Yesterday, Microsoft released the first public beta of Windows Small Business Server Codename "Aurora" on the connect site (https://connect.microsoft.com/sbs). This is one of the two products in the SBS space that were announced back at WPC in July, and Aurora is the new entry into the SBS product space. Though some media outlets have been describing Aurora as the next version of SBS (implying that Aurora follows in the footsteps of SBS 2000, SBS 2003, and SBS 2008), that is NOT correct. The product named Windows Small Business Server Codename "7" (which has not yet been released in a public beta) will be the next version of "SBS" as we have known it, including Exchange, Sharepoint, RWW, etc., all bundled on the same box.
Aurora is something completely different in the business line. Those who are familiar with Windows Home Server will recognize Aurora when they load it, as Aurora is actually built on the WHS codebase. The key differences in Aurora and WHS are Active Directory (Aurora has it, WHS doesn't) and user limits (25 for Aurora, 10 for WHS). Aurora will also natively integrate with Microsoft's hosted Exchange product line.
There's still a lot we don't yet know about Aurora: pricing, licensing, CALs, release date, etc. But for those who are dealing with businesses under 25 users (for me, i'll probably put the limit at 20), Aurora is definitely something that you need to start looking at. Now.
If history has shown me anything of late, it's that a LOT of people never took a look at SBS 2008 when it was in beta. Yeah, I heard all the excuses: I don't have the hardware, I don't have the time, yadda yadda yadda. Same thing after it was released. I spoke to a number of user groups and encouraged the members to load a box with SBS 2008 and kick the tires before dong a customer install. Or doing a migration (or two or three) before doing a migration for a customer. Funny thing is, generally speaking, those who looked at SBS 2008 before deploying it, especially those who ran through test migrations before migrating a customer, had FAR fewer challenges than those who walked into it blind. Back then, my mantra was "SBS 2008 is not your grandfather's SBS." SBS 2008 was significantly different than SBS 2003, and IT consultants found out either the easy or the hard way (mostly the hard way despiet a LOT of people's efforts to the contrary).
Well, the same holds true for Aurora. This is NOT your typical SBS. SO before you even THINK about deploying it for a customer, download the beta and give it a whirl. There's a greater than 0 chance that Aurora will become the backbone of our internal operation (although we will be doing things a bit differently, but that's a different post for a different time), so it's a product we're particularly sold on. But I cringe at the thought of the IT Consultant who will go out and blindly sell Aurora to a client, either thinking that it's the "next SBS" or being completely unfamiliar with it and end up causing more problems than resolving issues.
So please, do yourself and your customers a favor, this time get in early on the Aurora product timeline and start getting familiar with it. You'll find that it's a bit easier on hardware requirements than SBS 2008 so that argument should go away, and I think that when you spend some time with it, you'll see how it will fit in for some of your clients and become a good sales tool for you. Just get over to the Connect site, sign up for the beta, and get started posthaste!