This is the final year that Microsoft will be selling its SBS server, a product tailor made to the needs of the 36 million or so small businesses (up to 25 users and 50 devices) which needed a cost effective method for deploying a Microsoft computing environment including Exchange for email as well as all the basic management tools needed for a computer network. It took a lot of functionality and packed it into a server package at a price that made sense for small business. And yes, Microsoft will be ceasing sales soon.
Moving forward, Microsoft will be adopting a blended method of supporting small business, using their cloud based offerings combined with their new Windows Server 2012 Essentials. This product will offer the server operating system, data protection, remote access capabilities, health monitoring, workload flexibility (the ability to chose which apps you will run on premise vs the cloud), and extensibility (allowing other vendors to build add on capabilities through Web Services API's).
The key missing element is Exchange (and SharePoint to a lesser degree).
You can either add exchange server separately, or (and this is where most companies will go) use Hosted Exchange and 'go to the cloud'. Microsoft is betting heavily on the fact that the flexibility of their cloud offerings will drive heavy adoption. From an Exchange and SharePoint standpoint, they are likely right. It makes a ton of sense for a small growing business to pay for what it uses only, and be able to add or remove users in real time. It reduces up front costs and reduces ongoing IT costs.
In this area, the cloud has arrived, and is ready for business.
But, not everyone will be able to go in this direction, at least not fully. It is possible to go 100% to the cloud, but regulatory requirements, line of business applications, or integration issues may make this impossible. Blended environments, such as the onsite essentials server with cloud based offerings for email and possibly even other applications (ERP, CRM, etc) may be a more likely path into the cloud.
The fact of the matter is, despite all of the hype and marketing, cloud computing is here and here to stay, and moves like this by Microsoft are actually pretty forward thinking and will drive further cloud adoption. There is no question that for many small businesses, moving to the cloud for email and collaboration is a very sensible move. There is nothing mystical about the cloud. We have all been using it for years (Hotmail or Gmail anyone?) These types of changes, along with Windows 8, which makes some aspects of cloud computing more natural and efficient, will continue to drive forward cloud initiatives.
But don't panic, life after the cloud looks a lot like life before the cloud. Just more efficient in some ways, more cost effective for some businesses. Onsite servers are not going away in most cases, but they may in some! It is all about knowing what questions to ask. That is where a credible IT consultant comes in (shameless pitch, but hey, its my blog).
So, Windows SBS is going away - its time is done. But the functionality it embodied is here to stay with the new offerings, which may better serve small business. Take note, Windows Home Server is going away also (for the same reasons, and replaced by the same products as SBS).
I've been impressed by Microsoft and their approach to cloud this year. Less hype, more function. More integration. More manageable IT costs and environments. Believe it or not, I am a big fan of that. IT is not going away, but its role has always been to support business in achieving its goals, including profits, and in many cases, this will help us help our customers with that. We'll still be here, and our customers will still need us, but the focus will shift and efficiencies will be gained.
It is all designed to bring about more happy computing!