Windows SBS 2011 Essentials and Windows Home Server 'Vail' RCs Available

Microsoft today rolled out the release candidate (RC) versions of Windows Small Business Server (SBS) 2011 Essentials and Windows Home Server code-named "Vail."

In a conference call with the press on Wednesday, Michael Leworthy, Microsoft's senior product manager for Small Business Server, said that the final release name of Windows Home Server Vail will be "Windows Home Server 2011." Both that server and Windows SBS 2011 Essentials (formerly known by its "Aurora" code name) will be available as final products in the North American market in the spring of this year. The earlier-generation Windows Home Server 32-bit product is currently available from various hardware vendors in retail stores.

Meanwhile, users can now get their hands on the RC version of Windows SBS Essentials 2011 at the Microsoft Connect Web portal here (requires Windows Live ID and sign-up).

The RC of Windows Home Server Vail is also available at Microsoft Connect here for those who sign up.

A third server, Windows SBS 2011 Standard (formerly code-named "7"), is also part of Microsoft's "Colorado" product line of servers for smaller organizations. SBS 2011 Standard was released as a trial version last month, and hardware manufacturers got final copies for imaging in December. Windows SBS 2011 Standard products can be purchased through this page, according to Microsoft.

Server Differences
The three servers can all be used by small organizations, but the choice depends on the number of PCs or users and what network functions are required. In terms of organizational size, Windows Home Server supports up to 10 PCs. Windows SBS 2011 Essentials supports 25 users max, while Windows SBS 2011 Standard provides access for up to 75 users or devices.

Licensing also varies among the three servers. Those wanting to expand the use of Windows Home Server to more than 10 PCs have to buy another server, according to a Microsoft forum response dated April 8, 2010. Windows SBS 2011 Essentials does not bear Client Access Licenses (CALs) costs, but Windows SBS 2011 Standard does have those costs, plus a server license cost. According to Microsoft's explanation of SBS licensing, buyers of Windows SBS 2011 Standard get a license for one server and five CALs. Organizations can choose the CAL types used with Windows SBS 2011 Standard, either based on the number of users or on the number of devices.

Both Essentials and Standard users have the ability to add a server license and CALs through an offering called "Windows SBS 2011 Premium Add-on," which provides access to SQL Server 2008 R2 for Small Business. Leworthy said that Microsoft devised this Add-on to address the costs that small businesses faced with adding an extra server.

"Add-on" vs. "Add-in"
While the terms may sound confusing, Microsoft has enabled an "Add-in" capability in its Windows SBS products. It's not the same as an Add-on.

These Add-ins, which are typically devised and offered by either Microsoft or its partners, can extend the functionality of the servers. Leworthy explained the distinction between the two terms in an e-mailed reply.

"An Add-in is functionality that extends the product to add end user features, admin features or both," he wrote. "It uses the Add-in Framework we have created in the product, and integrates into the management dashboard.

"An Add-on is focused more on the Premium Edition SKU, where you can 'add on' this product to your SBS 2011 environment. This provides you more IT functionality; however, it may not extend the functionality of the dashboard. In the case of SBS 2011 Premium Add-on, this product provides further WS08 R2 technologies plus SQL Server 2008 R2 to the SBS environment."

Management Support
Simplified management is carried out through the use of Active Directory behind the scenes, Leworthy noted. Personnel in an organization use a dashboard called "Launchpad" that shows the health status of their organization's PCs. The Essentials product can provide health status reports on both PCs and Mac clients. However, installing that capability is still "rough around the edges" for Windows Home Server Vail, according to a review of the RC by the We Got Served blog. The blog notes that Windows Home Server "still does not appear as a target disk for [Apple Mac OS X] Time Machine backups."

Windows SBS products have an Add-in Manager, which provides a single location for installing, managing and deploying Add-ins. Organizations can use on-premises Add-ins to set group and malware policies, or they can use cloud-integrated Add-ins, which might be used for online backup or for access to hosted apps such as Office 365 or Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Online.

Examples of Add-ins include "Windows 7 Pro and Essentials Better Together" (enables real-time backup and file access offline) and "Windows Phone 7 Better Together" (provides remote access to alerts). There are also community-developed Add-ins, such as "LightsOut" (enables power management scheduling), among many others.

Choosing Servers
Microsoft has a general product concept for the servers that may shape an organization's choice of either Window SBS Essentials 2011 or Windows SBS Standard 2011.

The Essentials product is designed more for organizations that expect to access Microsoft's online applications. It automatically connects to Microsoft's cloud and enables synchronization along with Active Directory support, Leworthy said. SBS Standard 2011 is designed more for organizations that need Web site hosting, Exchange e-mail and SharePoint support, along with remote access. The breakdown is shown in this Microsoft features comparison table.

Windows SBS 2011 Standard lacks PC backup capability, unlike Windows SBS 2011 Essentials. However, Leworthy explained that Windows SBS 2011 Standard users can use third-party backup tools for PC backups, or Windows 7's built-in backup and restore capability can be set.

"For client PC backup, as we build on top of WS08R2, you can use any backup tool which has been certified for that platform," Leworthy wrote. "Commercial examples include applications like Symantec Backup Exec. Also, the wide range of local PC backup tools can be used on the individual PCs and the backup files redirected to the server. Windows 7 has an inbuilt Backup and Restore center which can be set up to be automated and back the PC up to the server, as well as the ability to back up the PC to VHD [virtual hard disk] using these tools. This gives the company the ability to mount the client VHD back to a new PC if a critical failure happens within minutes."

Both SBS 2011 Essentials and SBS 2011 Standard are based on Windows Server 2008 R2, but the licensing is specialized for SBS. The two products don't support a Hyper-V server role. To get that server virtualization capability, users need the Windows SBS 2011 Premium Add-on, Leworthy said. Both products are designed for easy set up through a Web browser, which takes seven mouse clicks, according to Leworthy. The set up will perform an Active Directory join of an organization's PCs to the server.

Move Server Tool
Microsoft also introduced a new "move server" tool for SBS Essentials and for Windows Home Server 2011. The tool is a wizard that lets administrators move data from one hard drive to another. Leworthy said that Microsoft planned to provide more information on the tool in the next two weeks. However, Microsoft published video demos of the tool today, both for SBS Essentials and for Windows Home Server 2011.

The RC version of Windows Home Server Vail doesn't have Drive Extender. Microsoft caused a stir among users by deciding to remove that technology. According to a post at the We Got Served blog, the Vail RC lacks Drive Extender features such as "redundant data protection" and creating "storage pools" on various hard drives.

"Users will subsequently have to rely on more complex technologies such as RAID, external backup or other third-party solutions to offer the data protection required for the digital media stored on Windows Home Server 2011," the blog explains.


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