Life After Small Business Server – Where now for MSPs?

Scott Calonico

computer serverMicrosoft’s Small Business Server product range has provided bread and butter income for thousands of IT consultants and MSPs over the years. It has therefore come as a shock to many that Microsoft has quietly announced that SBS will be discontinued when the Server 2012 product range is launched.

Microsoft’s “reasoning” is that there is now a trend towards cloud computing in the SME marketplace.

While no one is likely to debate this as a fact, there are plenty of SMEs who are reluctant to move to towards the cloud and plenty of good reasons why it’s not ideal for everyone.

So where does all this leave MSPs working with SME clients?

Microsoft’s New SME Strategy

As part of the Server 2012 range, Microsoft are launching Windows Server 2012 Essentials, a product supporting up to 25 users, which they are touting as a new version of the trimmed-down Small Business Server Essentials product. This is, in reality, a fairly basic product and doesn’t include the Exchange and SharePoint functionality that made SBS a comprehensive and well-priced option for SMEs.

There appears to be an assumption that SMEs will complement the new server product with cloud-based Exchange and SharePoint, which, conveniently, is exactly what Microsoft offers with Office 365. Meanwhile, companies wishing to keep these server solutions in-house will need more hardware, more licences and more IT knowledge.

As for companies with between 25 and 75 users, who were previously well-served by SBS, they are now, essentially, subject to the same costs and licensing models as enterprises with hundreds of users.

What can MSPs Do?

To start with, things are not necessarily as urgent as they seem. Based on Microsoft’s usual support lifecycles, Small Business Server 2011 still has plenty of life in it.

MSPs who still have clients running SBS 2003 (of which there are probably plenty), still have time to get them migrated to SBS 2011 if they have no interest in moving anything to the cloud. The support lifecycle of SBS 2011 should remain valid for the standard 3-5 year lifespan of server hardware bought now.

Beyond this, however, MSPs need a plan. Microsoft’s new strategy has stirred up the waters of MSP IT provision, not least because they are keen to grab monthly revenue for themselves courtesy of Office 365 office 365subscriptions.

The most important thing for MSPs to do is gain full clarity of their “post-SBS” service offerings. MSPs can partner with Microsoft and grab a chunk of the monthly Office 365 subscription fees, or take more extreme measures such as building their own infrastructures and providing cloud services of their own.

It’s not all doom and gloom; the PCs and laptops will continue to slow down, go wrong and need attention. In some respects, having fewer or simpler on-premise systems means fewer emergencies and stressful days.

However, the MSPs who will lose out are those who haven’t worked the numbers and decided how to protect their income with new services that complement the new ways of doing things. Microsoft have made their decision, so it’s time to adapt.