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First look: Windows Server Blue beta shows compelling improvements

Jonathan Hassell | June 27, 2013
Storage, virtualization, management and other improvements make Windows Server 2012 R2 a must-have.

For the smaller business
Not forgotten is the small business cousin of the main Windows Server product, called 2012 R2 Essentials. Microsoft essentially killed off its past small business product, known as Small Business Server (SBS) Standard, in June 2012 and replaced it with a Windows Server variant that essentially wants to integrate with the cloud by default.

The current version sets up a simple Active Directory domain, lets you share files and back up client computers centrally, and then integrates in a very simple, non-detailed way with Office 365. Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials takes all of this a big step further, however.

The OS' beta ships with a separate file for Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials, the server meant for small business, which has the Essentials role pre-configured and pre-installed.

Interestingly, the Windows Server 2012 beta ships with a separate ISO file for R2 Essentials, which is essentially (pun intended) the regular Server 2012 R2 product but with the Essentials role pre-configured and pre-installed. This will most likely be sold at a reduced price and be capped at 25 users. But if you purchase another, likely full-priced, SKU of Windows Server 2012 R2, you will be able to use Server Manager to enable this role to enable the unique features available under the Essentials umbrella and also increase the user limit to 200.

Most of those unique features in this release center around enabling integration scenarios with cloud service providers, but in a much deeper way than the initial release did. For instance, the Office 365 integration feature set is now built directly into the product rather than requiring a separate add-in. And it enables better control over user, group and contact synchronization between the local Active Directory data set and the Office 365 cloud infrastructure.

You can also back up your server directly to Windows Azure and, perhaps most interestingly, use the Azure Recovery Service to spin up a replica of your local machine in the cloud so that business continues to run in case of a disaster. In addition, the web-based remote access features of the product have all been rewritten to use HTML5 rather than Microsoft's proprietary (and moribund) Silverlight technology, and are all tablet, mobile and touch compatible for a better experience across a variety of devices.

Since Essentials is Server 2012 R2 underneath, you also get access to all of the new features in the regular versions of the operating system, without any of the strange limitations on configurations and supportability that plagued the previous Small Business Server product.

The last word
The Windows Server team at Microsoft has been largely immune from what have arguably been missteps and public relations foibles that have plagued many other Microsoft departments recently, and rightly so. Windows Server has always been a consistent product and over the last decade in particular has delivered clear, compelling value in each release.


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