Windows Server 2016: What’s in It for Small Businesses?

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I examine if there are any features in Windows Server 2016 that might be worth SMEs upgrading for.

In September 2015, I wrote in What Does Windows Server 2016 Mean for Small Businesses? on the Petri IT Knowledgebase that if your small or medium business is already running Windows Server 2012 R2, that Windows Server 2016 would be unlikely to be an enticing upgrade, with some exceptions — for instance, businesses requiring virtualization with failover capability. But now that Microsoft has announced general availability of Windows Server 2016 at Ignite, let’s take a more detailed look at what it means for SMEs.

Much of the new functionality in Windows Server 2016 is aimed at large enterprises looking to support complex hybrid private/public cloud infrastructures and that need container technology as popularized by Docker. But some features might be of interest to SMEs, and it’s also worth noting that it’s not just about what’s new, but Windows Server 2016 is a more robust OS and has improved security out-of-the-box.

Windows Server Essentials

Just like previous versions of Windows Server, there are several editions of Windows Server 2016, including Standard, Datacenter, and Essentials. Foundation edition has been knocked on the head for this release. Windows Server Essentials was introduced after the demise of Small Business Server (SBS), the stalwart solution that SMEs relied on for the better part of a decade to get discounted access to Exchange and SQL Server, along with some specific server features designed to make Windows Server deployment easier.

Unlike SBS 2011, which supported up to 75 users, Windows Server Essentials (WSE) supports 25 users and 50 devices, and includes features such as Remote Web Access and remote client deployment, which aren’t in other editions of server unless you install the WSE Experience server role.

WSE is a bridge to the cloud, providing SMEs with the best of an on-premises server and Office 365. Users can access on-site storage and applications running on Essentials, but it also integrates with Office 365, including hosted Exchange, and Azure for secure off-site backup.

Despite all of this, I don’t see any significant differences in core functionality of Essentials in Windows Server 2012 R2 and 2016. Microsoft hasn’t released any documentation on Windows Server 2016 Essentials, yet, and when they do, if I find any important details, I’ll update this article.

Security Improvements

Not a reason to upgrade in itself but not to be sniffed at, either: Windows Defender now comes enabled out-of-the-box in Windows Server, and according to Microsoft, it’s optimized for Windows Server, so should behave itself no matter what server roles you have installed.

Other security improvements include Credential Guard, which isolates privileged domain credentials using hardware virtualization, and Control Flow, which helps to prevent memory corruption vulnerabilities. For more information on Credential Guard, see Windows 10 Enterprise Feature: Credential Guard on Petri.

Windows Containers (Docker)

This feature might be handy for SMEs with in-house developers, because Windows Server Containers can be used with Docker. But depending on your goals, Windows 10 Anniversary Update also includes container support for Hyper-V containers. For more information on Docker and Windows containers, see Deploy and Manage Windows Server Containers using Docker and What is Docker? on Petri IT Knowledgebase.

Azure Inspired Upgrade

Windows Server 2016 is, as Microsoft puts it, an “Azure inspired upgrade,” and unless you have specific requirements in app development, security, or virtualization, there’s little need to rush into upgrading to this release of Windows Server.

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