Microsoft offers server targeted at small businesses

A new, stripped-down version of Windows Server 2008 is being positioned as an ideal first sever for a small business or branch office by Microsoft and its hardware partner Hewlett Packard (HP).

Windows Server 2008 Foundation edition launched in April, but HP was the first to bring it to the Canadian market in May, with two lines of server hardware supporting the bare bones operating system.

Foundation targets the small business market with a low price point that requires less expensive hardware. The server offers all the functions a small office might need – such as file and printer sharing, and remote desktop connections.

The server will support up to 15 users and there’s no need to buy client licences, says Constanza Zalba, product manager for Windows Server at Microsoft Canada.

“It’s the bare bones of Windows Server 2008, and it’s giving a small business the foundation they need,” she says. For example “it doesn’t come with Hyper-V. Server virtualization is not a key priority for a really small business, especially when this is probably their first server.”

Foundation is run on a 64-bit system architecture (x64) and doesn’t support 32-bit components (x86). It allows 50 network access connections through RRAS and 10 through IAS, compared to 250 and 50 connections respectively on the Standard edition. It also allows 50 connections through Terminal Services Gateway instead of 250.

HP is offering two lines of server hardware that will support Foundation. It’s HP ProLiant Tower Servers ML series, and the ProLiant Rack Optimized Servers DL series.

“This solution is perfect for small business or home office environment, and that’s the market we’re going after,” says Michael Yue, product manager for HP ProLiant. “Small businesses demand the same stuff that our large ones do. Security, reliability, stability — it’s all here.”

As part of their promotion, Microsoft and HP have promised a portion of every sale from the new server will go towards helping a non-profit organization. They’ve chosen to give the Toronto Wildlife Centre a technology upgrade by deploying an HP machine with the Foundation server, free of charge.

It’s an upgrade the staff are looking forward too, says Nathalie Karvonen, director of the Toronto Wildlife Centre.

“As a charity, we’ve quickly become the busiest wildlife centre in Canada,” she says. “We’re struggling because of problems we’ve had to deal with on a day-to-day basis – sometimes you just want to hit the computer when it doesn’t respond.”

Staff use 14 workstations at the office and field about 200 calls daily around this time of year, Karvonen says. Staff rely on software to pull up information for callers, and record details passed on to them. But with a patchwork of converted desktop PCs running Windows XP acting as a file-sharing server, that process was becoming more and more frustrating.

“Last weekend we were trying to coordinate a rescue of a baby Falcon that kept crash landing near a major intersection,” the director recalls. “We’re sitting there and watching the egg timer on our computer, while there’s an animal out there that needs help.”

The Centre is an example of the type of office that will likely benefit from Microsoft’s new server offering. Channel partner Bralin Technologies will offer the product to its clients and expect it to do well in branch offices, small workplaces, and as a dedicated server to run a line-of-business application.

Small healthcare clinics with one or two doctors or dentists are examples of offices interested in buying the server, says Brad Kowerchuk, president of Bralin.

“That type of vertical would be an ideal fit for this small server,” he says. “These are health practitioners deciding on technology, so they’re much more likely to want to spend money on medical equipment rather than IT.”

Small businesses will likely save about $700 or $800 by purchasing Foundation instead of the Standard edition, Kowerchuck estimates. The hardware requirements will also be scaled down, so there will be cost savings there too. “They might save up to $1,500 in the end.”

HP lists the software at $324 and the hardware costs are stacked on top of that, Yue says. Packages are available for customers who want a plug-and-play experience.

Foundation is designed for easy deployment by small firms with some basic IT skills, Zalba says.

“We have so much information out there online, that you’ll just need a basic idea of network infrastructure to set this up,” she says.

That’s good news for the Toronto Wildlife Centre’s IT coordinator Scott Wight. He’s looking forward to doing away with the daily problems of poor speed and stability.

Until then, he’s hoping his patchwork of computers acting as an improvised server holds together until that new box comes in.

“It could crash any day now,” he says. “I’m sure it would happen eventually.”

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