Microsoft Releases Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials Preview

A cloud OS for SMBs? Microsoft hopes to lure small businesses to cloudier pastures with new virtualization and remote management options.

Small Business Cloud

Microsoft kicked off July with a preview of what the company has in store for the small-business version of Windows Server 2012.

The company announced on July 1 the launch of the Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials Preview. While working on the update, one of Microsoft's goals was to ease the path to virtualization for small businesses. Formerly Windows Small Business Server, Essentials was part of Microsoft's sweeping Windows Server 2012 launch.

Dubbed a "cloud OS" by the company, the platform was developed to help form the compute foundation of highly virtualized, cloud environments for IT organizations. With Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials, Microsoft wants to bring small and midsized businesses (SMBs) deeper into the fold by addressing their pain points.

"One of the reasons SMBs are hesitant to move to virtualization has to do with the complexity of properly configuring and managing virtual instances of the operating system," Jason Anderson, Windows Server Essentials group program manager, wrote in a blog post.

"With Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials, we have solved this problem by enabling the virtualization of a Windows Server Essentials guest virtual machine (VM) on a Windows Server Essentials host server," added Anderson. A wizard-based installation process walks users through the process.

Further, Microsoft hopes that Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials will also serve as an "on-ramp to the cloud" for fledgling firms.

In an effort to make the process of running Windows Server 2012 Essentials on the company's Azure cloud computing, R2 offers new configuration options to streamline the process. For instance, client backup and storage spaces are off by default, sparing organizations the time and expense of moving large amounts data across the Internet, according to Microsoft. Anderson assures that the enhanced capabilities will also extend to private, non-Azure deployments.

Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials also sports new cloud-based integrations, including Windows Azure Active Directory, which provides single sign-on and password synchronization between cloud services like Office 365 with a small business' local Active Directory environment. New Microsoft Office 365 features enable the mobile device management, SharePoint online Library management, and the creation and management of email distribution groups.

Windows Intune support provides PC and mobile device management, security and patch distribution services. While not included in the preview release, an updated Windows Azure Backup add-in is in the works. Anderson said the add-in will be "surfaced on the services integration tab of the Dashboard."

Microsoft is also working on a new My Server management app for Windows 8 and Windows RT. The new, touch-optimized Remote Web Access (RWA) interface eschews Silverlight, Microsoft's alternative to Adobe Flash, and instead employs HTML5 to deliver a tablet-friendly experience to administrators.

Finally, the software maker is bringing some of Essential's edition-specific capabilities to its up-market stable mates and providing SMBs with a smoother upgrade path with the release of the Windows Server Essentials Experience server role for Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard and Datacenter. "In the Standard and Datacenter editions of Windows Server 2012 R2, administrators who want the full features and functionality of Windows Server Essentials will be able to add a new server role to the system called the Windows Server Essentials Experience," wrote Anderson.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...