Why Windows Server 2012 R2: The Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials Experience Step-by-Step

imageIn Windows Server 2012 we introduced a new version called Windows Server 2012 Essentials edition.  The Essentials server is very flexible and easy-to-use.  This was a server solution that was primarily designed and priced for small businesses with up to 25 users and 50 devices.  This provided a great first server for many customers, as well as it can be used as the primary server in a multi-server environment for small businesses.

With the new Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials Server we really added many features to make this an even more rounded server.  The Essential server also provides a ton of flexibly for deployment and functionality.  We even included the popular client computer backup from Windows Home server.  The Windows Server Essentials Experience role is available in Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard and Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter.

What’s New In Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials

When you install the Windows Server Essentials Experience role, you can take advantage of all the features that are available to you in Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials without the locks and limits enforced in it. The Windows Server Essentials Experience role enables you to:

  • Protect your server and client data by backing up your server and all the client computers within your network.
  • Manage your users and groups through the simplified server Dashboard. In addition, integration with Windows Azure Active Directory enables easy data access for Microsoft online services users (for example, Office 365, Exchange Online, and SharePoint Online users) through their domain credentials.
  • Store your company’s data in a centralized location.
  • Integrate your server with Microsoft online services, such as Office 365, Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, and Windows Intune.
    • Integration with Office 365 enables you to synchronize and manage Office 365 user accounts and access through the Dashboard.
    • Integration with SharePoint Online enables you to create and manage SharePoint libraries through the Dashboard.
  • Use the Anywhere Access functionalities on the server (such as Remote Web Access and virtual private networks) to access your server, network computers, and data from remote locations in a highly secure manner.
  • Access data from any location and on any device by using the company’s customized web portal (through Remote Web Access).
  • Manage mobile devices that access company emails by using Office 365 through Active Sync from the Dashboard.
  • Monitor network health and obtain customized health reports. The reports can be created on demand, customized, and sent by email to specified recipients.

With Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials we have added a lot of new functionality, review the following table:


Deployment Options Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials Edition

What makes the new R2 essentials edition is the different ways you can deploy the functionality into your organization. 

  • You can deploy it as a stand alone server
  • You can also deploy this as a server role on Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter or Standard edition
  • Physical or Virtual Deployments are supported.
  • Windows Azure


If you have not yet tried Windows Azure go to https://aka.ms/getazureiaas to setup your trial account and when you add a new virtual machine you will have the ability to quickly deploy a Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials edition.  For this post I am going to step you through the installation of the Essentials experience on a Windows 2012 R2 Datacenter server.  In a future post I will take you through the rest of the configuration.

Step-by-Step Installing the Essentials Experience

  1. Open Server Manager on your server
  2. Select Dashboard on the left hand navigation bar
  3. Click the Add Roles and Features link
  4. In the Add Roles Features Wizard, review the before you begin message and click Next
  5. On Installation Type verify Role-based or Feature-based installation is selected and click Next
  6. On Server Selection Screen, select the server you wish to install the Essentials Experience on and click Next
  7. On Server Roles select Windows Server Essentials Experience.  You may be prompted to add additional features for the Windows Server Essentials Experience,  review the additions and click Add Features:

    Notice: The Essentials experience will also install the Web Server Role, After you have added roles and features click Next:


  8. On Features, review the selections and Click Next
  9. On Window Server Essentials Experience, review the message and click Next


  10. On Web Server Role (IIS) review the message and click Next
  11. On Role and Services, review the selections and click Next.
  12. On Confirmation review the installation and click Install
  13. On Results, verify the installation was successful and click Close.
  14. You will be returned to Server Manager, and in the upper left hand portion of the Window click on the notification flag.


  15. Click on Configure Windows Server Essentials
  16. On Configure Windows Server Essentials welcome page review the message and click Next
  17. On Company information fill in your Company name and Domain name and click Next


  18. On Create a network administrator account, type in the information for your administrator account and click Configure.   The configuration process may take up to 30 minutes and your server will reboot, so go get your favorite beverage and relax. 


  19. After server reboots you will see the Results, verify the installation was successful and click Close.  Also close server manager.


After the installation you will now have a new icon on your desktop called Dashboard, double click this and it will launch the Windows Server Essentials Dashboard (screen very similar is shown below)  I will this wonderful tool in another series of posts.  In the meantime go deploy your own server and start taking a tour!


To learn more about Windows Server Essentials take a look here:

Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials and Windows Server 2012 Essentials

To download Windows Server 2012 R2, where you can install the essentials role please click here:


For the full list in the series:  Windows Server 2012 R2 Launch Blog Series Index #WhyWin2012R2

Comments (11)
  1. Anonymous says:

    Is this a solution for those trying to migrate from earlier versions of Small Business Server? Can you install an Exchange VM on this server after installing the Essentials Role?

  2. Matt Hester says:

    Since SBS is no longer, this is truly the next way to go for small business. I am not sure if Exchange would be something you would want to virtualize, I am sure it would work, Essentials is made to work directly with Office 365

  3. Ken says:

    When you install the Essentials Role on a server you still have the ability to install Hyper-V on the server and yes, you can install an a Exchange VM if you like. Of course, there may be trade offs by running Exchange on a VM, but it would be supported.

    If you install Essentials on a bare metal system (not as a a Role) you can not run VMs on that same server – Essentials does not support Hyper-V and includes no licenses for virtual machines.

    If you install Essentials as it's own VM on a host, you can obviously run another VM running Exchange, assuming your host machine can handle the load.

  4. SStuart says:

    Does this effect the functionality of Server standard/datacenter in any negative ways? Like 'simplified dashboard' for active directory management, i assume you can still manage it with the more powerful tools.

  5. David98033 says:

    There are 2 distinct ways you can get the Essentials Experience role, each with its own pros/cons, limitations/advantages.

    First, you can purchase the Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials edition, which has a license limit of 25 users/50 devices, does not use the CAL licensing model, must be a domain controller at the root of the AD forest & domain holding all the FSMO roles, provides one instance of Windows Server, and costs USD $501 (Open NL ERP). The Essentials edition can be used to virtualize itself, but it has a licensing limitation to not host other VMs. The Essentials edition can be a good solution for smaller SBS environments that want to use cloud-based messaging/collaboration and only want to run a single server instance for all their needs. It’s easy to do an in-place license transition from Essentials to Standard if you later grow beyond its limitations, so you are not locked in and don’t have to start over from scratch.

    Second, you can purchase the Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard (or Datacenter) edition and turn on the Windows Server Essentials Experience role. These editions don’t have the user limits of the Essentials edition, they use the CAL licensing model, they can be member servers in existing AD environments, and they provide multiple instances of Windows Server (2 for each Standard license, unlimited for DC). Standard edition can be a good solution for SBS environments that are larger than 25 users or want to run Exchange Server on-premises for messaging. From a technical perspective, the features of the Essentials edition scale to 100 users/200 devices, and beyond that it will start making more sense to use the highly scalable native tools.

    For all the editions, it is possible to use the native tools for management even when the Essentials Experience role is turned on; in other words, you aren’t forced to use the Dashboard.

  6. MercyBrew says:

    Please how does the Essentials Experience Role affect FSMO roles. Does the server installed with the role automatically own all FSMO roles. What if multiple servers are installed with the Essentials Role in a domain?

  7. Roman G says:

    Is it possible to have the Experience installed without making the server a domain controller? I want to use multimedia streaming on a standalone server 2012 essential and it is not possible without installing the experience that tries to re-configure
    a standalone server into a domain controller.

  8. Matt Hester says:

    Good afternoon Roman, There are a couple of articles that will help you with your questions, : http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn281793.aspx to clarify the domain scenarios/requirements for Essentials. For info on media streaming, check out

  9. Roman G says:

    Thank you for the links, Matt. They just confirmed what I said. Microsoft's enforcement of having Windows Essential Experience role to be able to run media streaming server on Windows 2012R2 seems to me illogical as the streaming service relies on IIS
    service that doesn't need the experience role to be installed. Well, there is nothing I can do about it.

  10. Joel S says:

    Sorry this is a late addon to this thread.. But can't find anywhere else. and well heck, maybe you know… since the server can be added as a member server or a DC to an existing domain.. what do the clients (already domain joined) that you'd like to have backed up (main purpose for the role that I can see) do to "join" the server.. obviously these profiles do not need to be migrated to the domain — since they are already existing domain profiles… do you know?

  11. SBS-er says:

    If you install Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials on your first server, then add a new physical member server to the existing domain with Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard, do you need to buy CALs for the second server, or are they covered by the Essentials licence of up to 25 users?

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