Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials: A Closer Look

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:





Ability to join a domain




Data Deduplication




BranchCache – Hosted Cache





No Hyper-V

Yes (2 VMs)

No Hyper-V

Failover Clustering




Networking infrastructure (including DNS, DHCP, and WINS)




Windows Server Essentials Experience




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





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.


Scott M. Johnson
Senior Program Manager
Windows Storage Server

Comments (26)
  1. Jason M. Anderson says:

    Hey folks, I’m Jason Anderson the GPM for Windows Server Essentials, which is the server role running on Windows Storage Server Essentials.

    Jonas – Technically, yes you can run SQL 2012 express. However I’m not sure the license permits this. At least for Windows Server Essentials, running workloads are excluded from the license rights.

    Vijay – The Media Streaming features can be enabled through downloading and installing the Media Streaming Pack from the Microsoft download center here –

    Todd – Windows Server Essentials support self-virtualizing itself using Hyper-V, but not running other VM workloads or instances. For the ability to run multiple VM instances you’ll need to use Windows Server Standard.

  2. Jonas says:

    Can I run an SQL 2012 express on Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials?

  3. vijay says:

    Does this version have media streaming features ?

  4. Todd says:

    Why does the Essentials edition don’t support VM ? And the short video on Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials i can’t find the link….

  5. vijay says:

    Thanks. Looks like this the right replacement for aging WHS2011 price and features wise. I assume it works in WORKGROUP mode ? Client Backup, streaming, file share is all we need.

  6. Ron says:

    Jason, please elaborate a bit on "running workloads." What does that mean? I have a customer (4 office employees) with an old XP box for a file server and hosting QuickBooks Database Server (multi-user support). I would like to recommend the Thecus W4000
    to replace their "server" but I want to be certain that QuickBooks Database Server will install/run on the W4000 and preferably honor "soft" licensing agreement restrictions.

    Thank you!

  7. felix says:

    And if we replace an aging server with a cloud solution, can we run this NAS as a local DC. Also noted on the Thecus site no mention of hardware RAID support, does it mean, they rely only on Storage Spaces (obviously need to read up on how it provides
    redundancy without a performance penalty).

  8. Quentin says:

    I am disappointed that WSS does not support WSUS, per file:///C:/data/Downloads/Windows%20Server%202012%20R2%20Products%20and%20Editions%20Comparison.pdf. WSUS is very useful for homes in areas with limited bandwidth or bandwidth caps or both.

    What are the advantages of running WSS over Windows Server Essentials in a home or small business environment? How can I, a semi-retired IT professional, get hold of a copy to investigate?

  9. alex says:

    Is it possible to join the storage server 2012 R2 essentials to an existing domain without promoting it to a dc, or at least without transferring the FSMO roles? Or has the the storage server also to be configured like server 2012 r2 essentials as master?

  10. Darren says:

    So, I’m new to this who Window Server thing, but wanting to upgrade my NAS. I currently have a Thecus, but was considering getting the W5000 for my upgrade. I am just wondering if I would have to pay a licensing fee to have the Windows Server NAS and if
    it would even be worth upgrading to this. I am using it simply for my home storage and would also use it as a media server. I liked the idea of being able to access it from the web so that when I am not home I am still able to access my media files for use.

    Any advice/feedback/input would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks everyone.

  11. Bob R says:

    Like Alex I want to know if wsse can join an existing domain without it being the DC. I just received my Thecus W5000 and would like to use it simply as a NAS not DC.

  12. Kevin H says:

    I noticed that the WSS 2012 R2 Essentials is not available in MSDN. Any chance that it will be? I’m trying to find a workstation backup solution for developers in a big company. I tried using Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials but you have to get Domain
    Admins involved to complete the install. I want to try it out before recommending the solution.

  13. Ron says:

    Called a Microsoft pre-sales consultant just now, hoping to get some clarification on ‘running workloads’ and/or restrictions in Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials. Initially they claimed there are only Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Standard and Workgroup
    and Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials. The consultant directed me to which doesn’t apply to Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 _Essentials_. Next, I was directed to ( yuck; ever hear of or!) a shortened URL for the blog post I’m commenting on. Finally, I was directed to, which covers managing server storage in Windows Server Essentials. Sigh… Looks like no clear answer is forthcoming. I may just
    take the "screw the EULA" approach and hope for the best (that QuickBooks Database Server will install/run).

  14. Anonymous says:

    Hi Folks –
    Over the past few weeks, I’ve published two blogs ( here and here ) on Windows

  15. Joe says:

    Where can we find the licenses terms ??

  16. Anonymous says:

    Hi Folks –
    Over the past few months, I’ve made some noise about Thecus’s new line

  17. Jeffrey says:

    Can I install this OS to 16 bays storage? Any Hardware limitation?

  18. Louis Philippe says:

    In Windows Storage 2012 storage traffic runs on all network adapters. Can I isolated the traffic on a specific adaptor.

  19. Boggy says:

    @Luis Philippe Why would you want to limit yourself to a single network adapter if you have 2? How about Nic bonding and doubling the network connection + failover, if one goes down.

  20. Romy.D says:

    Hi guys is Windows Storage Server 2008 R2 Standard is compatible to Windows Azure backup? I already installed the Microsoft azure backup agent but the application is not running, Do you have any idea on this scenario. thanks

  21. Florisz says:

    @Microsoft. Why not make this Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials available as an upgrade for existing Windows Home Server v1 and v2 clients!? Most of them have hardware that is still working great, but you lease us no option than to buy new hardware
    with Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials or go to an alternative product(No Windows) or an option without payed license….

  22. Ron says:

    My advice: steer clear of Thecus (W4000/w4000+, at least). I purchased a W4000 and upgraded it to a w4000+ (4GB RAM). I even tried 8GB RAM. No matter–performance is utterly laughable, even with the SSD system drive. The Atom D2701 is woefully underpowered
    for this system’s intended purpose. It staggers merely for a Windows Update cycle. It looks like the Atom D2550 in the W5000 is even pokier. Unfortunately, Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials is presently "married" to severely limited offerings from
    Thecus. Therefore, I consider Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials to be unviable.

  23. James T. says:

    I see a lot of questions but no (current) answers from either Scott Johnson or Jason Anderson. But I’ll pose a question anyway. Does Windows Storage Server 2012 R2 Essentials support and backup to the 1TB OneDrive storage space provided with an Office
    365 Home subscription?

  24. S Singh says:

    I agree Scott Johnson or Jason Anderson need to respond to many pending questions here. My question is regarding client backup/restore software.. does WSS2012E provide client software for end PCs and servers to connect to it for backup/restore? Does that
    include Bare Metal Restores? What is the backup utility? GUI based? can the backups be scripted and managed (success/fail alerts) etc? Also for scenarios where WSS2012E is joined to an existing AD Domain, can it me monitored using SCOM and can it handle Group
    Policy Objects pushed from a DC, does it allow RDP for 2 users? Also can MSFT summarize list of vendors with NAS appliances just like Thecus?

    Pls provide response. Thanks.

  25. OldTymer says:

    There is def a 4Gb RAM limit regardless of what the hardware supports. I have a Thecus W200 it runs 4Gb just but 8Gb slows the OS down to a crawl, even though the hardware detects and runs the 8Gb fine. It’s taken some time to trouble shoot and find some
    resources online as info about this OS is limited.

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