Microsoft releases SBS 2003 R2 for small biz

Microsoft Corp. launched its Windows Small Business Server 2003 release 2 (SBS 2003 R2) integrated software bundle Tuesday.

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive officer, will talk up the new version of the software during his keynote address at the opening of the vendor’s Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Boston Tuesday through Thursday.

Positioned to appeal to small businesses looking to invest in their first server, SBS 2003 tightly integrates a range of Microsoft’s stand-alone products including the vendor’s Windows Server 2003 operating system, its SharePoint Web portal, Exchange Server groupware and Office Outlook e-mail software.

SBS 2003 R2 will be available to purchase through Microsoft partners in August, according to Steven Van Roekel, director of Windows Server Solutions Group at Microsoft.

The Standard Edition of the software will cost from US$599, while the Premium Edition, which includes Microsoft’s SQL Server 2005 Workgroup Edition database, will be priced from $1,299. SBS 2003 R2 will also be preinstalled on computers from the Dell Inc., Gateway Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. later this quarter.

New features in SBS 2003 R2 include Green Check, technology that indicates whether a customer’s networked PCs and servers have the latest Microsoft patches and updates.

Microsoft has also increased SBS 2003 R2’s mailbox limit from 16G bytes to 75G bytes to put the e-mail storage capabilities on par with what’s offered by some of the leading free e-mail services, Van Roekel said. Users of the earlier release of SBS 2003 wanting to take advantage of the increase in storage can download a service pack for Exchange without having to move to the new version.

Another new feature is the expansion of Client Access License (CAL) rights so that SBS 2003 R2 customers can access Exchange Server and SQL Server software running on other servers without having to pay for additional CALs. “We heard loud and clear from our partners that they wanted us to expand the rights,” Van Roekel said.

Microsoft defines a small business as using one to 50 PCs and employing a maximum of 100 staff, while a midsize firm has between 50 and 500 PCs and up to 1,000 employees. With SBS, the sweet spot tends to be companies employing fewer than 25 workers, Van Roekel said. SBS 2003 R2 will support a maximum of 75 different users or devices, but Microsoft advises firms with more than 50 employees to consider moving to stand-alone versions of its server software. The company is currently worked on Centro, a software bundle similar to SBS, but aimed at midsize companies that employ an IT administrator.

The vendor is also in the design phase of the next version of SBS, code-named Cougar. Like Centro, Cougar is due to appear around the time that Microsoft ships the next major release of its Windows Server operating system, code-named Longhorn, probably toward the end of 2007.

Cougar will feature the latest updates to all the bundle’s software components, new management technologies and will shift to only supporting 64-bit applications. “Our thinking is that by that time, all the applications available will be 64-bit,” Van Roekel said.