Microsoft’s ‘Centro’ Finally Gets a Name

After two years of talking about it, Microsoft has finally given its forthcoming server bundle for mid-sized businesses a name. Previously codenamed Centro, the package, which is slated to ship in the second half of 2008, is now officially called Windows Essential Business Server.

The server bundle is based around Windows Server 2008, which itself is due out in the first quarter of next year. Public beta testing of Essential Business Server is scheduled to begin in the first half of 2008, according to a company statement. It is currently in a limited “private” beta test.

With Essential Business Server, Microsoft is taking a cue from the success it has had over the past decade with what is now called Windows Small Business Server (SBS). The idea is to provide all the server pieces – e-mail and scheduling, Internet access, security, systems management, and an optional database — that a company needs in a simple to install and manage, business server solution.

Except in this case, instead of small firms, the integrated server bundle is designed to provide basically a plug-and-play solution for mid-sized businesses, which the company defines as companies with at least a few dozen, up to 250 PCs. Microsoft figures there are some 1.4 million businesses that fit that description worldwide.

To date, that’s been a hard market for Microsoft to service because, unlike large enterprise customers, there are a lot of them but they don’t have a lot of money to spend.

“It’s very hard to reach that market because generally you can’t afford to send a salesperson out to them,” Michael Cherry, lead analyst for operating systems at researcher Directions on Microsoft, told

Like SBS, Essential Business Server is expected to be available from both hardware partners and at retail, as well as via third-party solution vendors.

Additionally, many prospective customers have very small IT departments, if that. Therefore, any solution Microsoft offers needs to have as little impact as possible in terms of installation and maintenance, while still providing the functions that mid-sized businesses need.

“If you’re crossing that line, these are the products that [IT] person will want to deploy, because those are the needs of the organization,” Cherry said.

The “standard” edition of Essential Business Server will include Windows Server 2008, Exchange Server 2007, Forefront Security for Exchange, System Center Essentials, and Internet Security and Acceleration Server, all in an integrated bundle, the company statement said. A “premium” edition will add a copy of SQL Server 2008.

To make the bundle simpler to administrate, Essential Business Server will also include a single client access license that works for all products included in the bundle, the company said.

Microsoft has also announced some of the partners it is working with on Essential Business Server. For instance, the company said that Fujitsu-Siemens, HP, IBM, and Intel will support the server bundle, and that software partners, including CA, Citrix, FullArmor, McAfee, Quest, Symantec and Trend Micro, plan to provide “add-ins” for the package.

The company first announced the product two years ago. However, Cherry does not take Microsoft to task for taking so long. Because it’s a bundle, and because the integration among the products is crucial, the package results from a careful balancing act among different versions of the products.

For example, because it’s based around Windows Server 2008, Essential Business Server has to wait until that product ships.

“The question rapidly becomes which version of a product do you take?” Cherry said, adding that creates dependencies among all the various product development teams.

Microsoft will be demonstrating Essential Business Server at its TechEd: IT Forum conference in Barcelona, Spain. The company has not yet announced pricing.

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