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Microsoft, Please Don't Skewer Us on the SKUs

As I write this in mid-June 2012, the second-best-kept secret at Microsoft is "when are Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 being released to manufacturing (RTM-ed)?" As I've written before, however, it's not difficult to bracket the answer, because Microsoft told us ages ago that Win 8 must be out in time for Christmas, and for Win 7/R2 (which shared a by-Christmas shipping date mandate) that meant an August RTM. One needs little genius, then, to guess that we'll see Win 8 and Server 2012 around mid-August of this year. Could be earlier, could be later, and Win 8 has (in my opinion) less flexible dates than does Server, because the Christmas deadline is more relevant to desktop. (I'm having trouble imagining a Christmas morning where little Janie takes a gift from beneath the tree, unwraps it and squeals with delight, "Server 2012! I have the best mommy and daddy in the world.")

Nope, what has had me in suspense for the past nine months has been the best-kept secret in Redmond: what's in the SKUs? In other words, which of Server 2012's neat new features will make it into the Standard edition (list price roughly $1,000/copy), and which will require Enterprise ($4,000/copy)? Will that cool, basic, dead-simple Hyper-V failover work even on Standard edition? Will Standard get the new DHCP failover clusters? NIC teaming? iSCSI target and initiator support? And maybe just a little bit of all of that other clustering? I just got back from TechEd, and after attending Claus Joergensen's in-depth tour through the new "continuously available file server," I'm pretty jazzed about setting one up, but I sooo don't want to shell out Enterprise edition's four grand per server to make it happen.

So, assuming that RTM's in August, this is probably my last chance to make this plea to Microsoft: Put as many features as you can in Standard edition. No, hang on, let me rephrase that -- think of it not as a plea, but as a brilliant idea. Yeah, that's the ticket. Here's why.

1. It just "goes" with the Server 2012 gestalt. 2012's different. To this point, most new features in any version of Server are features of interest solely to the Fortune 500, and that makes sense: You make more money selling to the big guys. But 2012 has, it seems, brought an air of "democratization" to Server, as some of the biggest new features -- NIC teaming, SMB multichannel, Storage Spaces, iSCSI everywhere -- could mean that small and medium-sized businesses that wouldn't have been able to afford fancy networking or SANs can now equip a few pieces of commodity hardware with Server 2012, run a few PowerShell commands, and presto! they've got a pretty neat storage infrastructure and some very useful networking upgrades. But small businesses buy Standard, not Enterprise, because of the price. Restrict the new features to Enterprise, and they end up in shops that won't change all that much. Put it in reachable-by-nearly-all Standard, and you change the world.

2. Expand the cluster-using Server market into new areas. Server has some terrific competition, and here I'm talking about the various big and small Linux distros that are out there. Good stuff and attractively priced -- but gosh-darned hard to get working sometimes, and Linux clusters tend to be a path to compute clusters (zillions of systems jointly simulating every particle in the universe's first minute of life or the like) rather than as a way of adding fault tolerance to print servers. Windows Server, in contrast, offers several UIs of different levels of simplicity and anyone currently choosing Linux just might look over at a version of Standard festooned with a few paradigm-busters and who knows -- there might be a few penguin converts.

3. Where you position features amongst the SKUs might not matter all that much if there's heavy cloud adoption. Remember, Microsoft, you folks have been telling us for years that we're all going to the cloud, right? That would mean fewer copies of Server sold, and so the whole thing might not really matter, revenue-wise, so why not send Server off with a bang from Standard on up? (Okay, I'm kidding. Mostly.)

4. More virtualization will sell more copies of Enterprise anyway. If I had to characterize 2012's overall nature in a few words, I'd have to say that other than the "democratization" part, 2012's unifying theme seems to be "do more virtualization." The major Active Directory (AD) improvements are almost all virtualization-related. The Hyper-V server delivers bigger performance numbers and offers more high-availability options. Remote Desktop Services in 2012 makes virtualized desktops simpler, and, well, you get the point. And once an organization starts buying licenses for virtual servers, it finds that although an Enterprise license costs four times as much as a Standard license, it comes with four times as many licenses for virtual servers. Thus, any organization that needs four or more servers will soon find itself buying Enterprise anyway, so whether you put a feature in Enterprise or Server might end up being a wash.

Now, in truth I imagine that the SKU/feature decision has already been pretty much made, and its reality baked into the volumes of documentation and virtual reams of Web pages…but I'll have fingers crossed until RTM day!
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