Microsoft Windows Server 2012 Essentials released to manufacturing has arrived. The official replacement and successor to Windows Small Business Server still carries some hiccups, but the platform still remains a true on-ramp to Microsoft's new cloud services and its cloud-centric direction.
When Microsoft Corp. killed off Small Business Server (SBS) back in July, the channel was less than pleased. Partners and customers alike had come lament the loss of user flexibility that SBS provided, much of which allowed SBS to be easily customized for small business environments. Instead, Microsoft uprooted the SBS tradition and replaced it with Windows Server 2012.
Our own Larry Walsh saw the move as an important one -- even if it left solution providers disgruntled. The cloud-centric nature of Windows Server 2012 "compels" users to move to cloud and think about cloud services, which will ideally will bring more partners and hosting providers to the Microsoft cloud fold. This is especially important amid Microsoft's renewed efforts in the space (see: Office 365).
In an introductory blog announcing the arrival of Windows Server 2012 Essentials (which is now available in RTM form), Microsoft's Jeffery Snover detailed the features that are coming to W12 Essentials -- most of which play up the cloud. They include new remote web access capabilities, deep backup integration with Azure Online Backup in addition to Windows 8 File History capabilities. Integration with Office 365 -- either locally or via a service provider -- has also come to the server platform, plus the new and improved Storage Spaces feature, which allows for "elastic, resilient" storage capabilities across files and directories.
W12 Essentials also supports "single logo certification for all Windows Server 2012 editions," and is upgradable, should a company need to move to full-on Windows Server 2012. To help generate positive buzz around the product, Microsoft has also provided the community with a virtual hands-on-lab where prospective users can get a tour of Windows Server 2012 Essentials and give it a test drive. More adventurous users can download an evaluation copy of the server platform and decide for themselves. Microsoft believes those who embrace the platform will truly see its benefits, but Microsoft will still be welcoming comments and criticism here.
The only snag is that creeping limitation SBS did not have: W12 Essentials is confined to 25 users (and 50 devices) but sits at an affordable price tag of $425 dollars. That means solution providers and businesses will need to be smart about where they support the platform and what services and revenues can be derived from it -- especially since Exchange and SharePoint are no longer integrated. Yet despite these hiccups, the end result will often be better than the previous solution, since cloud based technologies can reduce costs and administrative routines -- a bonus in the long run, for customer and partner alike.
If all else fails, partners still have other Windows Server 2012 options -- including Server 2012 Standard, the next step up from Essentials. At $882, it removes all user limitations and can provide a solution provider with more wiggle room on apps and services .
But the bottom line remains the same: Microsoft is strongly 'encouraging' partners to take the next step with them. The majority of small businesses will need the benefits that cloud can bring to W12 Essentials, and over time, the cloud-centric model will become just as accepted (and profitable) as the traditional on-site hosting solution many providers have become attached to.