A few weeks ago Windows Server 2016 Essentials Technical Preview 3 became available, and now it’s time to jump in and take a look at some of the Microsoft Online Services integration capabilities. While there are some portions that look like they have been lifted straight from Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials, some new capabilities and interface changes have crept through in some areas. For this series of posts stick primarily to screenshots with some explanation of what’s going on so that you know what to focus on when you want to give preview a try.

First up, I just want to show that this is build 10514 of Essentials, with the watermark giving us the details.

As with other versions of Windows Server 2016 Technical Preview 3 we have access to Server Manager, which is very similar in appearance to what was introduced in Windows Server 2012 and enhanced in Windows Server 2012 R2. What you will notice is that unlike Standard or Datacenter installations, we can already see that several roles have been preinstalled after the completion of setup.

To get a better understanding of what’s been installed, we can go to Manage | Add Roles and Features.

The Add Roles and Features Wizard is what we’ve gotten used to in Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2, but I’ll include the screen shots for those of you who are more familiar with Windows Server 2003 or 2008 variants.

We need to choose the Role-based or feature-based installation option.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with Server Manager, one of the important changes that you can see here is that Server Manager is now a multi-server management tool, rather than a standalone server management tool. In this lab environment I only have one VM set up for management, so only one server is showing up, the Essentials server. Otherwise I could have just as easily managed the roles and features of other servers in the domain.

What I want you to note here is that the Windows Server Essentials Experience is shown as installed, and this is a role you can also enable on Standard and Datacenter (for both Windows Server 2012 R2 and 2016 versions).

Installing Essentials as the SMB focused product or as a role does require the installation of several roles and features, due to the feature set that Essentials provides. You can see some of these here as well as in the previous screenshot.

Now that we’ve seen the Essentials role enabled inside of Server Manager, it’s time to go to the Windows Server Essentials Dashboard shortcut on the desktop or taskbar. For the first posts in this series I’ll be focusing on the online services integration, so I’ll leave much of the setup for later.

This brings us to the Microsoft Cloud Services Integration page. To finish off today’s post, I’ll post the description text for each of the features that can be enabled.

Azure Active Directory integration allows username and password hash synchronisation capabilities from the local Active Directory into Microsoft’s cloud services. At this point in time, most SMB customers probably aren’t really thinking too much about what they can do with their Azure identities, and in some cases may not even realise that they have them.

Office 365 integration is where things really start lighting up for many SMBs, but what they may not realise, nor do they really need to, is that the user account and password hash synchronisation is being performed by the Azure Active Directory integration, and then Office 365 leverages this. There are also some Office 365 licensing and management capabilities exposed through the Essentials Dashboard, but it is small subset of what you the web based administration console is capable of.

Intune integration allows the assigning of Intune licenses to users you add to the local directory, and this will be something that I focus on from a Windows 10 management perspective in some upcoming posts.

Azure Backup integration allows you to easily set up and integrate with an Azure Backup Vault, leveraging Microsoft’s Azure datacenters (in Australia we have one in Sydney and one in Melbourne) to perform offsite backups.

The above four integration options were included with Windows Server 2012 R2, which leaves us with two new options.

Azure Virtual Network integration is an exciting new addition for a couple of reasons. First of all it really helps to simplify the process of setting up the Azure virtual network and helping to configure your local environment, but also because it really helps to drive the hybrid scenarios that are becoming more and more important. During the course of these blogs I’ll show this process, including setting up a Windows Server virtual machine inside of Azure, joining it to the on-premises Active Directory domain, and then adding that server into Server Manager.

Azure Recovery integration allows you to replicate and recovery on-premises servers into the cloud as part of a disaster recovery plan without needing a second set of infrastructure. As with Azure Virtual Network integration, this blog post series will cover this in more detail as well.