Microsoft Gives A Peek Into Centro's Future

Microsoft will release a beta version of Windows Essential Business Server, formerly known as Centro, within the next 30 to 60 days, and plans to launch it in the second half of next year, according to Russ Madlener, director of product planning for Microsoft's server and tool division.

Windows Essential Business Server is designed for up to 300 users and can run on multiple servers, and is an important step up from Small Business Server, which supports up to 75 users and can only run on a single machine, Madlener said.

Windows Essential Business Server comes in Standard and Premium versions, both of which are based on Windows Server 2008 and wrap together multiple servers under a single licensing umbrella, said Madlener.

Standard comes with integrated management, messaging, and security servers, and includes System Center Essentials, Exchange 2007, Forefront Security for Exchange, and the next version of Microsoft's Internet Security And Acceleration Server (ISA). The Premium version adds integrated database to the mix in the form of SQL Server 2008.

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Many organizations in the Small Business Server realm are getting close to the 75 user limit and are looking to expand beyond that number, says Steve Rubin, president at WorkITsafe, a New York City-based solution provider.

"Medium size businesses need to have a platform that scales beyond 75 users and with which they're familiar. Centralized management and a unified licensing SKU that includes everything will also appeal to these companies," said Rubin.

Microsoft solution providers are enthusiastic about the business prospects Windows Essentials Business Server, as well as for the next version of Small Business Server, code-named Cougar. However, some partners have expressed trepidation over the fact that both servers only run on 64-bit hardware.

But Madlener says most organizations have already budgeted for the 64-bit hardware upgrade and actually see business advantages to having their key infrastructure servers aging at the same time. "Many companies like the idea of getting key servers on the same support agreement and same aging lifecycle," he said.

Software vendors building add-ins to Windows Essential Business Server include CA, Symantec, Full Armor, and Citrix, with HP, IBM, and Intel bringing support from the hardware side, Madlener said.