Microsoft branch office software bundle aims for enterprise

Microsoft is readying another branch office software bundle, this time for the enterprise branches. The SKU offers full-strength Windows Server 2003 R2.

BOSTON -- With its latest promotional software bundle, Microsoft is targeting IT managers who oversee large branch offices, provided those managers don't already buy their software via enterprise licensing agreements.

The branch office software bundle, which the company introduced at its Worldwide Partner Conference held here this week, includes Windows Server R2, Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server SP2, Virtual Server 2005 R2 and System Center management licenses, is a slightly more high-test version of a bundle that Microsoft released at last year's Partner Conference.

Last year's bundle included standard editions of Windows Server, Exchange Server 2003 and Microsoft Operations Manager workgroup edition with 50 client access licenses for Windows and Exchange.

The SKU released this week is aimed at the enterprise and midmarket as opposed to the small business, said Bala Kasiviswanathan, a group product manager at Microsoft. It will be available this month and retails for $2,000 -- about $200 less than if IT managers pulled together the pieces themselves.

The advantage for large branch offices is that there are no limits on the number of individuals who can connect to these servers, versus Microsoft's Small Business Server, which tops out at about 75 users.

Some IT managers at large companies said they aren't sure exactly which enterprises Microsoft is aiming for with this bundle, given that the largest companies often have Enterprise Agreements with Microsoft.

"This seems like an odd combination of servers, and I'm not entirely sure what market segment they are trying to reach," said Dave Driggers, IT asset management and deployment desktop team leader at Alabama Gas Co., Birmingham, Ala.

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Another IT manager agreed. "It's not really for us," said Randy Robinson, vice president of IT at UnumProvident Corp., Chattanooga, Tenn. "We buy everything through our Enterprise Agreement."

But there are plenty of companies with branch offices, many likely to be uncovered by such licensing agreements. IDC, the Framingham, Mass., market research company, estimates there are about 8.2 million companies in the U.S., and about 27% have branch offices. On average, there are about 2.7 branches per company, which means there are a total of about six million branches.

Globally, there are about 65.4 million companies, and roughly 9.5 million have branches. The total number of worldwide branches is estimated at 23 million.

IDC also estimates there are 50 million workers in branch offices worldwide. "There is a potential market for this," said Ray Boggs, an analyst at IDC. "If you buy a lot, there is a likelihood that you are engaging with a branch office."

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