Download the beta release of Windows Server 2012 Essentials today!

Download the beta release of Windows Server 2012 Essentials today!

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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.

Cheers-- Jeffrey


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. 


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  • Hi, what about us alienated WHS folks? Too expensive.

  • @Graham. Yes, it is an expensive option to the current WHS. I believe that there are some really amazing options here that were obviously missing / removed in WHS 2011 that caused quite a stir if you recall. Namely, Drive Extender.  With the introduction of Windows Server 2012 Essentials you now get DE back kind of. With the introduction of Storage Spaces you just got back the ability and flexibility to add drives of different sizes into your storage pool. When our enthusiasts for WHS were faced with the removal of DE they had to look at some very costly alternatives like Drobo or RAID. 2012 Essentials comes in at a much lower cost than those more costly alternatives. I am not saying that having a DC in the home is the best solution for most, but for our enthusiasts, it just might be the answer. I haven't seen the WHS MVPs weigh in on this. So, I think the jury is still out. Thanks for question.

    Kevin Beares

    Senior Community Lead for Windows Server and Cloud (formally the guy who ran the V1 WHS beta and still openly loves WHS and will be installing 2012 Essentials into his house as his new Home Server)

  • @Kevin,

    SOME of your enthusiasts went to DROBO and RAID, I did not, as I'm sure many also did not. The price is unacceptable for a home software product. Is there any plan to still support a home server market, or is Microsoft giving up the space? I'm not going to pay that much for a home software product, and its a shame, because I want to use it. Why not a 10 user restricted version? Or are you afraid too many small business will buy it instead of this version? Is that was is really going on here?

  • Will domain access be required for Server Essentials? Secondly, can WHS2011 do an in-place upgrade to Essentials 2012?

  • Also a WHS v1 and 2011 user and provider, so I'm a bit sad (if not despondent) to see a $99 server OS supplanted by one coming in at over $400. I have several questions regarding Essentials 2012:

    1) since you're emphasizing the value-add of Storage Spaces, is it safe to assume ReFS is supported in Essentials 2012?

    2) will there be a common Dashboard-style management UI for remote management? will it be customizable based on the application (home server, SMB, storage/NAS, etc.)?

    3) since you say Essentials 2012 RWA "supports" media streaming, does that mean there will be a media streaming web app that functions in the same way as the current WHS site (i.e. Silverlight- or HTML5-based RIA that streams supported media in browser)?

    4) will client computer backups still be supported & managed from the server? will OBS support extend to client backups?

    I'm planning on taking one of my WHS boxes out of production to test various scenarios. Thanks!

  • I just installed the WSE 2012 beta.  


    It is an evolution of the SBS 2011 Essentials product.  It sets up an Active Directory during the install, that's built in just like it was in SBS Essentials 2011.   It is not a "workgroup" setup like WHS 2011.


    There are media streaming options in the Remote Web Access site.  I didn't play around with WHS 2011 very much but from what I remember and what I see now the media streaming in WSE 2012 looks very similar. This is really Server 2012 with just a few limitations so almost everything you can do with Server 2012 you can do on WSE 2012.  Storage Spaces are there, you can do pools setup as simple, mirror, and parity.  ReFS is there as well.  Client backups are part of WSE 2012 too, just like in SBS Essentials 2011.

  • Question for Microsoft...

    I realize there are a few limits to WSE 2012, like the 25 user limit.  I was playing with adding new server roles and noticed the Hyper-V role isn't there.  That makes sense, it wouldn't be a good idea to run VMs on top of WSE 2012.  I noticed that that management tools for Direct Access aren't there.  Too bad, I was hoping to test it out but I realize this is more an of enterprise feature.  Well it was, now that it can be done with a single NIC I think it will be much easier to use for small businesses too.  Hopefully if a customer chooses to upgrade and remove the specific WSE 2012 limits, Direct Access will be allowed.

    One role I was VERY surprised to see missing was the Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) role.  I thought okay, no big deal I'll just download and install WSUS 3.0 SP2 on my own.  I fired up the install and it was blocked saying the program has compatibility issues and to "click here" to get more help online.  Well clicking the button did nothing.  No website or additional information showed up.  I'm very curious why WSUS isn't included as a role and what this incompatibility issue is.  WSUS 3.0 runs just fine on Server 2012 Standard, and the role shows up along with other roles in server manager.  My customers don't run Intune and WSUS serves it's purpose in deploying updates to local computers on the network with a single download repository.  Why was this pulled from WSE 2012, it has value!  Is there something I am missing here?

  • Okay, well it seems Direct Access is possible.  Thanks to James for pointing that out in my post on the TechNet forum.

  • Will Windows Server 2012 Essentials be released when other Server 2012 editions are released?

  • @Kevin - I'll echo Graham's comments; WSE is simply too expensive as a replacement for WHS - $425 is not "home" pricing. And I've not added RAID to my WHS 2011. Have you forgotten Charlie Kindel's "Why RAID is not a consumer technology" post? Those guiding principles are still valid. It's a pity that they were torn up for WHS 2011. They may be back with WSE, but not at a price that is acceptable to home users.

  • Typo on the download link. Says "... 25 uses and 50 devices...." Should be "... 25 useRs and 50 devices..." Note the "R". :-) May need to define what a device is.

  • Not sure if this will work on an HP Microserver as there is no display - does it support "headless" servers??

  • I am currently using WHS2011 and i would definitely upgrade to Server 2012 because i like the new features, but the price is actually to high for me. Do you plan to offer an "upgrade" licence (like you do for Windows 8) so that it is affordable for home usage?

  • Well said Geoff.

    Raid is just not something I'm interested in anyway. Unless you REALLY REALLY need hardware level performance of Raid having the dependence on a specific piece of hardware, that you would have to match carefully to replace is a super bad idea.

    And why on earth would a home user want to buy a RAID controller?? So I'm glad that Storage Spaces seems to fill this void, but very saddened that WSE is priced out of a range where I would consider buying it. In addition, I don't have much desire to have the server act as a DC, unless the maintenance required is about the same as WHS' workgroup operation.

    By taking WHS off the market you've left a big void that there is no satisfactory product to use to fill. WHS 2011 with Storage Spaces would have been pretty kick ass, IMO. Its sad that it won't come to be.

    How much of this decision is driven by MS wanting us to just shove everything in the cloud, as a consumer? I can understand that the market share for a home server may never be especially large due to cloud adoption, but for some of us, it just isn't really a good fit. Why force us to use linux?

  • Jeffrey, doing away with Small Business Server 2012 Standard is a huge mistake.  Did I say huge mistake? I should have said a catastrophic mistake!!!  All of my customers are on some form of SBS Server with Exchange integration on site with heavy Public folder use, so Exchange in the cloud will not work for them and with the economy at a standstill the thought of installing additional hardware with another server license, buying Exchange and its licensing requirements for those users is a very hard sale on a upgrade path for my clients that are ready to update their networks from SBS 2003 or SBS 2008 servers.  

    With no upgrade path for Small Business Server Standard, Microsoft appears to be trying very head to kill small business growth and the IT companies that service businesses using Small Business Server with Exchange on site.  

    Removing the Start Button and making Windows 8 on the desktop much harder to use I can handle but doing away with Small Business Server Standard with Exchange integration is totally unacceptable for me and my customers.