Windows Server Essentials 2012

Small Business Server, one of the “best deals going” for small businesses needing enterprise server services on a small business budget was discontinued after the 2011 version was released, but only in name. Windows Server Essentials 2012 has however taken up the banner for small businesses and looks to be a great replacement. Essentials 2012 is missing a few options that used to be major parts of the SBS package. First, is that there is no built in Exchange Server. From my point of view, this is a good thing. Taking care of Exchange can be a daunting task, and when Exchange isn’t working neither is the small business it serves. In Essentials, Microsoft has opted for the ability to integrate Active Directory (the database used to manage users on the network) with Office 365, allowing companies to manage users of both Exchange for Office 365 and network users from within Active Directory. Another option that is no longer available is the Advanced server option, which has included a license for SQL server or SQL Express. Since SQL Express is free and adding an extra server for Applications that use SQL is no more of a chore than adding a client computer, the only real loss here is the small discount Microsoft gave on the Windows Server Standard License.

This past month I migrated an office to Windows Server Essentials 2012. When the server booted, I was presented with a Windows 8 like Start screen. My first response was to just shake my head and wonder why. After some time getting used to the interface, I found that all the tools that I needed to continue with the setup and migration and thought no more about the new Metro interface being added. Getting around was no more difficult than it was in SBS 2003, once I got used to it.

Once I began setting things up, I discovered that the Wizards and Dashboards are the best yet for getting a quick clean installation up and running. The Server dashboard walks you through all of the initial configuration in a very clear and simple yet informative way. Many of the services were tested and verified to be working by wizard as part of the setup for the service being configured in that step of the process. The Dashboard also gives you access to tools to manage user, computers, automatic client computer backups, storage, and file shares. For more advanced configuration and monitoring, the Windows Server 2012 Server Manager is included giving administrators quick access to a dashboard that shows information about the health of services running on the server. From here, familiar tools to manage Active Directory and other services are just a click away. Again, it took some getting used to navigating each of these layers, but Essentials isn’t designed for IT admins like me — it is designed for small businesses with little or no IT support to be able to get a server up and running easily. With that in mind, Essentials delivers on that goal. It just works, and just about anyone could set one up.

Essentials delivers on everything a small business needs to get started with a first server or as a replacement for old Small Business Servers needing to be replaced. It sets up quickly and provides a minimal touch experience for getting a network set up with all the tools it needs to support users working both in the office and out. I give it 2 thumbs up even with the Metro interface, because like I said before it’s still just Windows – just like Windows 8.