Microsoft has announced the availability of the Release Candidate (RC) for Windows Small Business (SBS) 2011 Essentials. This release puts Windows SBS 2011 Essentials just one step away from an RTM, or release to manufacturing, and represents a major step towards the release of the software.
Microsoft has recognized the wide remit of the "small business" term, which can range from a mere 10 computers to more than 50 nodes. To better address the needs of the small business community, the software giant has moved to more precisely target the segment by designing a "Standard" version of Windows SBS 2011 to serve companies with up to 75 accounts, as well as a lower-tier "Essentials" version for smaller businesses with 25 users or less.
Small Business Server 2011 Essentials
In this case, Windows SBS 2011 Essentials was created to provide businesses with a way to protect their data and support the requisite business applications. Small businesses will find Essentials especially enticing if they do not require Exchange Server or SharePoint capabilities, but use it mainly for file sharing and as a means to implement backup. This is because they will only need to pay for the server software, without having to purchase separate client access licenses as is the norm for Microsoft's server offerings.
The truth of the matter is that an organization that is not an IT-related business and with fewer than 25 staffers will be hard-pressed to properly secure and maintain an on-site Exchange Server deployment, much less SharePoint. My personal opinion is that such small companies are likely better off relying on a hosted e-mail service provider, of which there are many good ones today.
To better assist managers or decision makers on the tech front, Microsoft has created an SBS 2011 Essentials Learning Bites channel on YouTube, which consists of 15 short videos (3-5 minutes) that introduce the core features and functionality of SBS Essentials. And yes, Windows SBS 2011 Essentials comes with support for the Mac, too.
SBS 2011 Standard, Windows Home Server 2011
The big brother of SBS 2011 Essentials is the SBS 2011 Standard, which incorporates Exchange Server 2010 and SharePoint Foundation 2010. Touted by Microsoft as a fully, on-premise small business solution, the Standard edition of SBS requires separate CALs for access and is already available for sale. I wrote a more detailed post on the two SBS 2011 editions as well as the SBS 2011 Premium add-on in November of last year.
Not to be confused with Windows SBS is the Microsoft Windows Home Server (WHS) 2011, formally known by its codename "Vail." WHS was designed to provide backup and file server functionality for home networks and has apparently attracted a strong following. On the flip side, it is understood that Microsoft has removed the highly popular Disk Extender feature in the RC for WHS, which was announced at the same time as the RC for SBS Essentials.