What to look out for in the new Windows Server 2012 Essentials

Better integration with cloud services and simpler virtualisation are some of the new features in the next release of its Microsoft Server 2012 Essentials, the version of Windows Server targeted at small businesses.
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor

The preview version of the next release of Windows Server 2012 Essentials, the version of Windows Server 2012 targeted at small businesses, is available and Microsoft has detailed its new features.

Improvements in the release, known as R2, are aimed at making it simpler to manage larger IT estates, spanning on-premise and cloud services, and allowing small businesses to more easily virtualise their environments, according to a Microsoft blogpost released yesterday.

Cloud service integration

The release introduces new configuration options to make it simpler to deploy an Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials image onto the Windows Azure cloud platform. These configurations turn off features such as client backup and storage spaces by default to avoid large amounts of data being transferred across the internet. The release is also designed to work with the recently announced Windows Azure Pack.

Cloud services can be more easily managed from the Service Manager Dashboard, with the addition of a services integration status page that shows which services are attached and available.

The release also integrates Microsoft cloud services more deeply with the OS. The integration of Windows Azure Active Directory will provide identity and access services for on-premise and cloud applications. The feature enables single sign-on and password synchronisation between local Active Directory and cloud services such as Office 365. User Groups can be managed from the Dashboard, and these groups can by synchronized using Windows Azure Active Directory integration.

R2 Essentials enables new Office 365 features to be controlled from the Server Manager Dashboard, with a view to making it easier to manage a larger IT estate. These features include the ability to create and manage email distribution groups, to manage mobile devices connected to the Office 365 service and to create and manage SharePoint libraries.

Another addition is integration with Windows Intune, the cloud service for managing PCs and connected devices that looks after tasks such as software patch distribution and endpoint protection, as well as application distribution for staff using personal devices in the workplace. The administrator can manage users, security groups and licences for Windows Intune services from the dashboard.

Meanwhile, Windows Azure Online Backup service — which provides the ability to back up a server's key data to Windows Azure cloud storage — will be accessible from the services integration tab of the Dashboard in R2, although this feature is not available in the preview.

Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials attempts to simplify the complexity of configuring and managing virtual instances of the operating system. The Windows Server Essentials guest virtual machine can be set up on a Windows Server Essentials host server. This can be set up manually by the administrator or, depending on the OEM configuration, a wizard, which guides users through the process of setting up the guest VM during installation of the server. All of the setup, configuration and connection to the Essentials server from the client PCs is made to the guest virtual machine.

Microsoft Server Essentials 2012 R2 dashboard. Image: Microsoft


Remote management

Microsoft is also promising the release will make it easier to manage Windows Server from mobile devices with the release.

The Remote Web Access feature, which enables users and administrators to access data and connect to computers running in their office network from any internet browser, has a new touch-optimised interface based on HTML5 web technologies.

Microsoft is also promising to continue to update the My Server application for Windows Phone and Windows 8 and RT, with plans to add new features such as SharePoint Online libraries.

Businesses running Standard and Datacenter editions will also be able to add Windows Server Essentials Experience as a role to allow larger businesses to get the release's simplified remote access and client backup tools of the Essentials edition.

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