As a IT company, we supply mainly to small businesses with 1 to 20 employees. Our preferred solution for companies of this size was Windows Small Business Server which provided everything a small business needed, with scope for up to 75 users all via a single piece of server hardware.
Great server solution at a reasonable price, but on-premises email can be a pain, especially with limited connection speed (mainly due to BT not providing fibre to cabinets which predominately host businesses) and the fact that many people think email is a filing system (it’s not…honest).
Microsoft to their credit looked at the way small businesses actually want to work and changed their small business solutions to cater for small businesses that actually wanted a hybrid solution of on-premises and cloud based services so literally they could work anywhere. Let me introduce Windows Server 2012 Essentials R2 which is aimed at businesses of up to 25 users.
Windows Server 2012 R2 is the latest incarnation of Microsoft’s server software, boasting the metro look and feel of Windows 8 (Don’t worry, it’s not nearly as awful!) to provide a simple, easy to use server package that is just as powerful as Microsoft’s earlier iterations. With innate integration to the also simple to use Office 365 package Microsoft are truly bridging the gap between end user and IT Professional as well as providing a smoother learning curve for those entering the IT industry.
The Essentials Dashboard is your launching pad for everything you will want and need from Windows Server 2012 R2, its simple and straightforward design will make even technophobes appear to be IT Gurus, from here you can add new users, add server shares, manage permissions and check your backups, as well as a whole host of other tasks, to show just how simple Windows Server 2012 R2 can be we will go through the three step task of creating a new user and assigning shares to them.
While on the dashboard home page select ‘Add user accounts’ you will then be presented with the below screen, from here it is as simple as filling out the new users name and account name and desired password. Under the level of access drop box you can choose whether the user will be a normal user or an administrator capable of accessing the Windows Server 2012 R2 dashboard.
Once you have filled out the users details click next, you can then decide the users level of access to the shares that have been set up on the server, you can choose from Read/Write which will allow them to edit and add files, Read only which will allow them just to open and read files or No access which will make the folder hidden from the user.
On the next screen you will be able to decide whether the user has access to VPN and whether they can access certain resources from the web and for administrators whether they can access the Server Dashboard from the web, when you click Create account the user will be created, this simple three step process takes about a minute to complete and is simple and easy to understand.
In addition to this, if you want to add a new device to your network you can simply type http://YourServerName/connect into the address bar, sign in using an administrator account and the device will be added to the network, a process that used to be a short ordeal is now as easy as logging on in the morning.
Back on the dashboard, if you click on the Users tab you can see and manage all of your users, from deactivating or deleting their accounts, changing passwords or changing the access levels that users have to shares, VPN or web access.
Next on the Dashboards tabs is Devices, on this screen you can see all the computers, laptops and tablets connected to your server, from here you can remote onto the devices and control them from the server, set up specific backups and remove them from the server.
Next on our tour of the dashboard is the Storage tab. This tab allows you to view the different shares that have been set up on the server, change the levels of permissions for users and of course add new shares, adding new shares is just as easy as adding new users. You can also view the individual hard drives connected to the server.
Back on the home screen we are going to look at the Health Monitoring of Windows Server 2012 R2, your server will constantly monitor its own health and provide feedback to let you know if there are any issues you may need to take a look at, when clicking on a warning or error you will be presented with ways that may fix the presented issue, sometimes these can be done automatically, other times there will be a guide to help you, other times it will link you to the relevant web page for the error code. These tools help to ensure your server is running optimally and efficiently.
One of the greatest aspects of Windows Server 2012 R2 is its ability to integrate itself with Office 365 for email and single sign on, by clicking Services on the home page you can choose the Microsoft Office 365 integration wizard which will help you through the incredibly simple integration system for Office 365.
To integrate all you need to do is sign in with an administrator account on your Office 365 subscription and the wizard will automatically pull across any relevant information and link it to your server, you can then link the accounts of your Office 365 users to your Windows Server 2012 R2 users. Linking the users will allow you to have Single Sign-On (SSO) access to your server account and your Office 365 account within minutes.
Windows Server 2012 R2 is not all about its Dashboard, there are other improved features, such as the ability to error check disks that are in use.
We can tell that Windows Server 2012 R2 was based on the Windows 8 metro theme by simply looking at the start menu, which takes on the form of the full screen tiled start menu that Windows 8 has been slated for. There is however the option to Right Click the start button and get a number of useful options from anywhere on screen.
Choosing the Administrative tools from the start menu will bring up a screen that should look familiar to any seasoned Server Admin, while Windows Server 2012 R2 does boast a simplified user interface and tools, there are still tools that Admins will feel comfortable with and provide that very specific level of control that Admins like.
The server dashboard which should also be familiar has received a facelift and a lick of paint, although it is functionally no different to previous iterations of the Manager while also providing access to the above tools straight from the Server Manager.
Windows Server 2012 R2 has received many upgrades both aesthetically and technically as well as simplifying its use for users and administrators. Despite this it is still a powerful tool to manage your network and is the flagship for Microsoft’s server software, for good reason too.