Hi Folks,

In my last post, I provided an introduction to Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials—and recognized Thecus as the first OEM to bring new NAS appliances based on it to market. In this post, I’ll take a closer look at Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials, which we created to enable affordable, easy-to-use, cloud-connected NAS appliances for small businesses and small office/home office (SOHO) environments.

Who Should Consider It?

Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials is designed for small businesses and SOHO environments (with 1 to 50 users/devices) that want a business-grade, feature-rich, cloud-ready NAS at an affordable price. Devices powered by Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials enable these organizations to deploy robust, shared storage on their local networks, and to optionally integrate that local environment with cloud-based services such as Microsoft Office 365 and Windows Azure. Users can continue to work in ways that are already familiar to them, with easy access to shared storage from virtually any location and any device, and small businesses and SOHO environments can easily take advantage of the growing set of offerings available in the cloud.

A short video on Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials can be found here.

The Hardware

Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials is only available through hardware OEMs, who license it for pre-installation on ready-to-deploy NAS appliances. You can expect these devices to have an Intel Atom-class or equivalent processor, 2-4 GB of RAM, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, one or more USB 3.0 connectors, 2-8 drive bays, and a storage controller that supports Storage Spaces.

Manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) for a 2-bay diskless model is expected to be about $ 350, and MSRP for a 4-bay model populated with two disks is expected to be about $ 650. These price points are certainly attractive—on par with similar, Linux-based NAS appliances solutions that deliver significantly less value.

The Software

Like Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Standard and Workgroup editions, Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials is based on Windows Server 2012 R2. In fact, when it comes to functionality, you get key some features that aren’t included in these first two editions. The following table provides a brief comparison of the three editions of Windows Storage Server 2012 R2:

 

Workgroup

Standard

Essentials

Ability to join a domain

Yes

Yes

Yes

Data Deduplication

No

Yes

Yes

BranchCache – Hosted Cache

No

Yes

Yes

Virtualization

No Hyper-V

Yes (2 VMs)

No Hyper-V

Failover Clustering

No

Yes

No

Networking infrastructure (including DNS, DHCP, and WINS)

Yes

Yes

Yes

Windows Server Essentials Experience

No

No

Yes

Active Directory (Domain Controller, Certificate Services, Federation Services, Rights Management)

No

No

Yes

 

So what does all this mean to the nontechnical small business/SOHO customer? In terms of key functionality, it means that they get the following:

  • All of the networking and infrastructure services needed to setup a robust small business or SOHO network—including the ability to either setup an Active Directory domain or tie into to an existing one.

  • Comprehensive file and print services—including advanced features such as Data Deduplication (to enable storing more data in less disk space); BitLocker Drive Encryption (to help protect that stored data from prying eyes); and Storage Spaces (for grouping multiple hard drives together into a single pool and protecting against the failure of a disk in that pool through parity or mirroring).

  • Integrated, centralized client backup and restore functionality to help protect the data on local PCs and devices—including integration with the File History feature in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, which enables users to easily restore to a previous version of a file or restore a deleted file.

  • Full server backup—including the ability to restore a single file, restore a folder, or to perform a full “bare metal” recovery on the server.

  • Remote access and identity management services—so that authorized users can get to their data from almost anywhere on any device, while at the same time helping to prevent unauthorized users from accessing the data they shouldn’t be able to see (such as payroll records).

  • The Windows Server Essentials Experience—an intuitive management interface designed to help nontechnical users deploy the appliance quickly, easily, and correctly; manage it with only minimal IT skills; and maximize data security. The Essentials Experience also makes it easy to setup and manage backups and to add, remove, and manage users.

Pre-Configured Connectivity With The Cloud

While Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials is built for on-premises deployment, it’s also built to let small businesses and SOHO users easily take advantage of cloud services hosted by Microsoft, including Azure Backup and Microsoft Office 365. This optional integration is enabled through the Essentials Experience, which makes provides a simple, intuitive interface for integrating with Azure Backup and Office 365.

In case you’re not familiar with these services, here’s a quick look at each one:

  • Azure Backup. Azure Backup is a simple and reliable data protection solution that enables customers to back up their on-premises data to the cloud. Through built-in integration with Azure Backup, Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials makes it easy to turn on “offsite backups” to help protect against catastrophes such as a fire, water damage, or theft of the NAS. Backups are encrypted before transmission to Azure Backup and, after the initial backup is completed, only changes to the data on the NAS are transmitted to help minimize backup times and conserve bandwidth.

  • Office 365. Office 365 is an online subscription service that provides email, shared calendars, online document creation and editing, instant messaging, web conferencing, a public-facing website, and internal team collaboration sites—all accessible from virtually anywhere, on nearly any device. Through out-of-the-box, ready-to-use integration with Office 365, Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials enables management of user accounts across both environments in a single place while providing users with single sign-on across both environments.

Of course, both Office 365 and Azure Backup are hosted in Microsoft’s state-of-the-art datacenters and deliver guaranteed levels of availability.

Where to Get One

Thecus is already shipping a line of NAS appliances running Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials. These include a 2-bay W2000, a 4-bay W4000, and a 5-bay W5000, all of which are now starting to become available through the company’s distribution partners.

As other OEMs announce or begin shipping similar solutions based on Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials, I’ll be sure give you a heads up on this blog. Similarly, stay tuned for my own reviews of these powerful new NAS appliances as they become available.

 

Cheers,
Scott M. Johnson
Senior Program Manager
Windows Storage Server
@supersquatchy


Windows Storage Server

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