Microsoft will release a public beta version of server software bundle for medium-size businesses, code-named ‘Centro,’ in the first half of next year.

Centro is intended to make it simpler for businesses with limited IT management resources to install and control key software tools. The bundle will go on sale in the second half of next year as Windows Essential Business Server, the director of product planning in the company's server and tools division, Russ Madlener, said Wednesday.

The product, now in a private beta, is based on Windows Server 2008 (formerly Longhorn), the company's next major server operating system update due for release next year.

Essential Business Server is intended for businesses with 25 to 250 PCs. Since system administrators in companies of that size often have a wide remit of IT duties, Microsoft has tried to simplify management and deployment of the software bundle, the company said.

For example, Windows Essential Business Server has one administration console, and other independent software vendors can write applications that can be managed through that console, Madlener said.

Security vendor Symantec will integrate its Backup Exec and Endpoint Protection products into Essential Business Server's management console. Other companies that have committed to integrating with the server include Citrix, CA, CommVault, Trend Micro, FullArmor, McAfee and Quest, Microsoft said.

Essential Business Server will come in two editions, Standard and Premium. The Standard edition contains:
Exchange Server 2007 for email; Microsoft's business email security product Forefront Security for Exchange; System Center Essentials for management, and Internet Security Acceleration Server 2006, a firewall and VPN gateway security product.

The Premium version adds one of Microsoft's database products, SQL Server 2008.

Microsoft has so far not released pricing for Essential Business Server, but Madlener indicated that it will likely be cheaper than buying separate licences for the included products.