I’ve written in the past about Server 2012 R2 Essentials in combination with Office 365 and I’d like to circle back again and revisit the value statement for the combination.

But, first, let me do a quickie Windows Server licensing refresher as it is relevant to the discussion …

There are four levels of Server licensing available:

  • Server 2012 R2 Foundation (only available from OEM vendors) which provides a basic server environment for up to 16 users.  This is the most basic licensing available with no support for virtualization.
  • Server 2012 R2 Essentials which provides a sophisticated, managed environment for up to 25 users.  Essentials provides remote access tools as well as management plugins to Office 365 and it allows for virtualization of the Essentials server (no others) through Hyper-V.
  • Server 2012 Standard which provides support for as many users as required (via CAL licensing) and provides all of the capabilities of Windows Server including virtualization via Hyper-V for up to two virtual machines using the same Windows license key on one physical server.  More VM’s can be added to the same server by stacking Server 2012 R2 Standard license keys.
  • Server 2012 R2 Datacenter which also licenses via CAL licensing and which provides the same features as Standard but allows for unlimited VM’s on one physical server using the same license key.Both Foundation and Essentials provide their licensing without CAL’s but do enforce maximum counts.  So long as your organization falls within the licensing count then either is a viable choice although I think Essentials is actually the better deal.  Certainly there is a price advantage to Foundation or Essentials as the price for CAL’s can add up very quickly.  The cost for Essentials is roughly half that of a Standard license and that’s the end of it … no CAL’s!

    OK, so back to the discussion about Essentials and Office 365.

    Back in the day Microsoft provided the “all you can eat” Small Business Server for small businesses that combined a number of management tools (“easy management”), web-based remote access to the server and workstations, SharePoint and Exchange all on one box.  SBS went away but the combination of Essentials and Office 365 now more than “replaces” SBS, I think it surpasses it by a wide margin.

    The server side of the equation is Essentials and it provides a rock-solid foundation for Active Directory, local file/print services, local application hosting, controlled “secure” remote access to server and workstation resources on the LAN as well as a suite of modern wizard-driven system management tools.  As well it provides server and workstation backup tools that are a major step up from the Microsoft backup tools of yore.  It can play “nicey nice” with other servers on the LAN so you can have more than one server within your domain hosting other application services such as SQLserver and it will even allow for multiple domain controllers within your domain (but it must hold all the FSMO roles).  It can even work with a local, on-premise Exchange server (if you are so inclined).

    The Office 365 side obviously provides both the Exchange and SharePoint sides of the equation and it does so with way more capabilities than SBS ever could provide.  For a start there are obviously all of the incremental improvements in the products over those available in the last shipping SBS version (2011); Exchange 2013 and SharePoint 2013 (the basic building blocks of Office 365) are considerably more powerful than the 2010 versions included in SBS.  Moreover, the Online versions (as used in Office 365) have morphed and expanded considerably beyond the 2013 products that are available for on-prem install.  And Office 365 provides a number of Enterprise features in Exchange and SharePoint that are prohibitively expensive for the on-prem counterparts.  But that is only the start of what Office 365 provides!  Don’t forget the Office Pro licenses provided with various Office 365 subscriptions as well as Delve, Clutter, Video, Sway and the other technologies that are continuously being rolled out and into Office 365.  Think about the access to data that is provided by Office 365 and the apps that tie iPhones, iPads and Android devices back to Office 365. And there are the linkages that are in place between Essentials and Office 365 for management of your Office 365 tenancy directly from the Dashboard in Essentials.  Finally, there is the “baked-in” ability in Essentials to run backup of your system out through Azure Backup Services in the Azure Cloud.

All of this makes a pretty compelling package for small businesses.  You get access to the same technology as the “big boys” but for a price that is much more in line with an SMB budget.  I admit to being a fan, whole heartedly.

If you are a small business casting about for some sort of on-prem solution, I urge you to seriously consider the Essentials/Office 365 combo.  I think you will be very pleased with the capabilities and the value.

A great Server/Cloud combo for small business
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