Partner Advocate

A Marriage Made in the Midmarket

Essential Business Server makes its debut in the wake of the Windows 2008 launch wave. Watch the sales roll in.

When Microsoft follows up this month's launch of Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 with an integrated offering for midmarket customers, it will create a compelling reason for two separate wings of the Microsoft Partner Program to join forces on new business opportunities.

The product is Windows Essential Business Server (code-named "Centro"). Just as Windows Small Business Server is engineered technically and psychologically for companies with fewer than 75 seats, Essential Business Server is designed for shops of up to 250 seats. An Essential Business Server installation can be spread across three servers and will include Exchange Server 2007, System Center Essentials, ISA Server and Forefront Security for Exchange, with SQL Server 2008 available in a premium edition.

In targeting the midmarket, the package will address a horizontal slice of the technology market in which Microsoft already has significant strength: business applications with its Microsoft Dynamics line. Partners who can connect the two products in customer accounts stand to become much more strategic to those customers.

For infrastructure partners, it will be a matter of training or hiring talent on the business applications side or, better yet, working with an existing Dynamics provider. Dynamics partners have a little more of a head start. Every year, Microsoft is making knowledge of its infrastructure products more of a prerequisite for selling Dynamics business applications. Many Dynamics partners will be in a strong position to build the Essential Business Server expertise themselves and become one-stop shops, but partnering with infrastructure specialists will often be a better solution here as well.

There are a few steps that the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group could take to seed cooperation. First, a Microsoft Small Business Specialist-style designation for partners with expertise in the Essential Business Server package would make it easier for partners to signal their expertise and find each other.

Dedicated areas within Microsoft's online partner-to-partner tools would also help. But these relationships will require active hand-holding, not just inclusion in an online directory. Because many midmarket partners fly below the partner account manager radar, Microsoft will need to get creative about ways for bringing these partner classes together. One possibility would be sweetening the "better-together" message by offering special discounts and promotions for partners and customers.

Regardless of what Microsoft does, keep your eyes out for opportunities to sell Essential Business Server alongside Dynamics to your customers and to connect with other partners. And beta test the Essential Business Server package. Microsoft has a lot of experience with integrating servers and building wizards, but midmarket partners are the ones who know their customers' issues best. Help Microsoft help you by providing the kind of feedback that can make Essential Business Server feel like a 3.0-class Microsoft release, rather than a 1.0 offering.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.