When Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) killed Windows Small Business Server  SBS) in 2012, some partners started seeking alternatives and replacements. Eager to fill the void, Canonical, Zarafa and Zentyal have been promoting an Ubuntu small business server to channel partners -- including managed services providers (MSPs). But are Microsoft partners willing to give Linux a look?

In some ways this is becoming a familiar pitch. The VAR Guy first spotted Zentyal in January 2012. At the time, the company had just raised $1 million in funding. By June 2012, the relationship between Canonical (Ubuntu Linux's promoter) and Zentyal came into clearer focus. Then by September 2012, Zentyal Server 3.0 debuted.

These days, Canonical, Zarafa and Zentyal are specifically positioning their solution as an alternative to Microsoft's defunct Small Business Server. During a recent webcast promotion the companies stated:
"With the discontinuation of the popular Small Business Server many local IT resellers are looking for alternatives that can help them continue providing solutions for their small and medium customers ... Zentyal, an Ubuntu-based server for small and medium businesses, comes as the natural choice. Easy-to-use, fully functional, MSP-friendly and cost effective, it is a complete replacement to Small Business Server. It is fully supported by Canonical, the company behind the development of Ubuntu, and it integrates Zarafa, a drop-in replacement of Exchange server."
The pitch specifically targeted Microsoft resellers and MSPs that support SMB customers.

How many partners embraced the pitch? The VAR Guy has to ping Canonical, Zarafa and Zentyal for answers. One true believer involves DB-Solutions, a managed services provider in France.

Still, our resident blogger thinks this is a niche opportunity at best. Linux rivals such as SUSE have never quite succeeded in small business. And Red Hat has mostly avoided the small business sever debate, instead focusing on corporate servers as well as cloud servers that can be virtualized and shared among multiple small business customers.

Even Microsoft is gaining momentum elsewhere. A prime example: It sounds like Office 365, Microsoft's cloud suite, is starting to catch on with channel partners and small business customers.