Office365 and Server 2012/R2 Essentials–worthy successor to SBS

If you’ve read this blog over the past year or so you’ll know I have bitched like many others about the “demise” of our beloved SBS.  You’ll also know that I have been getting fairly excited about O365 and Server 2012/R2.  Well, now I can also say that I’m pretty pleased with what I see in Windows Server 2012/R2 Essentials  – or WSE2012 in shorthand (I’m using 2012/R2 to denote both 2012 and 2012 R2, BTW) and it’s interoperability with O365.

To be frank, most of us that whined about the loss of SBS were really whining about the loss of “cheap” Exchange which, when you come right down to it, was what SBS was all about.  Yes, there were lots of other goodies in SBS BUT the driver for most organizations that bought it was the relatively low cost of getting on-premises Exchange.  And to be equally as frank, O365 didn’t look like that good a deal when the original “Essentials” server products were announced.  Well, that was then … this is now.

O365 has matured into a damn fine offering  and the management tools are pretty decent.  Server 2012/R2 has also matured into a damn fine server product (I am utterly in love with R2) and the Essentials versions of both 2012 and 2012 R2 merit consideration from most of the same group of organizations that would have considered SBS in the past.  WSE2012/R2 offers all of the remote access tools we came to know and love in SBS, specifically Remote Web Access (RWA) and VPN, and polishes all of that with the addition of integration with O365 and the addition of all of the VPN and Direct Access goodness that ships with 2012/R2.  As an example, here is a shot of the RWA from a WSE2012 install that is integrated in with O365:




You can see that all of the access that we were used to with SBS is there along with links into the O365 services that this user can access.   This makes it more than the equivalent of the RWA that was in SBS.  And to add a cherry to the sundae, look at the bottom of the screen where you see View: Tablet | Desktop.  Yup, the RWA is tablet friendly which is a big leap forward from the SBS days.  In fact, so long as the right apps are on your tablet, you should pretty much have the same access and capabilities from your tablet as you would from a PC.  (The above is from WSE2012, R2 is even better!)

And the DirectAccess capabilities of Server 2012/R2 make life for remote users even sweeter.  In fact, between the easy access features of WSE2012/R2 and the goodness of O365 SharePoint, there is no plausible reason for your users to NOT be able to get to their data whenever and wherever they need regardless of if it lives on the server or in SharePoint.

I have just finished working with a customer in San Francisco (a tip of the old chapeau to you, Jim) who decided to make the jump out of SBS2003 to WSE2012 and O365 and I think their migration experience speaks to the value of WSE2012/R2 and O365 – particularly O365.  Their SBS2003 was falling apart and the included Exchange 2003 had gone as far as it could go.  The company needed to update their systems and, at the same time, they needed to rationalize their software loads as well as their ongoing system costs.  There was little value for them to go to a new server platform that included on-premises Exchange as the cost would be too high but they wanted the same kind of value as they got from their trusty SBS2003. Enter WSE2012 and O365.

They looked at the cost of WSE2012 and liked what they saw.  They looked at the monthly subscription cost for O365 (@ $15/mth per user with bundled Office software) and liked that cost as it saved a large cash outlay on Office licenses to bring all users to the same software level.   Then they talked with us about the work effort involved to migrate.  As they had decided on NOT keeping their old Windows domain we had the opportunity to create a nice, clean WSE2012 install and domain.  And, because of the domain decision, their email migration was pretty simple – PST file exports on “old” Exchange, PST imports into their new O365 accounts via Outlook 2013 (including their small public folders).  The end result is a “clean” 2012 domain on their WSE2012 machine, clean domain joins for all of their Win7 workstations and very clean and tidy Exchange in the form of their O365 accounts.

On the server itself, the DASHBOARD aggregates all the needed management into one location including O365:


And here is info from O365 in the dashboard:


And when you look at the users in the Dashboard you can see there is now an integration between the local domain and O365:


And you have control over both local and O365 accounts:


Of course there is no direct control from the Dashboard over Exchange Online (in O365) but that is not an issue as all of that is available to you via the O365 management portal.  My point is that all the “goodness” that was baked into SBS is still baked into and polished up with WSE2012/R2 and O365.

So from my vantage point, there is no reason to mourn the “loss” of SBS.  WSE2012/R2 and O365 together ARE a worthy successor.  Moreover, WSE12012/R2 is easier to manage and patch as you don’t have to deal with Exchange on-premises; Microsoft handles most of those “headaches” for you in the backend at O365.  In fact, all of this is is so good that Microsoft allows users of full Server 2012/R2 licensing to spin up the “Essentials Experience” as role on Server2012/R2. 

I urge you to go and check it out, there is dynamite value in the combo for small businesses!