Microsoft Says Home Server Ready For Liftoff


Before this week's release of Power Pack 1, the first major update for Windows Home Server, Microsoft may have been reluctant to trumpet the virtues of a product whose primary function of backing up users' data was in doubt. Now that it has fixed the glitch, Microsoft can continue working on the challenge of creating demand for the brand new home server segment.

Susan Bradley, a Small Business Specialist partner in Fresno, Calif., describes Home Server as a "strong" product, but says she's "honestly concerned" about the amount of marketing Microsoft has devoted to the product thus far.

For example, in a recent visit to the Innoventions Dream Home, an exhibit in the Anaheim, Calif.-based theme park Tomorrowland that includes HP's Media SmartServer (which runs on Home Server), Bradley was surprised by the distinct lack of Home Server branding.

"I knew that there was a Windows Home Server featured in the exhibit, but unless you know what the and#91;HP Media SmartServerand#93; looks like, you'd never know that there was a Home Server there, or that Microsoft was a key player," said Bradley.

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Microsoft missed out on an opportunity to showcase its name in a venue where a brand can get an extremely strong association, according to Bradley. "Show me a 40- to 50-year old who went to Disneyland as a child, and ask them what the Monsanto House of the Future was as a showcase of how branded that venue became."

Joel Sider, senior product manager for the Windows Server Solutions Group, says Microsoft plans to put a lot of marketing muscle behind promoting Home Server in the coming months. "This new category that's taking shape requires some explanation and education, and we're definitely seeing more recognition and#91;among consumersand#93; of what a home server is and what it can do," he said.

Many customers are finding and buying Home Server online, and Microsoft is using search engine optimization and targeted advertising to make it easier for them to find information about the product, Sider said.

In some cases, Home Server is an "ingredient brand" in the minds of consumers, who are generally more concerned with the hardware solution when making their buying decision, Sider noted. "When people get their heads around what a home server is, they get very excited about it," Sider said.

But while it'll be good to see Microsoft spending some of its marketing dollars advertising Windows Home Server, spending won't ensure the success of the product, said Mark Crall, president of Charlotte Tech Care Team, a Microsoft partner in Charlotte, N.C.

"I don't know if it's Microsoft's place to establish the need for a home server. It's more likely that consumers will determine demand," said Crall. "Very few companies can create the Walkman scenario, where you create the device and the demand follows."

Other partners aren't sure if Microsoft will ever be able to create demand for the Home Server segment, simply because most home users' needs can be met by solutions that are less expensive but still meet the majority of users' needs.

"Microsoft needs to market an embedded device instead of a machine with a large hard drive and full-fledged Windows OS," said Patrick DeRosier, CTO of Hanson, Mass.-based solution provider CPU Guys

"I could see competitors like Linksys beating Windows Home Server by releasing a router with a 500 gigabyte hard drive that's managed from a Web browser," he said.