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Tech Data Makes Play for Old Small Business Server Niche

  • Complete Microsoft Inspire 2017 coverage here.

There are few products remembered as fondly by as many Microsoft partners as Windows Small Business Server (SBS).

A foundational product consisting of Windows Server, Exchange Server and a rotating cast of supporting server products such as SQL Server, SharePoint Server and various specialized components, SBS spurred and supported an entire ecosystem of small partners serving small business customers. The product represents a moment in tech when infrastructure for even the smallest companies was primarily kept on-premises, and when small shops of technically oriented partners found a thriving market for their skills.

Since Microsoft announced five years ago this month that there would be no new versions of SBS, that partner community has fragmented technologically. Some have kept customers on Windows SBS 2011, most components of which are now in the extended support phase. Others made the shift to Microsoft's Windows Server Essentials, a hybrid approach with an on-premises Windows Server and with e-mail in the cloud. Many have moved their customers entirely to Office 365-based cloud environments. Those are only a handful of the available approaches involving Microsoft technologies, and partners have found ways to meet small business customers' needs with non-Microsoft approaches, as well.

This week at Microsoft Inspire, Tech Data highlighted a bundle of its own that represents another option -- a soup-to-nuts back-end offering aimed at the needs of small businesses and the partners who sell to them but one that is entirely in the cloud, addressing the increasing preference among smaller customers to not have to worry about infrastructure in a wiring closet.

The distributor is pulling together its recently launched Tech Data Small Business Cloud Server with the Microsoft 365 Business package unveiled by Microsoft this week to create an SBS alternative for the cloud.

"We anticipated a high demand because of the installed base of SBS. There's lots of excitement about it," said Stacy Nethercoat, vice president for Cloud, Americas, at Tech Data, in an interview this week at the Inspire conference. "Partners could have pulled the elements together, but it lets a partner take a solution to market as quickly as possible. We see this as a facilitation play for SMB, even up into the mid-tier."

The Tech Data Small Business Cloud Server (SBCS) was launched last month as a bundle that included an Azure virtual machine, Office 365, backup, storage and VPN, with remote desktop as an option. Originally available in three sizes -- one to six users, seven to 20 users, and a package for larger customers -- the SBCS offering is configurable by Tech Data partners through its StreamOne platform, allowing partners to provision, bill and manage customers and their users. Tech Data is also building in such small business-friendly options as being able to set pre-determined usage thresholds and limits, allowing cost-conscious customers to avoid being caught by surprise with an unexpectedly large Azure usage bill.

With the announcement of Microsoft 365 Business this week at Inspire, Tech Data will upgrading its offering to include that subscription when Microsoft makes it fully available this fall. A public preview of Microsoft 365 Business is planned for Aug. 2. Microsoft 365 Business includes Office 365 Business Premium, along with security and management features for Office applications and for Windows 10 devices. The suite also features centralized console management for deploying and securing devices and users.

While SBCS currently includes Office 365, the Microsoft 365 Business version will be more robust in its security and management capabilities, especially for Windows 10 devices a customer owns.

Aside from its benefit for customers, Microsoft partners using the Tech Data approach could find themselves getting positive attention and help from their Microsoft contacts, given Microsoft's new fiscal year 2018 focus on Azure consumption.

Although interest is high, Nethercoat expects the ramp-up to take a little time, in addition to the wait for the full release of Microsoft 365. "We have to go build a market together," she said.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 13, 2017


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