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Analysts have given a resounding  thumbs up to the launch of the Microsoft Essential Server family, however, they agreed that the move couldn’t come soon enough for the SMB sector.

Microsoft announced the launch this week, which comprises The Essential Server Family, based on Windows Server 2008 Standard, and includes Microsoft Small Business Server ( SBS) 2008 and Microsoft Essential Business Server (EBS) 2008. Although the firm announced the product, nothing will be available for partners to begin selling until the second half of 2008. 

Alastair Edwards, senior analyst at channel analyst firm, Canalys, said the 2008 launch is likely to reflect the success that Microsoft had with the previous 2003 version. “There will be a lot of anticipation for this from the channel,” he said. He added that it would be a good door opener for both partners and Microsoft into SMBs. 

He said the product was overdue and it’s unlikely partners will see many sales of SBS 2003 in the mean time. However, he said this would at least give partners time to ramp up their marketing efforts in the meantime.

Mike Davis, senior analyst at Ovum, agreed that it has been a long wait. “This is both a good and bad thing,” he said. It is bad that it has taken Microsoft five years to upgrade the server, but, he said, it means the product should be right – with all the bug-fixing already done.

But he agreed with Edwards by saying that the time lapse between this week’s announcement and the release of the product would mean that VARs would be able to drive demand and communicate the advantages of SBS to end users. “If I were a partner I would be going to Microsoft right now and asking for a joint marketing plan for the next six months, or until the product actually launches,” he said.

Davis said the additional functionality, such as the various implementation options and security options as well as benefits such as the self-healing filing system, would save partners and customers time in admin and managing the system.

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Tony Lock, principal analyst at research firm Freeform Dynamics, said the concept and the package offered by the software giant has massive potential. “Small companies and even midmarket companies tend not to have an in-house IT department and skills, so any help they can get with easy-to-use-and-install products is good for them.”

He said the proof, however, will be in how simple the products are to support and maintain, as this can often be a burden on end users. “This, though, represents a managed-services opportunity for the channel – helping with maintenance and warranties and managing the system will drive business for VARs.”

Lock said the remote working element of SBS would also be welcomed by SMBs, as more and more firms choose to have flexible working, with many employees now remote-working to save on building costs. “Mobile and remote working is a way of life, so it was essential that Microsoft added in this type of functionality.”