Microsoft has revealed that the Windows Server 2012 options will be drastically streamlined from the myriad choices of its predecessor. In the paring down, though, Microsoft is killing off Windows Small Business Server, and Windows Home Server--the two most popular versions for small and medium businesses (SMBs).
On the one hand, the news is quite welcome. Variety may be the spice of life, but when it comes to choosing which version of Microsoft's server operating system is right for you business it's just confusing. Choice is one thing, but too many choices makes the decision much more complicated than it needs to be.
With Windows Server 2012, Microsoft will only offer four versions: Datacenter, Standard, Essentials, and Foundation. Even better, the versions are all equipped with essentially the same features and capabilities, and the only real difference is the number of virtual machines each can handle. That means that Windows Server 12 Standard Edition will include features like Windows Server failover clustering, and BranchCache hosted cache server that were previously reserved only for the Datacenter and Enterprise versions.
For the most part, though, SMBs aren't really interested in those enterprise-class capabilities, and they've been satisfied working with Windows Home Server, or Windows Small Business Server--which includes core functionality of Exchange Server and SharePoint Server. These organizations are going to have to make a switch, though, when it comes time to upgrade.
According to a PDF from Microsoft titled Windows Server 2012 Essentials: Frequently Asked Questions, both of these versions are superseded by Windows Server 2012 Essentials. Microsoft explains that it has focused on making Windows Server 2012 Essentials the ideal operating system platform for both small businesses and home users.
The decision is driven--at least in part--by current tech trends, and Microsoft's own focus on cloud-based tools and services. Microsoft explains, "With Windows Server 2012 Essentials, customers can take advantage of the same type of integrated management experience whether they choose to run an on-premises copy of Exchange Server, subscribe to a hosted Exchange service, or subscribe to Office 365."
The bottom line is that SMBs don't need to have Exchange or SharePoint bundled with Windows Server. Windows Server 2012 Essentials will meet the server platform needs of most organizatons--even better than its predecessor thanks to the across the board feature parity--and an Office 365 subscription can deliver Exchange, SharePoint, and Office as a hosted service.