Microsoft Reaches Out to Branch Offices

Branch office rarely if ever have quite the resources of headquarters, but Microsoft wants to help fill the technology resources gap. Microsoft has launched the Branch Infrastructure Promotion, a collection of server technologies meant for the remote office where IT support is typically minimal to non-existent.

The Branch Infrastructure Promotion includes Windows Server 2003 R2, Internet Security and Acceleration Server, Virtual Server 2005 R2 and System Center System Management Licenses, sold at a 10 percent discount on the total value of solution.

The branch office is an underserved market, with 50 million workers based in 23 million branch offices around the country, and most don’t have on-site IT staff, according to Bala Kasaviswanathan, group product manager for Windows server.

“The challenge is how does headquarters manage the employees while giving them the autonomy and productivity they need and make things work efficiently, given these are remote locations sitting on land links?” asked Kasaviswanathan.
Microsoft said the goal of the new offering is to make it easier to manage branch offices and at the same time provide fast access to back office applications, backup of local data and fast file sharing and access.

Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2006 provides secure connections between two remote points, and is currently in the release candidate stage and expected to ship later this year. ISA provides a set of Exchange and Windows SharePoint Services publishing tools, streamlined security and connectivity for branch offices, and an expanded array of OEM  appliance offerings.

The Branch Infrastructure server is a big help, but not the answer in and of itself, said one Microsoft Gold partner. “There are technologies in other product lines, but it does make the branch something much easier and cheaper to manage and allows them to get that data consistency” said Brian Bourne, president of CMS Consulting, in Toronto, Canada.

“If your branches are running as little islands, you lose any scale or cohesion in the team. So you want technologies that bring the teams closer. Does this fix the whole thing? No, but it’s one of the major pieces of the puzzle,” he said.

Branch Infrastructure Promotion was just one of a number of announcements coming from the Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston this week. Microsoft introduced the Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs that’s designed to help companies move off non-supported operating systems, like Windows 98, and on to Windows XP.

Microsoft said it will re-launch the Forrester ROI Software Assurance tool later this summer. The new version will include an updated Software Assurance benefits component designed to help customers determine the value of the software they plan to use.

Also, Microsoft announced updates to the Microsoft Product Licensing Advisor (MPLA), a tool that helps customers conduct initial research on their software needs and connect with partners during the purchase phase. The tool will be localized in nine languages and helps connect customers with partners when they are ready to buy.

Beginning Oct. 1, 2006, customers will be able to purchase Windows Server 2003 R2, Datacenter Edition, from Microsoft resellers and account managers on their Microsoft Volume Licensing agreement as well as preinstalled on servers with two to 64 processors from OEMs. The Datacenter Edition licenses include the right to run unlimited virtual instances on one server at no additional charge.

In a bid to lure in new database customers, Microsoft also updated its SQL Server Competitive Migration Program. The program now provides migration tools to help Microsoft partners transition customers to SQL Server 2005, offering
up to a 50 percent discount for migrating customers.

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