In today’s article I will summarize the most important new general features of Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials. My next post covers the cloud-related features.

For small businesses

Windows Essentials Server 2012 R2 as it’s the only real “successor” to Small Business Server 2011 which is what most of my clients run today. Don’t forget the deadline – last day for purchasing SBS 2011 OEM is the 31st of December 2013.

This flavor of Windows Server has been around since Essentials 2011 and we looked at the previous version here. It’s designed to take the benefits of SBS (easy to use dashboard, wizards for all day to day tasks, web based easy remote access, centralized security) and marry it with the benefits of the cloud. Designed for up to 25 users with no CAL requirements it’s the ideal small business server – as long as they have a decent internet connection.

The most surprising move in this release is perhaps that the unique features of Essentials such as the dashboard, centralized client PC backup and Remote Web Access (RWA) are now also offered as a role in Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard and Datacenter. So you don’t have to buy the Essentials SKU to have the experience, although only Essentials offers CAL free access for up to 25 client computers.


The Dashboard in Essentials has been gradually improved over the last few versions and is now so complete that you rarely have to go to “real” Server Manager for any task.


Another excellent new feature that I couldn’t test as it’s only available when you’ve bought your server with Essentials and the OEM has prepared the functionality is to install it as a virtual machine. Built into the Essentials license is the option to run Hyper-V as a base OS and then the server runs as a VM. This is an excellent option for small businesses as it simplifies backup and disaster recovery.


Other improvements are that you can now have more than one Essentials 2012 R2 server in your network, the new Connector to hook up clients machines can be used from a remote location and can also trigger automatic VPN connectivity on domain joined clients so they are always connected. You can now connect a client to a different Essentials server without reinstallation of the Connector software, you can manage groups of users directly in the Essentials dashboard and you can set quotas for server folders.


File History is now configured per user instead of per device and you can automatically restore File History backups to a new machine if your old PC was lost for some reason. A client PC can also be fully restored over the network through Windows Deployment Services instead of having to use a DVD as a source. BranchCache is now built in and would be useful for larger business that deploys Essentials in smaller branch offices.

In the next part of this series we’ll look at how Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials works with or in the cloud.


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