Today on the SBS Blog it was announced that the successor to SBS 2011 Essentials is going to be called Windows Server 2012 Essentials, and that  there would be no replacement for SBS 2011 Standard. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise, the writing has been on the wall for SBS as we knew it for a long time, but some just weren’t seeing it there. This announcement doesn’t have the emotional impact on me that I know it is having on many others, despite my being involved in the launches for all of the versions of SBS up to and including SBS 2003, and I was then involved again with the launch of SBS 2011 Essentials and Standard.

Going back to my comment about the writing being on the wall, what am I referring to?

Exhibit A: Steve Ballmer says Microsoft is all in as a cloud company, and that if you weren’t onboard, well, you weren’t onboard.

I think people really underestimated this comment from Ballmer, but if you take a look at nearly everything MS is doing now, there is a private or public cloud message integrated into it. Even System Center traditionally an on premise management solution, is gaining stronger and stronger cloud deployment and management capabilities. Windows Server 2012 was built with cloud scenarios in mind. If you attend a Microsoft event for customers or partners, it’s all about the cloud.

Exhibit B: The complexity of the individual components causing more compatibility issues, to the point where products and features were being removed from the product.

It was inevitable that the all services on one server approach was going to break due at some point, either due to compatibility issues or system requirements growing too greatly. If you think about Microsoft now being a cloud focused company, this means that the team building future versions of SBS would have a smaller and smaller amount of influence over the other product teams to incorporate changes or fixes to allow co-existence or scaling down.

Going to the Exchange team, for example, who are becoming more and more focused on extremely large scale deployments for hosting scenarios and very large corporates, and asking to make sure that everything can run on one machine, or going to the SharePoint team and asking why can’t they just make Office Web Apps work on SBS in a supported manner etc are things that they just don’t have the clout to do anymore.

Here’s the unfortunate part of all of this… all of the work that has gone into Windows Server 2012 and the new version of Hyper-V and the new management tools, it has gotten much, much easier to deploy complex virtualisation solutions that would address some of these concerns. The problem is though, is that as soon as you go down the path of a multiple virtualised server solution you end up with something that is awfully similar to Essential Business Server, and we saw how that ended.

One of the questions I was asked repeatedly over the last few years was why there wasn’t more attention placed on promoting SBS. There are several reasons I saw for this, and these are based on personal observations, they weren’t official policies or procedures etc. Within MS the teams that cared about SBS were the SBS team, the SBS product managers in the subsidiaries, and the various OEM account teams including OEM distribution.

Absent from this group were the partner teams and the SMB marketing teams. These groups had already shifted attention (read that as what they were goaled on) to BPOS several years ago, and to Office 365 when it launched. From my perspective, I saw the promotion of SBS Standard as an activity that stopped a customer from moving across to BPOS or Office 365 for at least 3-5 years, and therefore not something to be recommended.

The sole SBS session at TechEd North America this year focused on SBSE, and I saw that as another nail in the coffin for the traditional SBS product. Based on the questions and mood in the room, I was reminded of something that I had seen many times in the past at Microsoft. They focus on where they want to be, where they need their partners to be, and where they need their partners to get their customers.

Sometimes there is a discrepancy in terms of where the market is, and in this case with SBS partners, many of them raise the problem of inadequate bandwidth as a big reason for not going down the cloud path, along with some other reasons. Microsoft not releasing a successor to SBS 2011 Standard does not mean that existing customers will be left without options. Most SBS customers are not on SBS 2011 Standard today, so there is still an upgrade path available for them. If this buys the customer another 3-5 years, hopefully the roadblocks for cloud adoption have been well and truly addressed to their satisfaction. This 3-5 year period will also give the partner base more than enough time to adopt new business models that include cloud solutions