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Make a Windows Server 2016 Essentials comparison to find the best fit

Two similar-sounding versions of Windows Server 2016 Essentials have important differences, such as the number of licenses each enables a business to use.

Windows Server 2016 Essentials, which replaces the soon to be obsolete Small Business Server, is available in two...

similar-sounding options. And the version you install has a direct effect on usage rights and available features.

One point of confusion among enterprises during a Windows Server 2016 Essentials comparison is whether Essentials is a role within Windows Server 2016 Essentials or if it's a separate stockkeeping unit (SKU) or edition. The answer: It's both. And the difference between the two comes down to client access licensing.

The Windows Server 2016 Essentials edition is a separate SKU that you purchase. When you install an Essentials server from this SKU, it automatically establishes this version and sets up tools -- after installing the core Windows Server 2016 OS.

The Essentials edition suits small businesses, nonprofit organizations and other businesses that previously gravitated toward Small Business Server; these shops likely desire a prefitted kit that sets things up and eliminates the need to hire a full-time IT staff member.

The Essentials experience, on the other hand, refers to the Essentials role that you can check within the Server Manager's Roles and Features Wizard in any Windows Server 2016 edition. The Essentials role puts the features and control panel of Essentials onto a regular server box, without the native licensing features. All Windows Server 2016 DVDs and ISO images have this role as an option, so you get the functionality without purchasing the separate SKU.

Benefits of the Windows Server 2016 Essentials role

So, after a Windows Server 2016 Essentials comparison, why would an administrator want to install the Windows Server 2016 Essentials role? The bottom line: cool features. The Essentials product includes a portal that enables you to access certain desktops or laptops off premises using Remote Desktop Services over the web -- without having to set up the RDS web experience and deal with certificates and Secure Sockets Layer ports. It also has a client backup feature; admins choose 100 of the most important user desktops and can automatically back them up to a member server -- either instead of or in addition to the enterprise's current backup strategy.

Why would an administrator want to install the Windows Server 2016 Essentials role? The bottom line: cool features.

For example, a branch office within your company needs some of the Essentials features but also must be connected to the domain at corporate headquarters. There are times when it's valuable to have the Essentials role available along with the separate SKU. Often, this setup is ideal for smaller networks and small businesses that don't have a full-fledged AD deployment but need on-premises authentication and storage that communicates with Office 365, hosted email and SharePoint functions.

Caveats of Windows Server 2016 Essentials

While in some cases it is beneficial to have both the Windows Server 2016 Essentials SKU and the role, there can be issues with this setup. A Windows Server 2016 Essentials comparison reveals some caveats:

  • Windows Server 2016 Essentials edition must act as the domain controller at the root of a forest; it must hold all of the flexible single master operations roles. However, admins can deploy the Essentials role or experience on any member server in an existing AD domain.
  • From a support perspective, the Essentials edition supports 25 single users and 50 devices, while the role on a regular member server supports 100 users and 200 devices.
  • Windows Server 2016 Essentials licensing diverges widely. Windows Server client access licenses must separately cover all of those 100 users and 200 devices on a member server under the Essentials role, as the role does not include any built-in client access licenses. The Essentials SKU, on the other hand, includes 25 user and 50 device client access licenses for that product -- without the need to purchase any additional licenses.
  • Admins can only back up client computers to the one computer that is running the Essentials role; this must be configured manually.

Next Steps

Windows Server 2016 brings a cloud focus

Test your Windows Server 2016 licensing knowledge

Think carefully before a Windows Server 2016 upgrade

This was last published in July 2017

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