Email Options Supported by Windows Server 2012 Essentials

Email Options Supported by Windows Server 2012 Essentials

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[Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Rong Yu from Windows Server Essentials Team]

As Joe mentioned in a previous blog post, one of the key capabilities of Windows Server 2012 Essentials (Essentials) is the flexibility of choosing different types of email services. Essentials provides built-in support for Office 365 and an on-premises Exchange Server running on a second server. It will also have support for third-party hosted Exchange service providers to integrate with Essentials.

In this post I will walk you through each of the email options that Windows Server 2012 Essentials supports.

On-premises Exchange Server

We understand that cloud‑based email may not be the best option for some small businesses for various reasons, such as poor and/or expensive Internet connectivity. We have also heard from many of our partners that an on-premises Exchange Server is still a preferred option for many customers. Although Windows Server 2012 Essentials does not include Exchange Server as a component product, we do support running Exchange Server on a second server, and we provide a similar integrated mailbox management experience via the Dashboard as we had with Windows Small Business Server (Windows SBS) 2011 Standard.

Here are the common topologies for setting up an Exchange Server on a second server in a Windows Server 2012 Essentials environment:

  • Deploy Windows Server 2012 Essentials and Exchange Server on separate physical servers. On the first server, you’ll set up Windows Server 2012 Essentials (see the system requirements). On the second server, you’ll install Windows Server (either Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard or Windows Server 2012 Standard) and Exchange Server (Exchange Server 2010 or Exchange Server 2013). Note that Exchange Server 2010 SP2 only supports installation on Windows Server 2008 R2. A minimum of 2 processor cores and 8 GB memory is required for setting up the Exchange server. For more information about the system requirements for Exchange Server, see Exchange 2010 System Requirements.
  • Deploy Windows Server 2012 Essentials and Exchange Server in a virtualized environment. In this case, you can set up a Hyper-V virtualization host by using a single, more powerful server running Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard or Windows Server 2012 Standard. Then you can create one guest virtual machine running Windows Server 2012 Essentials and a second guest virtual machine running the Exchange server.

After Exchange Server is installed, you can turn on the integration with Windows Server 2012 Essentials. The integration includes:

  • Simple configuration. Simply click the Getting Started task for the on-premises Exchange Integration. The wizard will automatically discover the on-premises Exchange Server and configure the integration with Essentials.
  • Integrated mailbox management.
    • An administrator can create an associated mailbox when creating a new user account on Windows Server 2012 Essentials.
    • An administrator can edit a user’s email address or enforce a mailbox quota.
    • When a user account is deleted, the user’s mailbox will also be disconnected and will be scheduled for later recycling.
  • Integrated Exchange Server health notification. Administrators will receive alerts in the Essentials Dashboard if any of the Exchange services are not running in a healthy status.
  • Reverse proxy configuration. If you have only one public IP from your Internet service provider, you’ll need a reverse proxy to redirect Exchange requests coming from the Internet to the Exchange Server running on the second server. We recommend Application Request Routing as the reverse proxy. The on-premises Exchange Integration provides a configuration tool to automatically configure ARR.

To see how you can integrate an on-premises Exchange Server and manage users’ mailboxes from Windows Server 2012 Essentials, watch the following video:

We have provided a whitepaper about how to set up an Exchange Server on a Windows Server 2012 Essentials network. We’ve received some great feedback already and are continuously making improvements. Robert Pearman, a Windows SBS MVP, has also documented the screenshot-by-screenshot steps he followed to set up an on-premises Exchange Server, which you may also find helpful.

Office 365

Office 365 provides secure and anywhere, anytime access to emails and calendars, Office Web Apps, instant messaging, conferencing, and file sharing. The Office 365 for small businesses plan is designed for small businesses with 25 or fewer employees at just $6 per user per month. Of course, you can also choose other Office 365 plans like the standalone Exchange Online plan or Office 365 for midsize businesses and enterprises plan to best meet your specific needs.

For small businesses, moving the email workload to Office 365 means you don’t need to worry about setting up an Exchange Server or dealing with version upgrades. You don’t need to worry about maintaining and troubleshooting an on-premises Exchange Server, and you are assured of 99.9% uptime that is financially backed up by Microsoft. It also means you can purchase a less expensive server to run Essentials compared to Windows SBS Standard, as the latter has higher system requirements.

Microsoft has also been investing in making more opportunities in Office 365 for partners. Office 365 Open was recently announced at the 2012 Worldwide Partner Conference to offer a new way for partners to sell Office 365. It enables partners to realize more revenue, deliver packaged services in a single invoice, and own the customer relationship completely.

Windows Server 2012 Essentials builds on the previous Office 365 Integration Module for Windows SBS 2011 Essentials. This option is now part of the core product (no separate download is required) and it provides a seamlessly integrated management experience on Essentials for customers who are using Office 365 for their email.

On top of the core feature set that was included in the Office 365 Integration Module for Windows SBS 2011 Essentials, such as integrated user account management and automatic user password synchronization, we’ve also made a few enhancements to make the experience better.

  • Support for multiple email addresses. Feedback we’ve heard from customers and partners is that it’s a fairly common scenario for a small business to have multiple email domains and to assign multiple email addresses to a single user. Now with Windows Server 2012 Essentials, you can easily do that from within the Dashboard. Following is a screenshot of the User Properties dialog box.


To add another email address to a user, you can simply click the “Add” button as shown in the preceding screenshot.

  • Improved Office 365 domain configuration wizard. In the Office 365 Integration Module for Windows SBS 2011 Essentials, you are required to configure Remote Web Access (RWA) when configuring a domain for Office 365. This caused some confusion. For example, you were required to provide an SSL certificate which is not actually needed by Office 365, but is required by RWA. In Windows Server 2012 Essentials, we have de-coupled the two and you’ll see a more concise experience. Another improvement is that you’ll have an option to configure a different domain name for Office 365 than for RWA. This allows a small business to continue to use the same free domain names like for RWA on Essentials and a different vanity domain name for their email in Office 365.
  • Display mailbox usage information. The Office 365 tab on the Windows Server 2012 Essentials Dashboard will show the mailbox usage information (note this feature is not available in the Beta).

Third-Party Hosted Email Services

There are many hosters offering differentiated and competitive hosted email services to small businesses. The benefits of small businesses choosing a hosted email service are similar to Office 365, including lower system requirements for the server and reduced maintenance costs. One of the goals for Windows Server 2012 Essentials is to provide flexibility to small businesses to use these third-party hosted email services. For partners, it also means that they have more options to choose from, to best serve their customers.

We know there are many different types of hosted email providers, and it’s impossible to have a standard integration feature that works with all providers. Windows Server 2012 Essentials will include a Hosted Email Add-in Framework that is designed to help hosted email providers to develop add-ins offering a tailored and integrated management experience on Essentials with their own hosted email services. A service provider can pre-install their add-in with Essentials to allow customers to select their email option or make it available for customers to install after the initial setup.

While hosted Exchange email providers are the focus for designing the Hosted Email Add-in Framework, the framework itself is engineered to be email service-agnostic, and non-Exchange–based email providers can also leverage it to build their integration for Essentials.

This feature is still under development and is not available in the Beta. We will share more details about the framework as we get closer to release, so please stay tuned for further updates.


Windows Server 2012 Essentials provides the flexibility for small businesses to choose different email options. It also opens up new opportunities for partners to grow their business by supporting cloud solutions and providing a variety of email solutions that best fit their customers’ needs.

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  • Now that we have on-prem Exchange back on the scene, I find this an acceptable solution.  I provide many customizations for my clients.  By the way, the other term for "customization" is "COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE."  Through customization of workflow to meet their business needs, to trim down data entry costs, to deliver robust reporting and business intelligence, my clients deliver better services to their customers.  And all my clients are doctors.  

    I am certain everyone reading this wants to go see a doctor whose office is EFFICIENT with smooth WORKFLOW and is able to TRIM COSTS to deliver a better SERVICE TO YOU.  

    Cloud solutions are not as friendly for such customizations/competitive advantage.  Cloud is more like leasing a car.  Great for the low payments (though not always) and getting new a new car often - but you may want to think twice about adding a custom stereo, Borla exhaust, or engine modifications.


  • I agree with JamesNT.  However Microsoft, you need to keep the licensing model affordable in comparison to SBS Standard.  You also need to include Windows Server 2012 Essentials for customers that have Software Assurance on their SBS Standard license and not just Windows Server 2012 Standard and Exchange.  Doing so gives existing SBS Standard customers most of the same features they initial paid for and expect.

  • I can't quite get my head around this logic.....

    Apart from paying hundreds for a few wizards and thousands extra on hardware, why wouldn't we just ditch Essentials and run a single server with 2008R2 and Exchange 2010 (or 2013)

    It's like you're saying we should pay even more than we already are going to have to.....

  • Installing Exchange on a domain controller has never been a recommended configuration.

    It will work but there will be some issues, it's always been a best practice to have a seperate domain controller and exchange server.

  • OK then with that logic to support the small business community, will there be an "sbs exchange add-on" that includes a license for Server Standard and Exchange?

  • I do not understand Microsoft's decision regarding SBS at all ("to the cloud" notwithstanding).  Regardless of whether or not Exchange on a DC was recommended in the enterprise, SBS has been doing it well for nearly 15 years.  It has been the go-to products for VARs supporting small businesses for ages and now we're talking about imposing a significant surcharge on those same customers that made the product so successful to begin with.

    Right now Dell has OEM SBS priced under $900.00.  For a small 5 user company I can have the communication and collaborative capabilities of Exchange Server, the remote access ease of the Remote Web Workplace, and company intranet simplicity of Sharepoint for under $900 on a single piece of reasonably-priced server hardware with no additional ongoing costs (i.e. hosted Exchange).  What will the cost be for a comparable 2012 Essentials setup?  Double?  More?

    It seems to me that I should start stockpiling SBS 2011 now before its demise in Dec. 2013.

    I'm trying not to be cynical, but all I keep thinking is "Stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid ".


  • And when the eventual world wide crash in the cloud occurs - who will be liable for the financial/data mess - or is that the day that Microsoft ends ?

  • How about MS ditches Server 2012 Essentials and bring back SBS?  That would solve the issue of onsite email that your partners have been telling you is the preferred option.

  • does anyone have more information on the reverse proxy setup?  It is mentioned as a "oh by the way" link but seems like it maybe a bit more complex that it seems

  • Seems a bit of a kick in the teeth for exisitng SBS users as there is now only a 25 user license with Essential. The SBS solution is the best option for most of our customers. All this will do is bring on 3rd party solutions for email so Microsoft will did out on expected revenue for 365 and may even loose the O/S as Windows may not be necessary without exchange.


  • When, oh when will Microsoft stop shooting itself in both feet? They seem hell bent on taking over the world with products that NOBODY wants. Us IT Consultants have been merrily selling great SBS products and Windows products for years and years. Then Windows 8 comes out (which I will NOT sell) and they drop SBS with on site Exchange. I have tried Office 365 and it is just not as good as what we have in SBS 2011. I cannot sell this mess. Why do small companies want to have two servers which take up twice the space on SMALL sites and cost three or four times more that the one SBS 2011 server. THEY DO NOT. I no longer have Microsoft products that I can sell. Absolutely pathetic. Whoever came up with the idea to drop SBS needs to be put on gardening leave NOW. Bring back SBS.

  • Agree this is silly, small businesses needed the SBS package. It worked good for all my clients as well.

  • Its now 2015 and I still cant find a feasible solution that was as great as SBS 08/11!!
    It looks like M$ just shot all its small/mid businesses and partners.
    I have clients that are in some locations of the city that cant get a better internet connect of 5mbps down and 800kbps up. How are the supposed to sync 16 users with +10GB mailboxes.????
    so looks like they will be on SBS 11 for a very long time. Unless they would like to relocate their office or fork out half the cost of the ISP to rip up the street to get cable or fiber installed ($15K) and make a commitment for 5 year of service.

    lets look at cost (month to month) of office 365, for others that have an internet connection;
    365 Business basic(email box and online storage) = $6.20 per mailbox per month @ 10 ppl is $62, 1year = $744
    365 Business (emailbox, online storage, free copy of office for desktop, and some SharePoint) = $12.70 per mailbox per month @ 10 ppl is $127, 1 year = $1524

    then you have to ask a business to pay for some support time ( I need to live and eat too)

    FYI Office 365 has had outage's and if your going to use the B$ file sync which they stole from dropbox all computer must have enough HDD space (so much for your nice fast SSD).

    Thanks M$ thanks!!