (aside from price) are these things differentiated? Simple: It’s all about virtualization density. Where Windows Server 2012 Standard provides rights for just two virtual instances (up from 1 in Server 2008 R2, by the way), Datacenter provides unlimited virtual instances, as it did in Server 2008 R2.

(If you’re a Software Assurance customer interested in upgrading from Server 2008 R2 to Server 2012 and are confused how the SKU differences between these versions affect things, check out John Savill’s Q & A "What are the versions of Windows Server 2012 and how do they differ?" for more information.)

Looking past these mainstream editions, Microsoft also announced two other Server 2012 product editions aimed specifically at small businesses: Windows Server 2012 Foundation and Windows Server 2012 Essentials. Foundation is a curious beast, and like its Server 2008 R2-based predecessor, it will be sold only with new, low-end, single-processor server hardware. It comes with no virtualization rights at all (and in fact lacks Hyper-V) and can support only up to 15 users.

Windows Server 2012 Essentials is the follow-up to today’s Windows Server 2011 Essentials, a stripped-down Server 2008 R2-based product that basically provides only a few on-premises services—directory management and storage—and cloud services integration. In 2012 guise, Essentials will cost $425, support up to 25 users, and offer no virtualization rights (or Hyper-V).

Two key pieces are missing here, and the new emphasis on Essentials probably isn’t going to address the concerns about this. First, Windows Home Server, which was based on the same code base as Essentials but without domain support, has been killed off, and the expectation is that customers will turn to Windows 8 for their home-based document and media repositories. Second, the traditional version of Small Business Server, the most recent version being Windows Small Business Server 2011 Standard, has also been killed off.

Now, that is a problem.

It’s not so much that SBS Standard fullfilled any huge customer need: With the world moving to cloud-based services, putting complex on-premises servers—such as Exchange, SharePoint, and SQL Server—in small businesses was borderline abuse. No, the issue here is that SBS Standard satisfied a very pressing need for Microsoft’s partners, providing them with a base for ongoing customer service, support, and billing. And no offense to the forward-leaning Essentials, but that product just isn’t cutting it from the partner perspective.

Microsoft is trying to make amends in others ways, including giving its partners ways to sell the Office 365 services directly to their own customers. But looking at this from a purely Windows Server point of view, I can understand the frustration here.

Looking ahead, there are some other questions. For example, although last week’s announcement included no mention of Storage Server, I’m told that this product line will continue forward in some capacity (ahem), perhaps with a 2012-based follow-up to Storage Server Essentials.

More soon.
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