Welcome to Windows Server 2012 Essentials

Server2012eLogoLast week, Microsoft announced this new edition of Windows Server 2012 called Windows Server 2012 Essentials.

This new edition replaces Windows Small Business Server (both the Standard and the Essentials editions) as well as the now defunct Windows Home Server.

What makes this release interesting is it shows what Microsoft’s strategy is around the “first server” space. It used to be that the preferred solution was the monolithic Small Business Server. Everything that a business needed was on one physical box. Exchange was there for email, SharePoint was there for collaboration, and being that it’s a Windows box, line of business applications could be installed.  However, with the huge bet that Microsoft is making on the cloud, they are doing away with SBS Standard and building on the Colorado platform (SBS Essentials and Windows Home Server).

Windows Server 2012 Essentials is really Windows Small Business Server 2012 Essentials, but Microsoft is killing off the Small Business Server branding and positioning Essentials as a core edition of the broad Windows Server family. Let’s dig in and learn more about this version of Windows Server.

Windows Server 2012 Essentials is aimed at small and mid-size businesses. It supports up to 25 users and up to 50 devices.  The design of Essentials is that of a hybrid infrastructure. File sharing, line-of-business applications, and other things live on-premise, but Microsoft wants you to use Office 365, and Essentials can integrate and federate to Office 365 right out of the box. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t run Exchange on-premise. You can, and Essentials will integrate with your Exchange server as well, but it would have to run on separate hardware or in a separate VM (depending on how you setup your infrastructure).

Being as Essentials is the evolution of Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials, features such as full PC backup and restore, Remote Web Access, add-in extensibility, and network alerting live on and in some cases are even improved.

New to Windows Server 2012 Essentials are the following features:

  • Support for DirectAccess and VPN access
  • With Storage Spaces adding storage becomes painless and easy
  • Remote Web Access has been refreshed and has a new tablet mode for easier navigation on tablet devices.
  • Bare-metal backup and restore of the server
  • Support for backup of volumes larger than 2 terabytes
  • Windows 8 Metro-style app for accessing company data stored on a Windows Server 2012 Essentials server
  • Integration with cloud or on-premise Exchange services

According to Microsoft’s edition listing for Windows Server 2012 Essentials, the Open No Level pricing is $425 USD, CALs not required.

I’d strongly encourage anyone interested, to try out the public beta, which Microsoft has released.

Windows Home Server, 2007-2012

As I’m sure most of you heard, Windows Home Server is no more. Microsoft this past week announced the Windows Server lineup, and both Windows Home Server and Windows Small Business Server Standard were not on that list.

In a Frequently Asked Questions document, alongside the announcement of Windows Server 2012 Essentials (more on that soon), Microsoft answers the question of “Will there be a next version of Windows Home Server?”

No. Windows Home Server has seen its greatest success in small office/home office (SOHO) environments and among the technology enthusiast community. For this reason, Microsoft is combining the features that were previously only found in Windows Home Server, such as support for DLNA-compliant devices and media streaming, into Windows Server 2012 Essentials and focusing our efforts into making Windows Server 2012 Essentials the ideal first server operating system for both small business and home use—offering an intuitive administration experience, elastic and resilient storage features with Storage Spaces, and robust data protection for the server and client computers.

I can’t say that I’m surprised by this decision. I’ve known about this for a few months now. However, it is disappointing.

Microsoft is right though. Windows Home Server is heavily adopted in home based businesses, and used in small businesses primarily for PC backup in conjunction with Small Business Server. What Microsoft saw as its primary market never fully materialized. Not many OEMs built a hardware product around it, marketing by the OEMs that did was iffy, and you could hardly find it in a brick and mortar store.

In some ways, the market killed the product. Not because the product sucked but because the feature set was championed by small business. This then led to Small Business Server Essentials, which really was Windows Home Server (minus Media Streaming) + Active Directory (what a lot of people wanted originally), and some hooks for integrating with Office 365. [Side note: Windows Home Server when it was designed initially used Active Directory, but it was cut after looking at the home market and finding that most home users were using Windows XP Home Edition.] There was also a NAS type version of Windows Home Server 2011 as well called Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials. Why I call it a “NAS type version” is because it’s designed to be an embedded product (similar to an HP MediaSmart Server), it supports up to 25 computers, and can be joined to existing domains.

Small Business consultants used to install Windows Home Server but when Small Business Server 2011 Essentials arrived they moved to that because it provided a compelling feature set. With Active Directory and Group Policy they could manage customer networks with ease. The integration module for Office 365 meant that businesses could use cloud-based services with ease. Create a new account on the SBSe server and have that user automatically created in the Office 365 tenant.

Another nail in the coffin for Windows Home Server was the removal of Drive Extender.  I can’t tell you how many people I heard from that threw their arms up at that point and said they were done and moving to something else. However, now with Storage Spaces in Windows 8 / Server 2012 users can perform Drive Extender like tasks with ease.

Soon I’ll be able to talk more about the replacement to Windows Home Server, Windows Server 2012 Essentials, but until then I want to leave you with a thank you.

I want to thank the Windows Home Server community as a whole. Having been around the product since it was announced at CES in 2007, I’ve watched the community mature and develop over the last five years. During my time at Microsoft the part I loved most was interacting with the community through the beta program newsgroups, the forums, or at different events. Outside of Microsoft, I’ve loved blogging and writing the SharePoint on WHS guide. The thank you emails and the emails of encouragement are what keep me at it.

Expect a flurry of posts and other goodness about Windows Server 2012 Essentials in the coming days / weeks / months / years.

Until then may your children always ask, “Mommy, why is there a server in the house?”, and may your server continue to Stop Digital Amnesia.

Fix for “Computer Monitoring Error” in WHS 2011, SBSe 2011, and Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials

If you use Windows Home Server 2011, Small Business Server 2011 Essentials, or Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials, and you’ve seen alerts that say there is a “Computer Monitoring Error”, Microsoft has a fix. There are various reasons that this alert can appear, and this is a fix for one of those reasons.

Please note that you might still see the alert after the update is installed. If it still appears, please go to http://connect.microsoft.com and report a bug. You’ll need to upload logs to the bug in order for the team to properly diagnose and produce a fix. The log collector tool is available from http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?id=27567. Follow the instructions at the bottom of the page to install the tool on your server and any affected clients.

You receive the warning “Computer Monitoring Error” in Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials after you install Update Rollup 2
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2685867

You receive the warning “Computer Monitoring Error” in Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials after you install Update Rollup 2
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2686867

You receive the warning “Computer Monitoring Error” in Windows Home Server 2011 after you install Update Rollup 2
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2686857

Fix for servers with Exchange 2007 / 2010 and Internet Explorer 9 installed

If you are a Small Business Server 2008 or 2011 user, you have Internet Explorer 9 installed on your server, and you try to close the Exchange Management Console, you may encounter an error similar to the one listed below.

You must close all dialog boxes before you can close Exchange Management Console

Microsoft has released a fix for this issue and I’ve included the download links below. In order to install this fix, you must have the latest updates installed from Microsoft Update as of October 11th, 2011. If you have not updated your server(s), do so before installing this patch.

If you are not experiencing this issue, it is advised that you don’t install this patch, as it has not been as thoroughly tested, and is planned to be rolled up into a future Internet Explorer update.

For Windows Server 2008 / Small Business Server 2008 systems – click here

For Windows Server 2008 R2 / Small Business Server 2011 systems – click here

Microsoft Knowledge Base Article #: 2624899

A server for the home or small business

After having used such servers as the HP MediaSmart Server, the HP Proliant MicroServer, and various Dell servers, I decided to set out to see if I could build my own server for a reasonable cost with features I desired.

The intent of this build is to showcase a server that can be used in the home with Windows Home Server 2011 (yes, this build is somewhat overkill), and in home based / small businesses, with Small Business Server 2011 Essentials or Small Business Server 2011 Standard.

My requirements were as follows:

· Total cost could not exceed $1500. (Ideally, I wanted to stay at or below $1000.)

· All parts used must be server grade. By that I mean, must have 3-5 year warranty depending on part, and similar to parts used by the major server manufacturers.

· Must support future expandability. Must support large amounts of memory and case used must support addition of multiple hard drives.

· With Windows 8 and Windows 8 Server on the horizon, processor support for Second Level Address Translation (SLAT) and hardware virtualization were key to this build.

So what parts did I use?

· Antec VSK-2450 Mid Tower Case

· Intel Server Board S1200BTS

· Intel Xeon Processor E3-1230 (3.2GHz, 8MB Cache)

· Kingston 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 ECC RAM

· Western Digital RE4 Enterprise 1.0TB Hard Drive

Specs as configured:

· Intel Server Board S1200BTS

· 16GB ECC DDR3 RAM

· (1) 1.0TB Western Digital RE4 Enterprise Hard Drive

· Intel Xeon E3-1230 Processor

How does this build stack up to my requirements?

· Total cost: $1050+tax. I bought all the parts I needed from a local vendor instead of online and was willing to pay a bit more because of it. It is entirely possible to find these parts for cheaper online, but if you can, support your local businesses.

· Warranties on all parts are at least three years. Western Digital’s warranty is five years on enterprise hard drives, and on memory Kingston has a lifetime warranty.

· From an expandability standpoint, the case allows for up to 6 hard drives, the motherboard allows for 6 SATA connections, and the motherboard supports a maximum of 32GB of RAM.

· The processor used in this build supports hardware virtualization and SLAT, or as Intel calls it, Extended Page Tables. When looking for an Intel-based processor to be used for virtualization I suggest ensuring that it supports Intel-VT and Extended Page Tables. The Intel ARK tool, http://ark.intel.com, is a great resource for that type of information.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be showcasing more about what this server can do.

Pro tip–The one where cfg.ini would not be recognized

Figured I’d post this in case anyone else runs into this issue. I was performing an unattended install of Windows Home Server 2011 and the setup failed. I tried to use the same cfg.ini file again, however, setup didn’t like the file the second time around. Knowing that I hadn’t changed anything, I opened the file and noticed something strange. There was an additional line that Setup adds to the file once its used it.

The line added is located in the [WinPE] section and is called Processed=true.

In my testing, removing this line will allow the cfg.ini file to be used again.

image     image

                          Before setup runs                                       After setup runs

This tip applies to:

  • Windows Home Server 2011
  • Windows Small Business Server 2011 Essentials
  • Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials

Online help resources for WHS 2011 / SBSe 2011 / Storage Server R2 Essentials

This one’s a short post. Here are the direct links to the online help sites for Windows Home Server 2011, Small Business Server 2011, and Storage Server R2 Essentials.

Windows Home Server 2011 – http://onlinehelp.microsoft.com/en-us/windowshomeserver2011

Small Business Server 2011 Essentials – http://onlinehelp.microsoft.com/en-us/sbs2011essentials/

Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials – http://onlinehelp.microsoft.com/en-us/storageserver2008r2/

Tech-Ed North America 2011: Day 0 – Recap

After following the very poor directions given to me about finding the shuttle to bring me to the hotel, and being lied to and ripped off for 20 bucks (yes, I’m bitter.), I made it to my hotel, the Marriott Marquis in Downtown Atlanta. Check in was fairly effortless, and I’ve got a very nice room on an upper floor of the hotel with a great view of the city. For the week, Microsoft has invested in custom room keys, sponsored by Windows Intune, with an attached map of the downtown area.

After getting settled in my room, I met up with Randy Guthrie, Academic Developer Evangelist and some Imagine Cup USA Finals winners as well as other invited students, and had a quick bite to eat while waiting for everyone to arrive. Once everyone arrived, we made the 15 minute walk over to the Georgia World Congress Center, and along the way passed by CNN Center, World of Coca-Cola, and the Phillips Arena. While at the GWCC, took a quick walking tour of where keynote would be, the exhibit hall, bloggers lounge, etc. After the tour was over, we went out to dinner and then made final arrangements for the morning.

On Day 1 we’ll see announcements from Jason Zander and Robert Wahbe and from what I’m hearing these announcements will be interesting.

Here are some photos from Day 0:

TechEd North America 2011–Day 0

(Disclosure: Like most things Microsoft related, I am attending TechEd as a guest of the Microsoft Corporation. Flight, hotel, meals, and conference pass have been provided by Microsoft.)

I’m writing this post from 10,000 feet above the ground using GoGo Inflight Internet as I fly from Phoenix to Atlanta. (So cool!) I’m on my way to Atlanta for Microsoft’s TechEd North America conference.

TechEd is one of the premier conferences for IT professionals and developers alike. Obviously since it is being put on by Microsoft, it focuses on Microsoft technologies. This year, Robert Wahbe and Jason Zander will be keynoting the event and as my friend Mary Jo Foley has noted on her blog, we’ll probably see some cool stuff around SQL Server, Visual Studio (I hear there is a Kinect + VS demo!), and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some more info about the future of System Center and its role in facilitating public / private cloud interaction as well as management and consolidation in the datacenter.

I’ll be spending most of my time in sessions this week and will do my best to update everyone with the highlights. Also, I’ll be bringing a preview of what will be seen at the Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals this summer.

Technote: Small Business Server 2011 Essentials Router Setup

Quick note for those of you that may be setting up Small Business Server 2011 Essentials servers and are using the online documentation, there is a slight error. Currently the documentation for router configuration links to the wiki article for Small Business Server Standard and the ports required for proper operation of SBS Standard.

The only ports that need to be forwarded for Small Business Server 2011 Essentials are ports 80 and 443. Although, to be honest, you don’t even need port 80. Just train users to use https:// instead of http:// to access the Remote Access website.

P.S. If you use Windows Home Server 2011 or Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Essentials, the same port(s) need to be forwarded as well.