This week marks a transition for SMB partners with the announcement of Microsoft Small Business Server "Aurora."  Aurora is targeting companies on the smaller end of SMB, while the regular Small Business Server product will grow beyond the limitation of 25 users. Aurora does not come with Exchange Server and SharePoint but serves as a basic domain controller giving small businesses a stable and reliable internal on premise networking environment. Key workloads like e-mail and document management can then be handled through the use of cloud services making the maintenance and administrative overhead that's a feature of the normal Small Business Server product go away. The result is a greatly simplified product that's ideal for organizations with little or no IT expertise.

One thing that cloud doesn't do so well is file serving or backup provisioning so Aurora includes extra features to help in this area: it includes the flexible, replicated storage capabilities and remote backup features found in Windows Home Server, which are fantastic. I personally use these in our home network and love the ability to automatically backup devices with no human interaction beyond setup.  This will be the first time that Microsoft takes these features out of the home and puts them in the workplace.

Beta is only a little ways down the road, so be watching for the opportunity to check this product out.  It is refreshing to see Microsoft bring a very targeted solution to the SMB channel.  SBS is still a fantastic product, but doesn’t give as many options for this rapidly changing technology environment that now includes the cloud, which was but a dream when SBS was designed many years ago.  Having a couple options in the under 25 user space gives partners the opportunity to do what we do best – to assess the client needs and then recommend the right solution to achieve the client goals. 

There is no doubt that the cloud is going to move into the SMB space – it already has in a lot of instances - and this product gives partners a great entry point into that environment.  The discussions among partners have been mixed but mostly positive.  The fear is that we are introducing a low cost solution that will mean a lot less revenue to the partner.  That is a fact – but the same fact that cloud in general will be bringing to a corner near each of us very soon.  So we can’t dwell on that – we have to dwell on the new opportunities it brings along.  Aurora will definitely allow us to place servers into clients that today can’t or won’t justify spending the money.  It will be very cost effective and allow us to really penetrate a bigger target audience.  That is very good.

Aurora will allow us to put our toe in the cloud water – not necessarily cannibalizing our current SBS customer base – but adding more clients to support and allow us to transition our business model and learn how to leverage the cloud for the future.  We have to learn this somehow – and Aurora gives us a platform to make that happen.  Change is coming to the SMB partner channel.  We can either embrace it and leverage a fresh and valuable new product like Aurora or stick our heads in the sand and resist hoping it all passes by as a fad.  I remember when some said the Internet would be a fad………haven’t seen them around this year!