Archive for the 'Windows Server 2012' Category

Windows Server 2012 Essentials R2 Experiences

boxartMany businesses today have a mix of technologies, often with business applications, file and print services running in the office, and email and web running on ‘cloud’ services. Remote and mobile workers often struggle to access company resources and information back at the office, and if faced with the complexity of dialling up to connect via a VPN, will often just not bother and keep valuable company data locally on PCs or iPads.

Windows Server Essentials is the replacement for Small Business Server, and is intended to make management of corporate info easy, integrate cloud services and make access simple for mobile devices.

It brings some technical compromises though, this blog is intended as an intro to some of my experiences looking at Essentials for my home lab, before we consider deploying at work. Essentials is not for everyone, it’s limited to 100 users and 200 devices.

My home lab is probably more complex than many home users, with a couple of Macs, iPhones and iPads, Windows Phones, and a mix of Windows 7 & 8 PCs and servers running Server 2008R2 and 20012/R2 with Hyper-V and Windows Home Server 2011. Never mind the games consoles and internet connected TVs.

I run a local domain for user management, with 2 local domain controllers and one on Windows Azure, with some other test resources in the cloud.

Remote access has always been a pain, as I have 5 public IP addresses I have typically published resources I need directly, as VPN is a PITA. I have never got to DirectAccess as I’ve run into challenges with picking up on certificate services.

So there are a few things that Essentials could do

– integration with Azure & Office365 user management
– ease of mobile/remote access
– backup infrastructure (my clients are backed up on home server, but virtual servers just typically vhd copies)

Domain Setup

Essentials technet notes say that a single domain is required – that’s fine for me. However, not so clear is that a single domain controller is required to enable integration with Azure/365. That’s a pain, and the rationale is not clear – I have to demote my other 2 DC’s and will install Essentials as a role on my remaining DC.

Update – well that didn’t work ;-( Installing on the old DC results in a meaningless error (retry…) with no help. I created a new WS2012R2 vm and

– domain attached
– promote to DC
– demote ‘old’ DC
– install Essentials role

This worked cleanly – very nice.

Cloud Integration

Seems to ‘just work’ 😉

Prompted for a login to windows live, and the Azure integration sets up. On reboot, selected the Office365 option and that seems to connect too, very nice.

Sadly Azure backup is is broken (see on datacenter sku’s – I will see if i can get it going on a physical install.

Server Backup

more later, parked until I have a nice disk array set up. However, it does seem that Azure backup is not working on Datacenter edition 


I have setup a ‘free’ Microsoft domain address, as I haven’t looked at certificate issue. Remote access to the Essentials console is fine, but I cannot access VPN. A question for when more time is available. I tried the VPN yesterday and couldn’t get access, but having added a connected PC, checking the settings (SSTP), I could successfully connect from a remote (virtual) machine. All going well, next up…


The holy grail of easy remote access, an invisible link to your domain from public internet, so rdp and fileserver access is painless. Just what is needed. It’s a bit of a faff to set up on Windows Server, but Essentials promises to make it easy. Instructions available here

A pleasant surprise, it just works too. All in all the Server Essentials test journey has been excellent (as smooth as the first Windows Home Server, its grandparent)

Next steps, to shut down and back up the test and reinstall on a live system, and see if that has any problems eg DirectAccess



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