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8 min read

Download the beta release of Windows Server 2012 Essentials today!

What an exciting time to be part of the Windows Server team! Earlier this week we announced the RTM and general availability of Windows Server 2012 in conjunction with the Windows 8 team’s announcement of their dates. Since then we’ve seen a steady stream of exciting news coming out of Toronto where the 2012 World Wide Partner Conference is being held. Today I’m happy to host Joe Nalewabau from the Windows Server Essentials team to make yet another exciting announcement.  By now you should be picking up on some reoccurring themes that keep showing up in these blogs:

  • We spent a lot of time listening to our partners and customers. 
  • We focused on simplicity and flexibility.
  • Users are more productive – they can do what they want with fewer steps.
  • Our Partners have more ways to deploy than ever before – Windows Server 2012 Essentials is a perfect example of that.
  • Our focus on partners and customers allowed us to work across groups effectively to reduce the seams and deliver a coherent and comprehensive solution.
  • We love our partners and customers and can’t wait for you to deploy Windows Server 2012 and enjoy the release that you’ve all been asking us for.

Hi, I’m Joe Nalewabau, Group Program Manager on the Windows Server Essentials team, and today I’m excited to introduce the beta for Windows Server 2012 Essentials (Essentials 2012).

The beta is a significant engineering milestone for the team. We’d obviously like to get as much feedback on the product as possible and you can see and give feedback on the beta through the Windows Server Essentials 2012 Beta Essentials forum.  We are working hard to deliver Essentials 2012 this year and so your feedback on the beta will be critical to us over the next few weeks as we work towards a release candidate and an eventual RTM.

As David Fabritius mentioned in his post last week, Essentials 2012 represents a significant milestone for the product. We have made some changes to the way that we think about the first-server market (SMBs, home offices, etc.) and the products that we offer in this space based on feedback from our customers and partners. This post will provide some high-level insight on how the engineering strategy as we built Essentials 2012. We will follow up with additional blog posts containing deeper information about specific features in the coming weeks.

From an engineering perspective, we planned Essentials 2012 around four core principles:

  • Simplicity and flexibility for customers and partners
  • Better together with Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8
  • Increased device support
  • Continued integration with Cloud Services

Simplicity and flexibility for customers and partners

Historically, the engineering team has developed and supported a number of solution products based on Windows Server. The current in-market products developed and supported by our team include: Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2011 Standard, Windows SBS 2011 Essentials, Windows Home Server (WHS) 2011, and Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials. We also support previous versions of SBS Standard and WHS.

These products are not targeted at the traditional IT Pros. We spend a lot of time creating simple and integrated experiences that will work for non-IT Pros with the help of our broader partner ecosystem of OEMs, Value-Added Resellers and the Small Business Solution Specialist Community.

We approached simplicity and flexibility for customers in Essentials 2012 in a number of ways:

  • Simplified product line-up. After considerable debate and feedback from our customers and partners we decided to simplify the overall product line-up to a single product. During this simplification process, we decided to bring together as much core functionality from our other products as possible in Essentials 2012 (e.g., media features from Home Server and Storage Server Essentials). This simplification, along with the flexibility described later, will enable partners to design and deploy the best solution for customers based on their specific business needs.
  • Simplified moving past 25 users. 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 upgrade to Windows Server 2012 Standard. Now 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.)
  • Flexibility for customers to choose how they want to consume email (on-premises, hosted, or cloud). 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.In Essentials 2012, you will be able to choose where email services reside from the following choices:
    1. On-Premises. Essentials 2012 will integrate with an on-premises Exchange server running on a second server, which can be either physical or virtual.
    2. Office 365. If customers have an Office 365 account they can choose to use this 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).

Better together with Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8

Windows Server 2012 enables an amazing number of scenarios and key technologies for customers. In Essentials 2012 we looked through the huge number of Windows Server features and chose specific ones to deeply integrate. I’d like to call out a few major technologies or processes from Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 that we have integrated:

  • Storage Spaces. Storage Spaces 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 across from customers and partners and in Essentials 2012 we have integrated Storage Spaces through wizards and alerts to make sure it is simple and easy to use.
  • File History. File History is a new Windows 8 technology that allows you to store changes made to files on your client machine and then easily find and restore previous versions. In Essentials 2012, we have made it simple to configure Windows 8 clients to turn File History on and point the File History folder to the Essentials 2012 server. This is a great experience for Windows 8 clients. This capability is turned on for them and they get the added safely of having their File History stored on the server.
  • Application Compatibility. In the past, several SBS customers reported not being able to get support from Line of Business (LOB) application providers as SBS was not listed as a supported OS even though SBS was built on a supported Windows Server operating system.  We have worked hard to ensure that Essentials 2012 is a part of the overall Windows Server 2012 Application Logo Certification program. Applications that pass the Windows Server 2012 Application Logo Certification requirements will also meet the requirements of working on Essentials 2012.  We also significantly expanded the Essentials 2012 application compatibility testing environment.  These efforts should allow ISVs to offer much better support statements going forward for Essentials 2012.

Of course, customers also get a whole range of Windows Server 2012 technologies for free which makes the release even more compelling.

Increased Device support

Another area of focus for the team was around extending our level of support for devices. We know that customers using our existing products have multiple devices and they want to access information and/or control their server from these devices. In Essentials 2012 we have expanded our device support in a number of different ways:

  • 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 that RWA works well on touch first devices including the iPad and Windows 8 based touch devices. RWA also supports media streaming from the server and we have improved the access to files and folders on the server.
  • Native Windows 8 Metro application. We are building a Windows 8 Metro application for accessing Essentials 2012 servers. The existing client LaunchPad will continue to be available for Windows 8, but we wanted to build a Windows 8 native application to allow people to quickly and easily access and control their server. We are very excited about this application as it allows for some very cool scenarios – especially around people who are travelling and need to access files and folders or media from their server. This is our first client application that supports an off-line mode for people who are travelling – another request from customers. In addition, we implemented many of the Windows 8 standard interfaces in this application 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 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).
  • Web Services for extensibility. 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 client applications for the server. As an implementation note, we use these services inside the Windows 8 Metro and Windows Phone applications. Developers can now write different applications/gadgets, etc., to interact with an Essentials 2012 server.

Continue integrating with Cloud Services

Another major focus for us is continuing to integrate with cloud services. Based on research and feedback from our customers we know that many people are looking for ways to integrate with cloud services and we wanted to ensure that Essentials 2012 had great integration with Microsoft’s offerings:

  • Office 365 Integration. In SBS 2011 Essentials, we had deep integration with Office 365 through the Office 365 Integration Module. We have integrated this module directly into Essentials 2012 and updated the support to display more information about Office 365 as well as update our functionality, e.g., bulk importing of Office 365 accounts into Essentials 2012. Office 365 is completely optional – this is an option that people can choose as an email service when they configure their server.
  • Microsoft Online Backup Service. Essentials 2012 has integration with the Microsoft Online Backup Service which makes it simple for customers to register their server and do online backups of it. This provides an additional layer of protection above the existing Server backup mechanisms.

Essentials 2012 has a rich SDK that allows customers and partners to integrate additional services into the server. We made sure that existing add-ins for SBS 2011 Essentials and WHS 2011 continue to run in Essentials 2012.


We are excited about Essentials 2012 and thrilled to be able to get the beta in your hands. The engineering team is eagerly looking forward to hearing your feedback which will help make Essentials 2012 a great release.