Microsoft earlier this week released preview versions of the Vail Windows Home Server, and also the Aurora Windows Small Business Server. To summarize, Vail is targeted at home and home businesses, while Aurora was designed to serve the needs of small businesses. While their markets are well defined from a marketing perspective, it's harder to get a grip on the products' actual capabilities.
[Both products] represent an interesting and perhaps unprecedented conundrum: they're both excellent, and it's unclear which is the better fit.
As the next-generation version of Microsoft's Windows Home Server product, Vail comes with excellent media-sharing capabilities, including media streaming. In addition, Vail comes with business-friendly features such as multi-PC backup, native support for the Mac OS, and improvements in backup and restore capabilities. As usual, Microsoft is already pushing developers toward the creation of add-ins,which can be created using Visual Studio 2008, with a Vail Preview SDK.
Aurora, on the other hand, is targeted at small businesses. Unlike previous iterations of Microsoft's server products, Aurora is unique in its focuses on cloud computing. The first server product designed to complement a monolithic design with cloud-based services, Aurora is taking a significant departure from traditional computing paradigms.
This was a point made by Kevin Kean, general manager of Windows Home and Small Business Server. Announcing the beta release of Vail and Aurora, Kean wrote a post on The Windows SBS Blog:
Windows Small Business Server Codename "Aurora" is part of the next generation of our award winning Windows Small Business Server, and represents a significant departure from our traditional fully on premise model.
There is no doubt at all that Microsoft is open to embracing a cloud-centric paradigm:
Aurora extends the ease of use of our traditional SBS products while simultaneously being a great platform for small businesses wanting to combine traditional and cloud computing.
Some of the Aurora's features include automatic daily backups of PCs, access via Web browsers, and check this out: the option of pay-as-you-go Web services. In an earlier blog that mentioned Aurora, I reported that a couple of these services would be Microsoft's hosted Exchange Online for e-mail and hosted SharePoint, both of which make perfect sense from a SaaS point of view.
The idea is to lower the deployment threshold to the lowest possible for new SMBs, yet pack sufficient latent ability to scale to more users without the need for hardware upgrades. This effectively takes out much of the guesswork about the company's future IT needs.
Microsoft has also released a new version of its Windows Server Solutions SDK that developers can use to "extend the platform, develop server and client add-ins." The SDK can also be used to customize interoperability with cloud services.