The End of Windows Server Essentials

You may have heard that Microsoft has removed the Essentials role from Server 2019 Standard/Datacenter but is still offering a Server 2019 Essentials SKU. But did you know that the Essentials SKU will not include the Essentials Experience role either?

Robert Pearman lays out the implications here:

Gone is the Remote Web Access feature.
Gone is the Essentials Connector.
Gone is Client PC Backup.
Gone is Office 365 Integration.
Gone, is the Dashboard.
Gone, indeed, is the Essentials Role.
All that remains of Essentials, is the name Essentials and the licensing limits of the Essentials SKU, of 25 client access licenses.
What we are presented with, is now more in line with Windows foundation server from several years ago.

One developer has figured out how to run the Essentials role from 2016 (which is basically a big .NET application) on Server 2019 Standard. Of course, that will never be supported by Microsoft. If you want a supported Essentials role, Server 2016 is the last option.

Essentials has been a great solution for small businesses that want an “all in one” on-premises server. Server 2016 with the Essentials role is still a viable option, as it is in mainstream support through 2022, and extended support through 2027. But if you want the latest-greatest Server 2019, you’ll need to find alternatives for the Essentials features.

Essentials Feature Alternatives

Remote Web Access is a web interface for remote file access and remote access to on-premises desktops. The latter is provided by an underlying server role called Remote Desktop Gateway. According to the Office Maven article, “Microsoft has removed all of the Remote Desktop Services roles from the [2019 Essentials] SKU,” but they are still available in 2019 Standard. So with 2019 Standard, you can still allow users remote access to their desktops; they just won’t have the convenient web dashboard showing accessible machines. (You could pre-create Remote Desktop links for them.) Also note that with 2019 Standard, you’ll need an RDS Client Access License (CAL) for each user or device. Not cheap.

Remote file access is not so easy. Yes, you should still be able to provide VPN access with native tools. Probably there are third-party tools that would provide a web interface for remote file access.

Client PC Backup Even if all of your critical data is stored on the server, you still need client PC images to restore in the case of a hard drive failure, upgrade failure, or virus infection. You could theoretically set up native Windows Backup or Veeam Free on each client to back up to a network share on the server, but that gets to be a lot to manage if there are very many machines. Veeam offers central management options, but they are not free. Some Network-Attached Storage (NAS) devices include client backup tools.

The Future of Small Business Computing

“The cloud” has some valuable benefits for small business, particularly for hosting services that must be available 24x7x365 (email, web sites, critical file backup). However, many small companies still rely on line-of-business applications that require fast access to data that is best provided by a local server. The companies still have desktop computers that they use while in the office and to which they need remote access when out of the office.

Essentials was a nice suite to meet several of these requirements, but there are alternatives. It’s up to I.T. providers to learn about the options and continue to advise customers on the best combination of solutions for their needs.

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