Inside Microsoft's high-performance NAS for small businesses

Windows Storage Server Essentials has the ease of Windows Home Server but supports more users, offers more capabilities, and comes on better hardware

Earlier this month, I highlighted the Windows Home Server 2011 as a good option for the smallest of businesses, including home offices, mom-and-pop shops with fewer than 10 employees, and organizations that simply need a place for unified storage protection. I still believe it's a good option in those really small situations, but many organizations need to kick things up a notch. You might think that next notch would be Small Business Server Essentials or Standard, but Microsoft has a new offering in the Windows Storage Server (WSS) family called WSS 2008 R2 Essentials that may be a better option for a small-business environment.

Keep in mind that all these server products are built on the Windows Server 2008 R2 platform. Whether you're looking at Windows Home Server, Small Business Server, or (in this case) Windows Storage Server Essentials NAS appliance, you're getting the core Windows Server 2008 R2 under the hood.

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WSS Essentials is appropriate for organizations with no more than 25 users and that are primarily focused on centralized storage and easy backup/recovery for desktop clients and the server's data itself -- which sounds an awful lot like the same outfits that would consider Windows Home Server.

I asked Michael Leworthy of Microsoft's Windows Server marketing team why an organization might choose WSS Essentials instead of Windows Home Server. His response intrigued me because it exposed a flaw in my thinking about small businesses. In a nutshell, PC makers will provide WSS Essentials on better computers and with better storage than the products that ship with Wndows Home Server.

Although it's true that some small businesses don't require the best hardware to operate, many others have the desire and/or need to purchase a high-performance server. That's the kind of small business that should be looking at WSS Essentials instead of Windows Home Server.

There are also some differences in the server software that may play into the decision, even though both are designed for nonexpert IT admins and provide the same Remote Web Access capabilities, simplified setup and management dashboard, and support for Small Business Server third-party add-ins. For starters, WSS Essentials allows for more seats than Windows Home Server (25 versus 10), and WSS Essentials supports Active Directory domain join options so that you can snap the Essentials appliance into existing infrastructure and networks. Plus, WSS Essentials supports commercial security and storage apps, whereas WHS supports consumer apps to enhance only the media and storage functionality -- in other words, WSS Essentials is designed for business rather than for the home.

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