Microsoft's UK server and tools business lead has defended the vendor's decision to end of life Small Business Server (SBS) and admitted the channel was not given the full story about the changes quickly enough.
Maurice Martins said the new alternative – Windows Server 2012 Essentials – has all the functionality of SBS, but added flexibility when bundled with Office 365 to create a fully tailored offering for SMB customers.
"It is not so much that we are killing off Small Business Server, it is evolving into Windows Server Essentials," he said. "We are simplifying licensing with Windows Server 2012 and we have Windows Server datacentre and Windows Server standard. The functionality is identical in these products. Users can stack them if they need more, but it depends on the configuration that they need to play with.
"A typical SMB customer will have file and print and also mail. Office 365 is the best solution for customers in this environment."
Martins said it was great that SBS has such a loyal and passionate community, but once the full story of the decision was unveiled, they would see there was a lot of logic in it.
And he insisted that for partners still attached to SBS, there is the option to provide an identical offering using the new tools.
"For partners that want to provide Exchange Server with Windows Server as standard, all the functionality is still there, but we are saying that for the majority of SMBs the combination of Server Essentials and Office 365 will be the easiest solution in most cases."
He also said the market opportunity for resellers was huge.
"In the UK, 55 per cent of servers running are 2003. That provides a massive opportunity for the channel to upgrade them to Windows Server Essentials 2012, and because it features Hyper-V 3.0, you do not need VMware anymore," Martins added.
Back in the UK, the decision to end-of-life SBS continues to be a divisive decision. Partners were quick to voice their disappointment at the move last week, and Paul Scranage, sales and commercial manager of Central Business Services (CBS), is among those feeling aggrieved.
He explained that his company has backed the product from its inauspicious early incarnations in 2000 and was disappointed to see it canned when Microsoft finally "has a product that is mature reliable and, price-wise, is very good for the smaller customers".
"I cannot see any reason for this other than Microsoft wanting to gain ownership of the customer and force people into the cloud," added Scranage.
The CBS man claimed that customers are enquiring about cloud and that, for many, "email, as an entity, lends itself to that". But he claimed the manner in which small businesses are being forced to either move to the cloud or pay more to add extra on-premise servers is what "leaves a bitter taste".
"Not all customers want to lose what they see as control; they want to retain their own server and also ownership of their data," he added.
In a blog post, NCI Technologies director Andy Trish explains the SBS axe effectively means smaller businesses are losing the power of choice as to how they consume their Microsoft technologies.
"In the past, many discussions between [me] and Microsoft executives have resulted in SMEs being given a choice of cloud, hybrid and on-premise solutions," he writes. "For the SME it now appears choice is being taken away - it's cloud or pay the same price as the big players for your on-premise server solution."
Limbtec is another Microsoft partner to have built a long-standing business on selling SBS. Director Martin Limburn indicated that SBS' replacement Windows Server Essentials would be a good fit for his company's small business clients.
"[Although axing SBS] is probably going to impact our larger customers, who like the idea that you pay a relatively small fee for what you get, as opposed to shelling out for all the separate components," he added.
But Limbtec and its customers are following Microsoft towards the cloud, and Limburn praised the credentials of Office 365, which he claimed is a vast improvement on its predecessor BPOS.
"It is about the switch from selling a product to selling your services," he added. "And that is where Microsoft has been going for a number of years."
But Grant James, sales and marketing director of Microsoft partner QBS, was another to claim the vendor is strong-arming customers towards the cloud. He added that his firm will be pushing competing products from other software vendor partners like Kerio.
"This seems to be another attempt by Microsoft to push their clients to the cloud, and towards Office 365," he said. I believe the UK IT SMB space is not 100 per cent ready for the cloud for a wide variety of reasons and this will result in an elongated upgrade cycle for SMBs using SBS as they try to stretch the use of the software for as long as possible in order to save on infrastructure upgrade costs.
"SBS alternatives, like Kerio products, which are aimed at SMBs, will be even more attractive for resellers who want to provide enterprise-level services to small businesses with a limited budget."
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