News, Windows Server Essentials

Windows Server Aurora Preview Deep Dive

Following an announcement in July at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference, the company have released their first public preview of the new small business server platform. Designed for SMBs with less than 25 employees, Aurora is an enterprise-grade server solution for small business owners who do not have the time, resource or expertise to install Microsoft’s existing Small Business Server or Windows Server 2008 R2 platforms. It achieves this through a philosophy of simplicity shared with Windows Home Server Vail (with which Aurora shares a common code base), extensive use of guided installation and configuration wizards as well as easy integration with cloud services for major line of business applications (such as email and collaboration software).

Note that the first release of Windows Server Aurora Preview is not intended for production environments, but should be installed for evaluation purposes only.

Differences to Windows Home Server Vail

Whilst sharing a common code base with Windows Home Server Vail (it’s no coincidence that both codenames are towns in Colorado) Aurora is targeted at small business customers rather than consumers. As a result, it offers a number of additional features for small business over Vail, and omits the more consumer oriented features of its close cousin. Here’s a brief comparison of features:

[table id=38 /]

In theory, a small business owner could utilise either product depending on the size and complexity of their business (indeed, many businesses currently use Windows Home Server v1 for client backup, file sharing and remote access). However, Active Directory support and the upcoming cloud application support for Aurora are compelling features for the workplace, and make it the better choice for small business.

Windows Server Aurora Installation

As we walk through each feature area in Aurora, you’ll notice many similarities in approach to Vail, with a few scattered differences. The principles of easy installation extend across both products, with a clear intent that a small business owner should be able to purchase an Aurora server from a retailer, plug in, install and configure the product without technical assistance in a matter of minutes. It’s an intent that’s delivered well across both platforms. The screenshots below show an installation of Aurora on a new machine – it is likely that the configuration on an OEM server will be even simpler.

Aurora_Installation_1[1]Aurora_Installation_2[1]Aurora_Installation_3[1]Aurora_Installation_4[1] Aurora_Installation_5[1] Aurora_Installation_6[1] Aurora_Installation_7[1]

The only real difference the user would note over Windows Home Server “Vail” is in the Server personalization screen, where a company name and domain name is requested. Aurora will sit at the root of the domain whereas Windows Home Server cannot be joined to a domain. Administrators must choose an original account name in Aurora, whereas the standard “Administrator” account is automatically configured in Vail.


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Terry Walsh is the founder of We Got Served. He started the community in February 2007 with a mission to help families, tech enthusiasts everywhere figure out the technology needed to run the modern home and small business. He's the author of a number of guides to Windows, Windows Server and OS X Server and runs his own successful publishing business. Born and raised in Liverpool, England, Terry has been awarded Microsoft's prestigious Most Valuable Professional Award each year since 2008 for his work on We Got Served.
  • Sorry – no it isn't! I got copy and paste happy…. Apologies.

    • Simon

      That's a shame. I would like some functions of Aurora and most of Vail. Oh well

  • Rats – missed it in haste. Thanks for the heads up, Sean. Will fix the post. 🙂

    PS. Don't release two betas on the same day again. You're killing me 🙂

  • Mike Lowrey

    The green version of the dashboard isn't nice… the blue was the better colour… but maybe it's "skinable"?

  • Greg

    Does anyone know if Aurora will support Mac Clients and work with Time Machine?

    • Haven't tested this yet, but my understanding is that Aurora will support Mac clients and Time Machine backup.

      • Greg

        Ok thanks Terry. I like that feature in VAIL and was hoping it made it into Aurora.

  • TeraMedia

    Too bad they took away streaming when they added the Active Directory support. I am operating 3 laptops and 3 desktops at home in a multimedia, 7MC, WHS environment, and would love to be able to use domain-based logins for a change, rather than trying to keep UIDs and PWDs synchronized across all of those machines.

    • Bisk

      I agree. The only thing missing from Vail at this point for me is Domain support and MCE integration for TV recording and allowing extenders to connect to it.

      • Another vote for this. I would love to have AD style centralised user accounts in Vail.

  • Does anyone know if you can upgrade from the previously released build of Vail to this build of Aurora ? I would like to try it out without finding a place to store 3Gb of multimedia for the install.

    If anyone knows, please email me:

    grumpykiwi at hotmail dot com

    • There are no upgrade paths available from Vail Preview to the refresh or from Vail to Aurora. All require a clean install.

  • john

    anybody have had problems with connecting to aurora

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