Microsoft has released a number of versions of Windows Server 2012, including one with the Essentials label. It's meant to be a follow-on product to Windows Small Business Server (SBS) Essentials. The target implementation is any situation where no more than 25 users will be connected to the system. You can actually add more than 25 users to the system, but you'll get a warning that you're exceeding the EULA and need to delete another user to stay in compliance.
Functionality in the 2012 Essentials product is similar to its predecessor in that the focus is on providing a centralized file storage capability for both sharing and backups. Along with the local file capabilities comes a remote access feature that provides secure access to those same files from virtually anywhere you can connect to the Internet. While the SBS Essentials 2011 version is no longer for sale, having been replaced by the 2012 version, the SBS Standard version remains available until June 30, 2013.
Windows Server 2012 Essentials has a number of tweaks not found in the main product, including a Dashboard tool meant to help part-time administrators accomplish basic tasks without any advanced Microsoft certification training. When you install Windows Server 2012 Essentials for the first time, you must either create a new domain or join an existing one. This step is required in order to implement the standard Windows Active Directory structure, which controls users and specific access rights.
In addition to the normal file and system-level backups, Windows Server 2012 Essentials supports the new file history feature for Windows 8 clients. This feature provides a self-service approach to recovering accidentally deleted or overwritten files. It does require the client to be running Windows 8, so you should keep that in mind. While not included in the base product, there is also a provision to connect your Windows Server 2012 Essentials installation to the Windows Azure backup service for automated off-site storage as well.
Speaking of cloud services, there's an add-on to connect your users directly to Microsoft's Office 365 service. The synchronization provides seamless access for users through synchronizing passwords so that they don't have to log in twice. There is an additional cost for both the backup and Office 365 service and depends on how much data you want to protect and the number of users.
There are a few things you don't get with Windows Server 2012 Essentials including Hyper-V. You can, however, run Windows Server 2012 Essentials in a virtual machine, which would include Microsoft's Hyper-V server. You also don't have on-site Exchange or SharePoint functionality in this version, which might not be an issue in any case. The bottom line on Windows Server 2012 Essentials is a solid file backup and sharing solution to meet most any small workgroup situation.
What I found interesting is that he said many companies consider it and are interested in the concept but along the path they change their minds and decide it's either not worth the cost, effort or they see something else that makes them question if it will work. That's something I wonder if MS is capturing in these talks. I don't see Office 365 as being flawed at it's core, and it has some strong selling points but I wonder what is turning people off.
I think you're right about Office 365 -- most businesses don't see a reason to change and they are used to what they have (kind of like XP!). I think in time, depending on costs, people will migrate over and new businesses will sign on.
I was talking to a MS licensing rep the other day, he said that they have a lot of interest but not many people actually going in the 365 direction. I think part of the reason is that not every company has the infrastructure to move to a cloud based office suite but they are perfectly setup for local suites because that's what they've been doing for the last 20 years.
There isn't much that you can't do in the cloud as far as personal computing goes. One thing that I do since I don't fully trust the cloud is I keep local copies of things like digital pictures since those are things that I can't re-create if they are lost.
@SaneIT: I am with you...I used to keep my rack in the attic next to the airhandler so I could drop ducting onto it -- worked well enough. However that seems kinda silly now when you can get everything you need in the cloud...or can you..?
Since I'm not storing things like financial information or information so sensitive that it could be damaging I don't have any problems with letting someone else hold the data and manage the back end for me. I used to have a server rack in the dining room for all the things I did as side projects now I have a couple servers tucked away in discreet locations and the majority of what I do lives on a provider's network. This arrangement is much less awkward to explain when people come over to visit.
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