Windows Server 2016 Essentials GA Announced

LogoWith the fanfare we have come to expect for all things Essentials, it came as no surprise that the GA announcement of this much maligned product was whispered out in the latest SBS Blog Post.

Don’t get me wrong, Essentials as a product has it’s faults, but to me this feels a lot like the way the NHS is being defunded, someone sooner or later is going to claim it didn’t work out, when very little seems to be being done to ensure its success. Anyway enough of that.

So what’s new in Essentials 2016? 

Of course we have all the new technologies included with Server 2016 Standard, but of course we need to focus in on improvements to Essentials itself.

On opening the Dashboard, the first change we notice is a new menu item to ‘Setup Windows Defender’.

Dashboard 1

Once enabled, we can go to the General page in Settings and look at the configuration options.

Defender

This leads us to the Windows Defender that is now shipped with Server 2016 and the familiar interface that started with Microsoft Anti Spyware (then Microsoft Security Essentials).

Defender Settings

Staying in Settings, we can see the option for ‘Designated Domain Controller’.

Designated Doman Controller

As the name suggests we can now designate a Domain Controller for our Essentials services to look at. This ties in with the change that allows Essentials to support multi domain environments.

    • multiple domains
    • multiple domain controllers
    • ability to specify a designated domain controller
    • support for up to 500 users and 500 devices

However do note this only applies to the Essentials Role, not the SKU.

More information on this can be found here but this is a good summary.

Not mentioned is multi Forrest support, so I think it is safe to say this would not be supported.

Azure integration has also been much improved. With support rolled into the Dashboard for Azure Site Recovery and Azure Virtual Networks.

Azure VM N

Azure VM R

With additional support for Azure Active Directory and Multiple Office 365 Subscriptions (in the same tenant) finally being rolled in, are these changes enough to get people on-board with this product? It remains to be seen.

Azure VM AD

A lot of discussion within the small remaining SMB focussed MVP group suggests the consensus is that Essentials is a dead product, certainly in its fourth generation, it is still not the ‘Turn Key’ solution for a small business owner that Microsoft intended it to be.

However if the new integration with Cloud Services like Azure Virtual Networking has been done well, it could be the product that helps a lot of small businesses start their journey away from reliance on local servers and storage, at it’s core it still provides a local Active Directory and Client PC Backup, which in today’s world of Ransomware is too often overlooked.

About Robert Pearman
Robert Pearman is a UK based Small Business Server enthusiast. He has been working within the SMB IT Industry for what feels like forever. Robert likes Piña colada and taking walks in the rain, on occasion he also enjoys writing about Small Business Technology like Windows Server Essentials or more recently writing PowerShell Scripts. If you're in trouble, and you can find him, maybe you can ask him a question.

3 Responses to Windows Server 2016 Essentials GA Announced

  1. miles267 says:

    Was excited to see an update on WSE16. Have run each of the WHS incarnations and am now running Windows Server Essentials 2012 R2 in a home environment. Primarily use it as a file server for centralized storage with a few domain clients, central manage my home movies/music collection for family and perform windows client backups. The domain controller feature being one I don’t utilize enough. Instead I’ve used the skipdomainjoin hack in most cases.

    Have also added a few family members to the domain and use DirectAcess to keep a constant secure “VPN” connection between them and my home server for nightly client backups. In many cases these family members are out of state. Worst case, I’d have them ship me their hardware and I’d do a bare metal restore to recover their data.

    In my use case, can’t quite see a benefit for cloud server service like Azure. Especially when speed of access to local data for streaming media is critical. I’m resigned to fact that I’ll likely run some form of local file server for the foreseeable future unless I’m overlooking benefits of Azure in a home environment.

    Always enjoy your Windows Server/Essentials updates. Please keep it up!

  2. Paul Braren says:

    Well, at least a built-in ability to install AV is a step forward, when you consider the crazy stuff I went through to get AV working since the v1 days:
    https://TinkerTry.com/antivirus4ws2012e

    By the way, any chance you tried an upgrade from 2012, and if so, were Client Computer Backups preserved this time around (which would be a first)?

  3. Naysan says:

    I did a fresh install of Windows Server 2016 Standard with Essentials role installed. However I skipped domain join and DNS and use Veeam Endpoint for backup of clients so really all I use it for is an RD Gateway to connect to the clients while out of the office without the need for VPN. It’s easier to configure and manage than manually configuring RD Gateway on Windows Server.

    I do feel that Essentials is out-dated now even with the upgrades. Having had Essentials from 2012 and Windows Home Server before that, I had hoped more plugins would be built for the eco-system but there are only a handful these days. I had also hoped the health monitoring of clients could be a cheap, on-prem alternative to Intune but it’s pretty basic.

    Having said that, Plugins such as WSE RemoteApp (https://www.theofficemaven.com/products/wse-remoteapp-2016) are a great addition to functionality without needing a full domain etc.

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