Microsoft hybrid cloud architecture

Microsoft Small Business Solutions – Windows Server 2016 Essentials And The Cloud


Microsoft Small Business Server was successful from its beginning because it offered small businesses an inexpensive way to run enterprise-class server software on a single server. Microsoft ended Small Business Server (SBS) with their final release in 2011. Today, Microsoft’s small business solutions begin with Office 365 and Windows Server 2016 Essentials.

Today, there are many more options for small businesses and choosing the right options is much more complicated than simply choosing Small Business Server. To find the most cost-effective solutions, businesses will need to consider cloud services, even if they are unfamiliar and a departure from their current systems

Systems architectures

Small businesses will need to carefully consider the many options available for them today for deploying server and client software. An understanding of systems architectures is required in order to choose from the available software and services. 

There are three basic systems architecture models for businesses to choose from, but each model can be configured in numerous ways.  Most businesses will need to strike a balance between all three system architectures. The models are:

  • On-premise computing
  • Hybrid cloud computing
  • Cloud computing


On-premise computing

It is easy to get confused by the definitions of these architectures, especially if the architecture has been defined as a marketing term for a vendor’s proprietary system. Generically speaking, an on-premise architecture is simply a business’s on-site server infrastructure.

Hybrid cloud computing

The term private cloud is usually not used unless the on-premise systems are managed in conjunction with cloud computing systems, often with a single management interface and the ability to easily transfer workloads between them. This is often referred to as a hybrid cloud system. In more sophisticated private cloud systems, additional resources and may be provisioned by an automated system.

Depending on how you define it, very few businesses have a true hybrid cloud system where…

Two or more disparate cloud computing environments are used in conjunction to serve a workload or an application in concert through a single management plane.

Others define a hybrid cloud architecture simply as different systems where some are on-premise and some are cloud services. Each may be managed separately. Transfers of data between systems could be manual or automated.

For our purposes, both types of architectures are hybrid clouds. Additional resources in a hybrid system may be provided by an automated system and/or by manually provisioning. You might say we have a hybrid definition of hybrid cloud computing.

Cloud computing

A cloud computing architecture consists of systems where all the computing resources including server processing, storage, and management are hosted by cloud services company(s). Other than client workstations, intra-network, and Internet connectivity, there are no computer resources or other infrastructure on-premise. Additional resources in a cloud computing system are usually provided by an automated system. 

Virtually all businesses depend on the Internet today regardless of their systems architecture. But Hybrid and Cloud systems are even more dependant on the Internet. This has been a major concern of businesses in moving to cloud systems architectures. With the Internet circuit representing a single point of failure in their systems, businesses should consider adding an Internet failover solution.

How do Microsoft technologies fit into these system architectures?


Office 365

It may seem counter-intuitive, but planning for a systems architecture should start at the client level and continue upward, instead of starting at the server level and continuing downward. 

Microsoft’s productivity suite, Office 365, is the catalyst for small businesses moving to cloud architectures because each version of Office 365 uses the cloud to varying degrees. Briefly, the differences are:

  • Office 365 Business Essentials – web email services (Exchange)
  • Office 365 Business – Desktop and web applications
  • Office 365 Business Premium – Desktop and web applications and email services (Exchange)

All versions of Office 365 are subscription licenses. You can get more detailed descriptions and compare the different versions hereOffice 365 user accounts can be managed from the web portal, Microsoft Office 365 Admin Center, and from Windows Server 2016 Essentials Dashboard.

You can also buy the latest Microsoft Office software, Office 2016, with perpetual licensing. Versions of Office 2016 are standalone desktop applications and do not require the cloud. Office 2016 is like the traditional Microsoft Office you have used in the past. You can use desktop, server, and cloud storage like OneDrive with Office 2016.

Windows Server 2016 Essentials

Windows  Server 2016 Essentials is now Microsoft’s recommended server software for small business. But as I said, it doesn’t include Exchange Server or SQL Server. Windows Server 2016 Essentials can be installed on an on-premise server computer, or on a virtual cloud server. 

When integrated with Windows 2016 Server Essentials, Office 365 services, can be managed from the Windows Server Essentials Server. This allows system administrators to manage on-premise resources and users as well as Office 365 resources and users from the Windows Server Essentials “Dashboard.” 

By now, I hope you are beginning to see how Microsoft solutions can be deployed on-premise, in the cloud, or both. All the various combinations can make the different systems architectures seem complex and difficult to understand, but a picture is worth 1,000 words…

Windows Server 2016 Essentials and Microsoft hybrid cloud architecture

With Windows Server 2016 Essentials as the “hub” of your systems architecture, you can manage all your systems and users regardless of where the services are located, on-premise, cloud, or both. This gives you the ultimate flexibility in how you deploy and grow your systems and services.

Remote Web Access

Windows Server 2016 Essentials Remote Web Access can manage remote access to shared files and folders on the server for all your users. With Remote Web Access users can not only access your server, but they can access other computers on the network. This means that they can access the desktop of a networked computer as if they sitting in front of it at your office.  It is touch-friendly for mobile devices too!


Windows Server 2016 Essentials Remote Web Access
Secure remote access in small and midsize businesses


Backup and disaster recovery

Small businesses are notorious for bad backup habits. If they backup at all, many don’t follow an off-site rotation plan for their backup media, leaving them vulnerable to fires, floods or earthquakes. Windows Server 2016 Essentials shines in this area if you use its integration features with Azure Virtual Network, Azure Site Recovery, and Azure Backup. 

Azure Site Recovery provides real-time replication and recovery of your Azure storage, services, and configuration. With Azure Virtual Network integration for Windows 2016 Server Essentials, it can also provide real-time replication and recovery for on-premise systems.

Azure Backup provides file backup and restore services. When integrated with Azure Virtual Network and Windows Server 2016 Essentials, Azure Backup can backup and restore files on on-premise or cloud storage. 


Tying it all together

When I began my research for this article, I bemoaned the end of Small Business Server. After all, it was a tidy solution for small businesses requiring email and database services. I thought back to those clients I helped with SBS as they added services like remote access, backup, and additional storage.

Then, the more I learned about Windows Server 2016 Essentials, Office 365, and Azure, the more I realized that it has never been easier for a small business to deploy systems and grow their resources as they need them, where they need them. Now small businesses can have access to enterprise-class systems with centralized management across their entire infrastructure whether it is on-premise, in the cloud or both.


More about Microsoft solutions for Small Business:

9 Myths About Moving to the Cloud eBook
Manage Office 365 in Windows Server Essentials

The Windows Server Essentials and Small Business Server Blog

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