Next month, Microsoft is introducing BackOffice Small Business Server (SBS). Aimed at small businesses, this product offers big opportunities for Internet Service Providers (ISPs), independent software vendors (ISVs), Value Added Providers (VAPs), and Microsoft Authorized Technical Education Centers (ATECs).

What Is SBS?
SBS consists of Windows NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 3 (SP3) and selected BackOffice components configured to meet the needs of small businesses. SBS includes Internet Information Server (IIS) 3.0, Proxy Server 1.0, FrontPage 97, SQL Server 6.5 (with SP3), Exchange Server 5.0 (with SP1), Outlook 97, a fax server, and modem pooling capability. By limiting the size of the BackOffice applications, Microsoft succeeded in tuning these applications to fit the SBS audience's needs. For example, the SBS version of Exchange requires only 7MB of RAM instead of the standard 32MB configuration. Tuning the applications to the audience is a unique benefit that's not ordinarily feasible, because vendors usually can't pinpoint the intended audience.

SBS runs on one Pentium-class server with 64MB of RAM, 4GB of hard disk, and an adaptive modem. You get a 25-computer license for all the software and can handle up to 100 users.

Installation and configuration require one CD-ROM and take about an hour. SBS makes most configuration decisions for you. For example, SBS's Internet connection wizard lets you select from a list of preferred ISPs. Then the wizard asks for a domain name and a credit card, dials the ISP, and configures your domain and network. All your users can now access the Internet. In addition, SBS automatically configures the Exchange Internet connector to dial the ISP once per hour and handle incoming and outgoing email. If you're an SBS-enabled ISP, many potential SBS customers will be able to use your services.

The ISV Opportunity
Although SBS includes SQL Server, no part of SBS requires SQL Server. So why did Microsoft throw in SQL Server? First, including SQL Server will substantially increase SQL Server's market share, which increases the market for third-party SQL-based applications. In addition, making SQL Server part of SBS will block Microsoft's database competitors from penetrating the small business market. Few vendors can afford to give away a 25-user client/server database.

With SQL, IIS, and Exchange on the SBS platform, if ISVs want to reach the small business market, they now have a known platform to integrate their solutions with. By creating SBS versions of their applications, they can offer small businesses database, Web, and messaging capabilities. If an application is built on SBS, software vendors no longer need to add the cost of SQL and Exchange to their solution's cost.

The VAP Opportunity
To install, configure, and support SBS to small business customers, Microsoft has created a new group of partners, called VAPs, which are consultants specializing in Microsoft technology. Already, the VAP program includes 100,000 members, and Microsoft expects 50,000 more to join in the next six months. SBS provides a huge opportunity for VAPs to get their foot in the door with prospective small business customers who don't have Internet connectivity or email. Before SBS, BackOffice required too much configuration or support to make it feasible for small businesses. With SBS, VAPs can offer small businesses the same functionality that was previously available to only mid- and large-sized companies. (For inside details about how VAPs can take advantage of this opportunity, read our new sister publication, Selling NT Solutions. You can subscribe at http://www.sellingnt.com.)

The ATEC Opportunity
To get small business people started with SBS, ATECs are offering VAPs a one-day introductory course for $99. The great opportunity for ATECs is that once VAPs get a quick, inexpensive taste of components such as Exchange and SQL Server, their appetites will be whetted for more. Small business provides a large new group of potential training customers.

It's a Fit
SBS fits perfectly with Microsoft's successful business model of low-price, high-volume software. Many small businesses can benefit from the same level of technology that mid- and large-sized companies enjoy today. At $2000 for SBS running on a $3000 server, the opportunities are big for small business.