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Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 Preview

If you own or support a small business, you'll be pleased by Microsoft's latest moves. In a recent organizational reshuffling, the software giant reorganized its Windows Server division along customer boundaries. Put specifically, there are now discrete teams of people at the software giant specifically targeting markets such as small businesses and medium businesses, and ensuring that the company is building the right products for the right businesses. Vision is fun, but now we're getting to see what kinds of things they're working on.

This week, the company is hosting 400 small business customers at the Small Business Summit at its Redmond campus. But don't worry if you weren't invited: Anyone can sign up for Webcast versions of the 25 presentations that will occur over the four days of the conference. See the URL at the bottom of this article for more information.

If you're not interested in sitting through that many Webcasts, I can provide a brief overview of what's going on this week. First, Microsoft will be talking up Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 R2, its follow-up to SBS 2003 that's due around mid-year. The R2 version of SBS 2003 adds all of the technology from the mainstream Windows Server 2003 R2 release, along with a number of unique additions.

The first is an excellent idea called Green Check technology, which should be familiar to anyone that's used the Security Center in Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2) or Windows Live One Care, Microsoft's subscription-based PC health service (which is currently in beta). Green Check is an umbrella term for SBS 2003 R2's new network-wide update and patch management capabilities. As most SBS users know, SBS generates a daily status email and also shows system health status information in its management console. In R2, this information is augmented by a graphical green check. You'll see this graphic when the SBS server itself and all of its connected clients are up to date with the latest patches and updates. If the check isn't green, it will provide information about what you need to do to get the system where it belongs.

SBS 2003 R2 also includes a number of other updates. In keeping with the changes to Exchange Server 2003 Standard Edition with SP1, the version of Exchange used by SBS 2003 is updated to support a 75 GB storage limit (but is limited to 75 mailboxes). Premium Edition customers will see that SQL Server 2000 Standard Edition is upgraded to SQL Server 2005 Workgroup Edition, which is more in-line with the functionality of SQL 2000 Standard than would be SQL 2005 Standard.

One of the best things about SBS 2003 R2 isn't even a feature per se. Between March 1 and the launch of SBS 2003 R2, customers who purchase SBS 2003 via a new system purchase will be able to upgrade to SBS 2003 R2 for only the cost of shipping and handling. You can find out more about this Technology Upgrade Program from the Microsoft Web site.

In a bid to make it easier for small businesses to purchase SBS, Microsoft is also opening up Microsoft Financing to smaller purchases for the first time. In the past, customers wishing to finance purchases through Microsoft had to buy at least $10,000 worth of merchandise. But this amount was prohibitively expensive for some small businesses, many of which are cash strapped and on month-to-month budgets. To help these businesses, Microsoft is lowering the minimum purchase amount to $3000. So even small business customers can spread payments out over time--typically 36 months--and pay for the technology as they're using it. Microsoft Financing is currently offering a 12.5 percent interest rate, according to the company.

Finally, Microsoft is working with Best Buy to provide training for that company's Geek Squad, who were previously focused only on supporting client-side technologies. Now, the Geek Squad will be qualified to install, service and support SBS 2003 R2 and other server products, allowing small businesses to utilize the local electronics superstore for technology purchases and support.

Microsoft promises me that it will have a lot more to say about its small business (and medium business) push throughout the year, but this is clearly a great start. It's about time that small businesses were treated like first class citizens in the Windows world.

This article originally appeared in the March 14, 2006 issue of Windows IT Pro UPDATE.

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