Microsoft has released an updated bundle of infrastructure servers for small business and its first-ever offering tailored to mid-sized businesses

Under the marketing banner of Windows Essential Server Solutions (WESS), Microsoft released Essential Business Server (EBS) 2008, its first-ever bundle for mid-sized businesses, and Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2008, which has evolved over the past 12 years.

The WESS offerings bundle popular IT software in order to ease rollout and management burdens for small and mid-sized companies.

The two bundles are aimed at businesses that have up to 300 PCs. WESS offers small businesses the first-time options to deploy multiple servers, mobile capabilities, a platform for small companies to run business applications, and the first integration between small business infrastructure and Microsoft's online services as part of its software-plus-services model. That services integration will mark the evolution of the WESS bundles going forward, according to Microsoft.

"We have built extensibility into our products so a developer or Microsoft can write services that will interact with the servers on the ground," said Steven VanRoekel, senior director of the Windows Server solutions group. "As those products evolve over time, you will see that same evolution as well for small and medium sized businesses."

The two servers complete Microsoft's wave of IT infrastructure software based on Windows Server 2008, which shipped earlier this year. Microsoft said at its Partner Conference in July that the bundles would ship 12 November and it hit that mark.

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SBS 2008 includes Windows Server 2008, Exchange Server 2007, SharePoint Services 3.0 (not the full SharePoint Server), Windows Server Update Services 3.0, and a 120-day trial subscription to Forefront Security for Exchange Server and Windows Live OneCare for Server. It also supports Terminal Services access to applications.

The bundle also adds integration with Office Live Small Business to support the creation of basic websites, online document sharing via SharePoint, and an introduction to Microsoft's online advertising platform.

SBS 2008 is designed for companies with up to 75 PCs, and comes in both a Standard and Premium version. The standard version runs only on 64-bit hardware.

The premium addition of SBS 2008, which adds a 32-bit platform option, includes a database and for the first time lets users run the software on two servers. The second server runs Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2005 or 2008 to support business applications.

In SBS 2008, Microsoft has added tools to manage domain names and data folders, a new management console that monitors across servers and clients, customised and remotely available reports, and block-based server protection to speed backups.

EBS 2008, which is designed for companies with up to 300 desktops, includes Windows Server 2008, Exchange Server 2007, Forefront Security for Exchange Server, System Center Essentials 2007, and the new version of Internet Security and Acceleration Server now called the Forefront Threat Management Gateway. The Standard edition is 64-bit only, but the Premium version, which adds SQL Server 2008, has a 32-bit deployment option to accommodate older applications.

With both EBS 2008 versions, users will have the option to install SharePoint Services 3.0.

The Standard version runs across three servers, one each for management, messaging and security. The Premium version runs on four servers and adds a database server option for business applications.

Microsoft announced earlier this year that it was introducing the option to purchase single client access licences (CAL) for either platform. Previously, users had to purchase CALs in blocks of five. In addition, the CALs will apply to copies of Windows Server, SQL Server and Exchange Server running outside the Essential Server environment.

An early British adopter of EBS is Newman Martin and Buchan Limited (NMB), a London-based insurance broker. NMB's IT manager Simon Edwards said that the company, the largest early adopter of EBS outside the US, had been using the package since it started using Release Code 0 in June. "We were a Microsoft Exchange user and had been looking to upgrade for some years and were waiting for the right time. What was important for us was the messaging capabilities but since we installed EBS, I've been impressed with the number of new features."

He said that the install had gone smoothly, setting up a virtualised test-bed using Hyper-V and moving to a live installation painlessly. Edwards was impressed with a couple of features in particular . "Remote Web Workplace has been a bit of a revelation. We had a VPN with Watchguard firewalls and had to install the clients on the PCs and it could be a bit of a pain. With Remote Web Workplace, everything opens with a web browser and works perfectly."

Edwards added that he had also been impressed by the standby features of the Exchange Server and by  the central management interface. "It was great to see everything in a single view." He also said that the inclusion of SQL Server in the Premium version meant that the company could consolidate on its SQL Servers for some savings, "We're moving three servers to run on one box," he said.

EBS is supplied through Microsoft's channel partners - in NMB's case Full Circle, so that UK pricing is not available. Pricing for SBS is around £1000 inc VAT.