I've been writing a lot about Microsoft Online Services (MOS) lately for two reasons: First, I feel that hosted online services are the future of business computing, regardless of the size of your business. Second, Microsoft is finally fully embracing this business model after years of hemming and hawing and delivering just half measures that it left to its partners to deploy and manage. Microsoft's emphatic move to true cloud-based computing is an important milestone.

But let's not forget that Microsoft's on-premise server products are also better than ever. And when you consider that it may be a decade or more before the transition to cloud computing is as fully realized as I expect it to be, there's clearly a huge and growing market for traditional server-based products right now. And if you're in the market, as they say, there's never been a better time to buy.

Windows Server 2008 debuted to much fanfare back in February, but this product really came into its own with the September launch of the final version of Hyper-V, Microsoft's virtualization platform. We've discussed Server 2008 and Hyper-V numerous times in UPDATE, but one fact bears repeating: With this platform in place, Microsoft now has a credible and capable virtualization solution in place for virtually (ahem) any need. VMware was foolish to leave Microsoft to its devices. I expect the software giant to eat VMware's lunch in this market, and to quickly surpass that company's market share as virtualization takes its place as one of the core enterprise computing technologies.

Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2008 launched a few weeks back and, contrary to some misunderstandings about my recent stance about this product, is the most impressive and functional version of SBS yet. SBS 2008 is built on Server 2008, of course, and is fully 64-bit, though the second server (SQL Server) install in the Premium edition of the product can optionally be 32-bit for backward-compatibility purposes. It comes with all the latest server product versions you'd expect--Exchange 2007, Windows Live OneCare for Server, Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) 3.0, and so on--and integrates with Office Live Small Business, which is a nice touch. But the big news in this product, in my opinion, is the debut of the new SBS admin console, which does away with the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) from previous versions and offers familial similarities with its Windows Home Server (WHS) and Windows Essential Business Server stablemates. It's also easily extensible by third parties, which is a big plus.

SBS 2008 is most suitable for small businesses that hit the upper range of the 75 PC limit of this product, because businesses of that size will have more need of the product's PC management functionality. Plus, once you hit the 20-25 CAL range, SBS 2008 starts to get less expensive than its predecessor. Before that, it's more expensive.

The other forgotten product here is Windows Essential Business Server 2008, which is aimed at the midsized businesses that fall between SBS and Microsoft's standalone servers. EBS is a complex product, because it requires three 64-bit hardware servers, but I think it will have a longer shelf life than SBS, in many ways, because companies of that size will probably always need a mix of hosted and on-premise solutions and EBS certainly does do a good job of replacing an aging existing infrastructure all in one whack. It's too big and complex to call it an "enterprise in a box," but that's pretty much what it is. And EBS uses a more advanced version of the SBS admin console which, again, is extensible by third parties, an even greater need for users of this product.

I'll be reviewing both SBS 2008 and EBS 2008 in the weeks ahead on the SuperSite for Windows--all while casting a long gaze to our cloud computing futures, of course.