Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials - New cloud features

In my last post I covered the most interesting new general features of Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials. Today, I will have look at the cloud-related enhancements.
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Paul Schnackenburg

Paul Schnackenburg works part time as an IT teacher as well as running his own business in Australia. He has MCSE, MCT, MCTS and MCITP certifications. Follow his blog TellITasITis.
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Windows Azure ^

As Microsoft is aggressively pushing Azure it’s no surprise that one way to get the Essentials experience is to spin up a pre-prepared Datacenter VM from the gallery with the role already installed.

You can’t do client bare metal restores from a cloud hosted server, and the client File History backup is turned off by default so you don’t get a shock when your ISP bill arrives but other than that it’d be a viable option if you’re in a country with fast, reliable and cheap broadband.

Windows Azure Pack – the new front end for self service in System Center 2012 R2 can also provide Essentials as an option and I suspect Microsoft sees value here for hosters to be able to offer cloud hosted Essentials servers to SMBs.

Office 365 ^

There’s no denying that Essentials is a product that’s best married to Office 365. Sure, there’s a wizard for integrating an Essentials server with Exchange 2013 but in most cases it’s your local DC and file server and the rest of businesses services (email, collaboration, communication) is provided by the cloud.

This version takes this integration to new heights with password synchronization between your on premises AD identities and Windows Azure Active Directory (WAAD) which Office 365 relies upon. Locally set passwords always take precedence. You can now manage online identities in the Essentials console for both Office 365 and Intune and you can manage Exchange online distribution groups and ActiveSync settings for device email access.

The latter is useful if you’re not using Windows Intune but you want rudimentary control over (BYOD) devices and lets you specify password requirements and also lets you block specific devices based on OS and model of the device as well as issue remote wipes.

SharePoint Online libraries can now be managed from the console and you can have multiple subscription plans incorporated on a single Essentials server.

Backup and Azure ^

Finally Essentials backup can also be integrated with Windows Azure backup, just be aware that your disaster recovery planning needs to be thought out as you can’t do bare metal restores from Azure and if you need to restore a large amount of data it can take a long time depending on your internet connection speed.

Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials Remote Web Access

Remote Web Access will now work in more browsers and is easy to use on a touch device.

Remote Web Access ^

Remote Web Access has been completely overhauled to be based on HTML 5 instead of Silverlight as well as being optimized for touch. There’s also the MyServer app for Windows 8, RT and Windows Phone 8 which lets you manage users, devices, alerts and access shared files.

Conclusion ^

Windows Server Essentials 2012 R2 is a great solution for small businesses that don’t need full email and SharePoint functionality in the office but who want to keep control over their files and backups or where internet connectivity isn’t great. HP’s Microserver is a also a great hardware package for this type of SMB business – the only caveat is the lack of built in RAID 5 but this limitation can be worked around.

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