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Partners Ramp Up for SBS, EBS Launches

In the second half of this year -- which is, after all, rapidly approaching -- Microsoft will roll out a couple of major products for partners in the SMB space. Windows Small Business Server 2008 and Windows Essential Business Sever 2008 are the cornerstones of Redmond's revamped server strategy for SMBs. SBS 2008 is for the really little guys; EBS is for midsize companies. Simple enough, really.

What might end up being potentially less simple is understanding what each server can do and developing sales strategies for both of them. On that front, to the rescue rode Arlin Sorensen, president and CEO of Gold Certified Partner Heartland Technology Solutions, who organized last week's SMB Summit in your editor's home town of Dallas to discuss Microsoft's new server wares. Sorensen and a few other partners -- all Gold Certified, as it happens -- sat down for a phone chat with RCPU last week about SBS and EBS.

SBS is probably familiar to most SMB partners, but EBS is a new kid on the block -- a server not meant for the tiny startup but not appropriate for the big conglomerate, either. It focuses on the hugely lucrative, constantly shifting midsize-business market, and many of last week's SMB Summit's 460 attendees got their first look at it in Dallas.

"A lot of partners are just starting to understand what EBS is about," Sorensen told RCPU. "The exciting thing that partners are starting to talk about is they're going to serve a market that they've been afraid to enter. It's going to allow a SBS partner to move up in the market."

But moving up can be a complex -- if potentially very rewarding -- task. Michael Cocanower, president of itSynergy, said that selling to midsize businesses as opposed to small businesses means talking to entirely different audiences. Whereas the small-business owner makes most of the decisions on technology purchases for his or her company, Cocanower said, midsize businesses usually have IT people, financial executives and maybe even CIOs who need to be convinced.

"The messaging that goes to these different audiences is different depending on who it is," Cocanower said.

Added Sorensen: "The sales cycle is much longer in the mid-market space. You have to be prepared to make more investment to get that larger sale. I would definitely say there's a higher cost of sale, but that's offset by a bigger opportunity. When you're serving a larger install base, there's going to be more demands. They have higher expectations than a small business does."

One message that should resonate with just about any audience, though, is that EBS works. Cocanower has a couple of partners running it as part of Microsoft's Technology Adoption Program (TAP), and he's been impressed by the results he's seen so far. EBS, he said, fills a gap that had existed between SBS and bigger offerings such as Windows Server 2008.

"Today, because there is no product in this space, these medium businesses are left with assembling the core business blocks that are out there," Cocanower said. "But there isn't anything that ties that together. EBS provides that layer that rides on top of those products."

And Microsoft folks, perhaps not surprisingly, point out that EBS makes a great upgrade from SBS: "A lot of customers need to upgrade from SBS, and Essential Business Server is going to be an easy transition," said Aanal Bhatt, senior product manager at Microsoft responsible for channel partner marketing, Windows Essential Server Solutions. "Even in some of the smaller companies, because there is quite a bit of complexity going on and SBS has not been the best fit, EBS is going to be a great fit."

But SBS will still have a large customer base, too, and John Endter, president of E Squared C, has already seen customers involved in the TAP achieve results with the new edition of the server.

"We have it installed at a golf course," Endter said of SBS 2008. "It's running their business. They had some key pain points working remotely for the business owner. They had some staffing issues with schedules, general business process issues. SBS corrected all that. It's definitely rock-solid."

Those are the kinds of reviews that partners waiting for the release of both products will love to hear.

Posted by Lee Pender on April 23, 2008