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Windows Server 2012 Essentials review

Windows Server 2012 Essentials


It's got some useful new features, but many small businesses already running Small Business Server should stay put

Review Date: 21 Dec 2012

Reviewed By: Tim Anderson

Price when reviewed: £254 (£305 inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £279
(see more store prices)

Ever since the days of Windows NT, Small Business Server (SBS) provided Windows Server and some key applications, including Exchange, at an affordable price for small businesses – and with user-friendly management tools, too. There’s no SBS2012, but Microsoft is offering WS2012 Essentials as a possible replacement.

The big change is that Essentials doesn’t include Exchange. Instead, it integrates with Office 365, which offers hosted Exchange, SharePoint and Lync communications.

Essentials 2012 doesn’t require any CALs, but it’s limited to two physical processors and up to 25 users, where SBS2011 Standard supported up to 75 users with CALs.

Essentials can be run in a VM, but can’t be a Hyper-V host. Active Directory is included, though, with the option of synchronisation with Office 365 users.

Windows Server 2012 Essentials

The Essentials dashboard offers simplified tools for such things as managing users, backing up client computers, backing up server data to a cloud-hosted service and installing add-ins. You can configure Anywhere Access, using DirectAccess technology for remote access to server resources.

On the plus side, Essentials offers small businesses most of the benefits of WS2012 without the hassle and expense of CALs. Presuming you need a server, and use Office 365 or another hosted email service, it’s cost-effective.

Nevertheless, it falls short of the comprehensive package that formed the old SBS. The two things that hurt are the absence of Exchange and the limitation of 25 users. Microsoft points out that you can run Exchange on an additional server if required, but the cost of an additional Windows server and Exchange with the attendant CALs for both will be substantial.

Another disappointing aspect about WS2012 is that Active Directory synchronises with only Office 365, rather than using the more powerful Active Directory Federation Services. Microsoft says this is because the low-end P editions of Office 365 don’t support it. Many businesses that are using SBS2011 and earlier will want to stick with what they have.

Author: Tim Anderson

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