Microsoft Expands Web Hosting Offering

Microsoft tweaked its offering for Web hosting service providers, releasing Microsoft Solution for Windows-based Hosting Version 3.5.

The update builds on the 3.0 version released in November. That product, comprised of eight modules, included templates for service plans and three out-of-the-box components for SharePoint Services, data hosting with SQL Server and Web hosting with Internet Information Services.

“Because the hosting product is built on the Windows Server System, we want to make sure we give everything that’s needed to have that operate extremely well for our hosting partners,” said Mark Jewett, product manager for Windows-based hosting. The update includes documentation, testing and hosting scenarios, management packs, scripts and operational tools to enable hosts to operate the server system more efficiently.

The update adds compatibility with Microsoft’s latest product releases and introduces third-party applications for hosts.

Version 3.5 supports Microsoft Operations Manager 2005, Windows Server Update Services, which improves deployment of software updates, and the security-oriented Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1.

The new release introduces Web Site Starters for Windows, a set of third-party applications optimized for the Windows environment that Web hosts can offer to their own customers.

DotNetNuke, an open-source portal-building tool from Perpetual Motion, lets users build Web sites by picking from a list of modules such as calendars, lists and rich HTML builders. They also can choose skins to change the look of the site. Telligent Community Server will provide three applications: a blog, forums and photo gallery.

Jewett said the Starters were a way to provide the applications that hosting service customers expect. “We’ve worked with these application vendors to make sure these applications are well-designed for the Windows hosting environment,” he said.

Microsoft hopes to offer more partners’ tools and applications in the future.

“Right now, we’re seeing how hosters respond to this initial set of offerings and getting their feedback,” said Shawn Nandi, product manager for Web platform and tools.

The product is primarily targeted at service providers that offer shared Web hosting or discount dedicated server hosting.

“Price is an important factor, making sure our hosting partners can offer a great price to their customers,” Jewett said. The modular nature of Microsoft Solution for Windows-based Hosting lets service providers add the functions they need without having to “rip and replace” their entire systems, he added. The 3.5 update is available free to licensed users of the hosting product.

Beefing up the Windows hosting offerings could help Microsoft compete with Linux in this market.

Go Daddy, a domain name registrar and Web hosting service, was an early tester of the new tools. According to Jewett, several hundred customers signed up for the new Windows apps in the first week they were offered.

“Go Daddy has both Linux and Windows offerings,” Nandi said. “But they didn’t have a lot of Windows applications. [With the release of Web Site Starters for Windows], there’s a good range of Windows applications that customers can access for their accounts.”

Microsoft will promote the product during a road tour through the United States and Europe in May and June. The one-day program will focus on technical sessions to show service providers how to set up and implement the Windows hosting platform.

Jewett said that, since the November launch of the new version, the user community has grown to 6,000, with about 2000 unique users registered for the 3.0 version and around 400 to 450 users who have actually deployed the product.

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