Get Started with the Dashboard in Windows Server 2012 Essentials

Get Started with the Dashboard in Windows Server 2012 Essentials

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[Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Mike Chen from Windows Server Essentials team]

“One of the greatest challenges for small businesses from the IT perspective has been that they can’t afford a dedicated IT pro to set up, deploy, and administer their IT environment; however, they leverage IT infrastructure for their productivity as much as enterprises do. Windows Server 2012 Essentials addresses how to bring enterprise level IT infrastructure to small businesses in an affordable way.”

Joe Nalewabau, group program manager on the Windows Server Essentials team


Hi my name is Mike Chen, a program manager on the Windows Server 2012 Essentials team. Today, I’d like to give you an overview of the Dashboard in Windows Server 2012 Essentials.

Windows Server 2012 Essentials is designed to make management easy and optimized for customers in three ways:

  1. Provides a central place for IT admins to do common administrative tasks
  2. Tasks are simplified without requiring lots of IT knowledge
  3. Provides actionable steps for troubleshooting

The Dashboard has traditionally been the central place for common administrative tasks, such as managing users and devices, and can be accessed from both the server and the client computer. In this release, our major goal is to make sure we have a comprehensive management story across the usage life cycle of the products.

Home page

One of the most obvious changes you’ll see when you open the Dashboard is the new home page. We redesigned the entire home page to offer you a guided initial configuration experience. After you walk through the home page tasks, your server will be configured to offer greater productivity. Following are the key common tasks for initial configurations that we have identified:

  • Configure update setting
  • Create user accounts for employees
  • Create shared folders
  • Configure backup
  • Configure Anywhere Access
  • Configure email alert notifications
  • Configure Media Server
  • Connect computers to the server

These tasks represent key features in the product that you can use to increase business productivity. For each task, you will be educated about what the feature is and be able to complete the task directly from the home page. You can also skip the task if you decide not to configure a certain feature. In this way, you will get an opportunity to understand the key value propositions of the product and have full flexibility to choose what you need. After you receive a green checkmark for all the items, your server is on its way to bringing productivity to your business.

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In the entire design, we’ve adopted the latest principles of UI design to make the user interface clean and to help the user to focus on the task.

After you’re finished with the setup tasks, you will be able to view the quick status of each server, which provides a summary on the status of the server features. For example, in the following figure, you can quickly identify how many users, shared folders, and computers you have in the environment.

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As you can see, the home page is also the entrance for you to configure email solutions, add-ins, and get online Help content. The home page has full extensibility that allows partners/ISVs to add additional tasks, status, and Help links.

Simplified tasks

The next step after having the right set of tasks is to simplify the tasks. In the Dashboard, most of the tasks can be completed in a few clicks.

For example, a very common task for small businesses is to create user accounts for new employees and assign them share permissions. With the native tool, you needed to use the Active Directory Users and Computers tool, understand what Active Directory was, and where you should create the user account. You also needed to go to folder properties to change the user permissions. If you’re not an IT pro, you could easily be confused by the complexity of the Active Directory structure and many user properties.

By using the Dashboard, you can add a user with customized permissions on shared folders and remote access in just one simple wizard, where everything is streamlined. By using Email Service Integration, you can even assign a mail box to the user account at the same time.

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Windows Server 2012 Essentials provides many unique features out of the box, such as client backup and remote web access. With a few clicks, you will be able to protect your client computers and bring up a remote workspace for your business.

Health monitoring and client monitoring

Troubleshooting is always inevitable no matter how good the quality of the product is. Problems may happen because of misconfiguration, hardware failure, low disk space, etc. Windows Server 2012 Essentials offers a health alert system, monitoring the status of key workloads on the server, including key services, backups, Anywhere Access, and users and devices. The alert is presented in an alert viewer with actionable steps to help the user resolve the problem. You can also delete or ignore alerts that you don’t care about.

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A new feature in health monitoring in this release is the integration of the security status of client computers with the Dashboard; therefore, for clients that you’re managing from the server, you’re able to have an overview of their status for Windows updates and security settings. For example, you can quickly find which computer doesn’t have AV software installed. In addition, you can use a shortcut on the Dashboard to connect remotely to the computer that has issues.

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New features

Following is a quick glance of the many new features and improvements that we have implemented for the Dashboard in this release (some of these features will be discussed in depth in upcoming blogs):

  • Managing Office 365
  • Managing on-premises Exchange Server
  • Managing a second server
  • Integrating with Windows Azure Online Backup
  • Easy VPN setup
  • Storage space integration
  • Managing file history settings
  • Enabling Media functions
  • Configuring folder redirection and security settings by using Group Policy (replacing Windows 7 Professional Pack for Windows SBS)
  • Monitoring users’ remote connections
  • Full Windows PowerShell support

Add-ins and extensibility

Customers can get continuous value from Windows Server 2012 Essentials by installing add-ins. In markets today, many add-ins exist that customers can install for previous releases. Some add-ins can add more functions to the Dashboard, while others can integrate with third-party online services.

In this release, we have made a big investment to ensure that we have a backward compatibility story. Add-ins that work with previous releases will continue to work with Windows Server 2012 Essentials. We also provide additional extensibility points on the home page, web services, mail solutions, etc.

Microsoft Pinpoint serves as the marketplace for Windows Server. We recommend that our partners post their add-ins there. To help customers easily find and download add-ins, the Microsoft Pinpoint tab lists the top 10 add-ins available.

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Your feedback is important

We’re looking forward to your feedback. We know there’s a lot more to improve. Please let us know your suggestions on the forum.

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Comments
  • So how exactly do you manage a second server?

  • Mike Chen..........simple question over the weekend.

    Have been using Windows Server 2003 for years.  Updgraded to Windows Server 2012 Standard on trial.........but I have only four employees so I ended up purchasing and installing Windows 2012 Essentials.

    Good product but some trouble getting Remote Desktop to install work.............can't get a straight answer on Friday from Microsoft Volume Licensing/support/anyone..........spend 10+ hours on it on Friday.

    Started a paid case this AM (Saturday 12/29.............could not get answers until Monday as no Essentials Engineers available)  The more I read.............Essentials replaces and emulates Windows Small Business Server 2011.......which had to have an add-in for Remote Desktop.   I personally like Remote Destop over what I've seen for Remote Web Access (aka Anywhere Access.....it does get confusing).

    My question...............can I run Remote Desktop Services on Essentials without any add-ins or additional RDL licenses?

    Thanks  Phil Hunkler  Charlotte, NC   phil@hunklersearch.com

  • You didn't tell me how to find the dashboard and I still haven't found it.