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:

FeatureAuroraVail
Image Based Backup & Restore
YesYes
Server Backup SupportYesYes
Dashboard Based ManagementYesYes
Users & Clients Supported2510
Active Directory SupportYes (Domain Root Only)No
Homegroup SupportNoYes
Launchpad on Client PCYes (Auto Logs-in)Yes
Simplified Storage ManagementYesYes
System Health AlertsYesYes
Media StreamingNot IncludedEnhanced support with Silverlight enabled media player
Windows Media Center IntegrationNoPartial (Library Support)
ExtensibilityYes, via SDKYes, via SDK
Enterprise Cloud Apps SupportYes, via SubscriptionNo
Easy Remote Web Access to ServerYesYes

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 11 thumb Windows Server Aurora Preview Deep DiveAurora Installation 21 thumb Windows Server Aurora Preview Deep DiveAurora Installation 31 thumb Windows Server Aurora Preview Deep DiveAurora Installation 41 thumb Windows Server Aurora Preview Deep Dive Aurora Installation 51 thumb Windows Server Aurora Preview Deep Dive Aurora Installation 61 thumb Windows Server Aurora Preview Deep Dive Aurora Installation 71 thumb Windows Server Aurora Preview Deep Dive

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.

Aurora Installation 91 thumb Windows Server Aurora Preview Deep DiveAurora Installation 101 thumb Windows Server Aurora Preview Deep DiveAurora Installation 111 thumb Windows Server Aurora Preview Deep DiveAurora Installation 121 thumb Windows Server Aurora Preview Deep Dive