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Windows Server 2012 Essentials feature list

[Today’s post comes to us courtesy Joe Nalewabau from Windows Server Essentials Team]

Now that the beta for Windows Server 2012 Essentials (Essentials 2012) has been released, many customers and partners have asked for a “feature list” for Essentials 2012.

I’ve taken the major features for Essentials 2012 and broken them down into the following categories:

  • Data protection
  • Anywhere Access
  • Core Infrastructure improvements
  • Email Integration

From a broad feature perspective, Essentials 2012 builds on the existing feature set in Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials (SBS 2011 Essentials). We started there and through the planning and development phase used a number of principles to guide our work. In my recent post on the Window Server blog, I described some of the Essentials 2012 features, and in this post I have reused the same general descriptions of those features.

Data protection

Data protection has always been a key feature in all of the products our team has produced (in fact we have a dedicated feature team for data protection). The major data protection features we have enhanced or added in Essentials 2012 include:

  • Storage Spaces. Storage Spaces is new to Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 and offers a number of compelling scenarios for first-server environments including easy capacity expansion and resiliency for physical disk failures using commodity disk hardware. The ability to simply add a disk drive and increase capacity has long been a request from customers and partners. In Essentials 2012, we have integrated Storage Spaces through wizards and alerts to help make it simple and easy to use.
  • File History. File History is a new Windows 8 feature that allows you to store changes made to files on your client machine and then easily find and restore previous versions without requiring the assistance of an administrator. In Essentials 2012, we have made it simple for the administrator or partner to configure Windows 8 clients from with the Dashboard to turn on File History and point the File History folder to the Essentials 2012 server. This is a great experience for Windows 8 clients as it provides the added safely of having their File History stored on the server.
  • Microsoft Online Backup Service. Essentials 2012 integrates with the Microsoft Online Backup Service which makes it simple for customers to register their server and perform online backups. This provides an additional layer of protection above local Windows Server Backup mechanisms.
  • Support for backing up 50 client machines. SBS 2011 Essentials had backup support for up to 25 machines. Essentials 2012 doubles this support to 50 machines. We also made some significant performance improvements to client backup.
  • > 2 TB disk support. SBS 2011 Essentials did not support disk drives greater than 2TB for backup and restore. This was a common request from customers (especially from Home Server customers) and we added this in Essentials 2012.

Anywhere Access

Anywhere Access is a term we use to cover the various ways that customers can access their server, whether they are using a remote PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Major updates and new features in this area include:

  • Remote Web Access (RWA). RWA is an existing feature that many of our customers love. In Essentials 2012, we made a number of improvements with one of the biggest being making sure it works well on touch‑first devices such as the Windows 8 based touch devices, the iPad and Android tablet devices. RWA now supports HTTP progressive download media streaming from the server in additional to Silverlight media streaming. We have also improved the access to files and folders on the server, allowing an administrator to control which shared folders appear in RWA – an often requested feature in SBS 2011 Essentials.
  • Windows 8 Metro application. We are building a Windows 8 Metro application for accessing Essentials 2012 servers. The existing LaunchPad client app will continue to be available for Windows 8, but we also wanted to build a Windows 8 app that enables users to quickly and easily access and control their server. We are very excited about this app as it allows for some very cool scenarios – especially around people who are travelling and need seamless access to files and folders or media from their server. This is our first client app that supports an off-line mode for people who are remote – another request from partners and customers. In addition, we implemented many of the Windows 8 standard interfaces in our app which allows for a range of new scenarios natively from Windows 8, e.g., simple uploading and searching of files on Essentials 2012.
  • Updated Windows Phone 7 application. We have updated the existing Windows Phone 7 application to work with Essentials 2012 servers – including the ability to access files and folders on the server (this functionality was not available in the previous version). A new Quick Status pane provides information about the state of your server.
  • Remote Connection Monitoring. Essentials 2012 allows administrators to see who is (and has been) remotely connected to the server.
  • Remote domain join. Essentials 2012 allows client machines to join their server without having to be inside the company network. This will make it significantly easier when working with remote users and their machines.
  • Simplified VPN configuration. Essentials 2012 allows customers to quickly and easily configure VPN access to their servers. Client machines are configured with the right connections, allowing users to easily access server resources when they are working remotely on their client machines.
  • Improved SDK extensibility with Web Services. This is more of a developer‑facing feature, but we are very excited about the possibilities this opens up. Essentials 2012 has a set of web services that allow developers to write a new set of apps that interact with the server. As an implementation note, we use these services inside the Windows 8 Metro and Windows Phone applications.

Core Infrastructure improvements

In this section I have listed some of the core infrastructure improvements that we have done in Essentials 2012. Major updates and new features in this area include:

  • Simplified moving past 25 users/50 devices. One of the major pieces of feedback about SBS 2011 Essentials was that once a customer had grown beyond the 25 user limit they had to migrate to Windows Server Standard. After the migration, key SBS-specific features that they had come to depend on (e.g., client backup, Remote Web Access), were no longer available.
  • We wanted to address this issue in Essentials 2012 and so we now allow customers to do an in-place license transition to Windows Server 2012 Standard. After the transition, customers are running Windows Server 2012 Standard without any of the licensing limitations of Essentials 2012, but the majority of Essentials 2012 functionality continues to operate and is fully supported for up to 75 users and 75 devices. (Note that while there are no restrictions placed on the number of users/devices that can be added to a Windows Server 2012 Standard environment, there are maximum supportability limits for the Essentials 2012 features.)
  • Media support. We enabled the core media experiences of Windows Home Server 2011 and Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials on Essentials 2012, which brings the ability to easily share pictures as well as stream video and music from the server. Media on the server can be shared in a number of ways, including DLNA-compliant devices on the server network, Remote Web Access, as well as the Windows Phone 7 client and the Windows 8 Metro client.
  • Dashboard Updates. The Dashboard is the main UI for administrators. In Essentials 2012, we made a number of changes to make the Dashboard more useful for everyday usage:
    • Making the Home Page more useful. The Essentials 2012 home page has been redesigned to not only make getting started easier but also more useful after the initial getting started tasks are complete. Home Page will now provide quick status information about the server (e.g. number of users, number of shares, who is connected, etc.) so an administrator or partner can quickly see the state and health of the server.
    • Monitor security and update status for client PCs. Administrators can now quickly see the security setting and Windows update status for client PCs from the Dashboard as well as being able to remotely connect to client machines to fix issues.
    • Servers in the dashboard. Essentials 2012 can now report health and update status of other servers on the network. Supported servers include Windows Server 2012, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Multipoint Server. Administrators will also be able to initiate a remote desktop session to these servers directly from the Dashboard.
  • Add-ins. Essentials 2012 has the same extensibility mechanism used in SBS 2011 Essentials which will allow nearly all add-ins built for SBS 2011 Essentials to continue to work with Essentials 2012. We have also exposed Microsoft Pinpoint information directly in the Dashboard to help customers discover useful add-ins for their server.

Email Integration

A major area of flexibility for Essentials 2012 was providing partners and customers with the choice of where they wanted their email service to be located. In SBS 2011 Standard, email was installed and always assumed to be on‑premises. In SBS 2011 Essentials, we had an add-in for Office 365 connectivity, but no integration was possible with an existing Exchange Server running locally on a second server.

With Essentials 2012, there are three deployment options for messaging and collaboration services for which we provide an integrated management experience:

  1. On-Premises. Essentials 2012 contains integration with an on-premises Exchange Server running on a second server, which can be either physical or virtual.
  2. Office 365. Essentials 2012 builds on the previous Office 365 Integration Module for SBS 2011 Essentials. This option is now part of the core product (no separate download is required) and it allows customers that have an Office 365 account to use this service for their email.
  3. Hosted Exchange. Hosted Exchange providers can offer add-ins to Essentials 2012 that will allow customers to select this option. We know that there are many different types of hosted email providers. While we have focused on hosted Exchange email providers, we engineered the product to be email service agnostic which allows non‑Exchange based email providers to be integrated through this mechanism (note that this specific feature is not available in the beta).


Feature lists are always difficult to write – there are always things you miss as well as different ways to organize the list, but I hope this has provided you with a helpful look at the new features and capabilities of Essentials 2012. Over the next few weeks we will be drilling into specific feature areas with much more detailed information.

If you haven’t already, please download the beta and give us feedback via the Windows Server 2012 Beta Essentials forum. We’d love to hear from you!

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