Email Options Supported by Windows Server 2012 Essentials

[Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Rong Yu from Windows Server Essentials Team]

As Joe mentioned in a previous blog post, one of the key capabilities of Windows Server 2012 Essentials (Essentials) is the flexibility of choosing different types of email services. Essentials provides built-in support for Office 365 and an on-premises Exchange Server running on a second server. It will also have support for third-party hosted Exchange service providers to integrate with Essentials.

In this post I will walk you through each of the email options that Windows Server 2012 Essentials supports.

On-premises Exchange Server

We understand that cloud‑based email may not be the best option for some small businesses for various reasons, such as poor and/or expensive Internet connectivity. We have also heard from many of our partners that an on-premises Exchange Server is still a preferred option for many customers. Although Windows Server 2012 Essentials does not include Exchange Server as a component product, we do support running Exchange Server on a second server, and we provide a similar integrated mailbox management experience via the Dashboard as we had with Windows Small Business Server (Windows SBS) 2011 Standard.

Here are the common topologies for setting up an Exchange Server on a second server in a Windows Server 2012 Essentials environment:

  • Deploy Windows Server 2012 Essentials and Exchange Server on separate physical servers. On the first server, you’ll set up Windows Server 2012 Essentials (see the system requirements). On the second server, you’ll install Windows Server (either Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard or Windows Server 2012 Standard) and Exchange Server (Exchange Server 2010 or Exchange Server 2013). Note that Exchange Server 2010 SP2 only supports installation on Windows Server 2008 R2. A minimum of 2 processor cores and 8 GB memory is required for setting up the Exchange server. For more information about the system requirements for Exchange Server, see Exchange 2010 System Requirements.
  • Deploy Windows Server 2012 Essentials and Exchange Server in a virtualized environment. In this case, you can set up a Hyper-V virtualization host by using a single, more powerful server running Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard or Windows Server 2012 Standard. Then you can create one guest virtual machine running Windows Server 2012 Essentials and a second guest virtual machine running the Exchange server.

After Exchange Server is installed, you can turn on the integration with Windows Server 2012 Essentials. The integration includes:

  • Simple configuration. Simply click the Getting Started task for the on-premises Exchange Integration. The wizard will automatically discover the on-premises Exchange Server and configure the integration with Essentials.
  • Integrated mailbox management.
    • An administrator can create an associated mailbox when creating a new user account on Windows Server 2012 Essentials.
    • An administrator can edit a user’s email address or enforce a mailbox quota.
    • When a user account is deleted, the user’s mailbox will also be disconnected and will be scheduled for later recycling.
  • Integrated Exchange Server health notification. Administrators will receive alerts in the Essentials Dashboard if any of the Exchange services are not running in a healthy status.
  • Reverse proxy configuration. If you have only one public IP from your Internet service provider, you’ll need a reverse proxy to redirect Exchange requests coming from the Internet to the Exchange Server running on the second server. We recommend Application Request Routing as the reverse proxy. The on-premises Exchange Integration provides a configuration tool to automatically configure ARR.

To see how you can integrate an on-premises Exchange Server and manage users’ mailboxes from Windows Server 2012 Essentials, watch the following video:

We have provided a whitepaper about how to set up an Exchange Server on a Windows Server 2012 Essentials network. We’ve received some great feedback already and are continuously making improvements. Robert Pearman, a Windows SBS MVP, has also documented the screenshot-by-screenshot steps he followed to set up an on-premises Exchange Server, which you may also find helpful.

Office 365

Office 365 provides secure and anywhere, anytime access to emails and calendars, Office Web Apps, instant messaging, conferencing, and file sharing. The Office 365 for small businesses plan is designed for small businesses with 25 or fewer employees at just $6 per user per month. Of course, you can also choose other Office 365 plans like the standalone Exchange Online plan or Office 365 for midsize businesses and enterprises plan to best meet your specific needs.

For small businesses, moving the email workload to Office 365 means you don’t need to worry about setting up an Exchange Server or dealing with version upgrades. You don’t need to worry about maintaining and troubleshooting an on-premises Exchange Server, and you are assured of 99.9% uptime that is financially backed up by Microsoft. It also means you can purchase a less expensive server to run Essentials compared to Windows SBS Standard, as the latter has higher system requirements.

Microsoft has also been investing in making more opportunities in Office 365 for partners. Office 365 Open was recently announced at the 2012 Worldwide Partner Conference to offer a new way for partners to sell Office 365. It enables partners to realize more revenue, deliver packaged services in a single invoice, and own the customer relationship completely.

Windows Server 2012 Essentials builds on the previous Office 365 Integration Module for Windows SBS 2011 Essentials. This option is now part of the core product (no separate download is required) and it provides a seamlessly integrated management experience on Essentials for customers who are using Office 365 for their email.

On top of the core feature set that was included in the Office 365 Integration Module for Windows SBS 2011 Essentials, such as integrated user account management and automatic user password synchronization, we’ve also made a few enhancements to make the experience better.

  • Support for multiple email addresses. Feedback we’ve heard from customers and partners is that it’s a fairly common scenario for a small business to have multiple email domains and to assign multiple email addresses to a single user. Now with Windows Server 2012 Essentials, you can easily do that from within the Dashboard. Following is a screenshot of the User Properties dialog box.

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To add another email address to a user, you can simply click the “Add” button as shown in the preceding screenshot.

  • Improved Office 365 domain configuration wizard. In the Office 365 Integration Module for Windows SBS 2011 Essentials, you are required to configure Remote Web Access (RWA) when configuring a domain for Office 365. This caused some confusion. For example, you were required to provide an SSL certificate which is not actually needed by Office 365, but is required by RWA. In Windows Server 2012 Essentials, we have de-coupled the two and you’ll see a more concise experience. Another improvement is that you’ll have an option to configure a different domain name for Office 365 than for RWA. This allows a small business to continue to use the same free domain names like contoso.remotewebaccess.com for RWA on Essentials and a different vanity domain name for their email in Office 365.
  • Display mailbox usage information. The Office 365 tab on the Windows Server 2012 Essentials Dashboard will show the mailbox usage information (note this feature is not available in the Beta).

Third-Party Hosted Email Services

There are many hosters offering differentiated and competitive hosted email services to small businesses. The benefits of small businesses choosing a hosted email service are similar to Office 365, including lower system requirements for the server and reduced maintenance costs. One of the goals for Windows Server 2012 Essentials is to provide flexibility to small businesses to use these third-party hosted email services. For partners, it also means that they have more options to choose from, to best serve their customers.

We know there are many different types of hosted email providers, and it’s impossible to have a standard integration feature that works with all providers. Windows Server 2012 Essentials will include a Hosted Email Add-in Framework that is designed to help hosted email providers to develop add-ins offering a tailored and integrated management experience on Essentials with their own hosted email services. A service provider can pre-install their add-in with Essentials to allow customers to select their email option or make it available for customers to install after the initial setup.

While hosted Exchange email providers are the focus for designing the Hosted Email Add-in Framework, the framework itself is engineered to be email service-agnostic, and non-Exchange–based email providers can also leverage it to build their integration for Essentials.

This feature is still under development and is not available in the Beta. We will share more details about the framework as we get closer to release, so please stay tuned for further updates.

Summary

Windows Server 2012 Essentials provides the flexibility for small businesses to choose different email options. It also opens up new opportunities for partners to grow their business by supporting cloud solutions and providing a variety of email solutions that best fit their customers’ needs.