Besides the Hyper-V, UEFI support, and the removal of the 2T limits, one feature I was interested in testing with Essentials was the Anytime Access. The promise of VPN and Web access was intriguing to me as I routinely need files from my system. I know the web access was in 2011 and the VPN was in the prior version of 2012 Essentials however I never paid much attention to it before as I had other ways to accomplish the same thing. Move ahead to now and my goal is to get everything on to one machine. I want my primary server to handle backups, file storage, VM’s, and external access. I will be posting on my results and testing of each of these phases, and of course about the extremely flakey Media Serving functions that are built in, but for now lets talk about the Anytime Access. Before we get to deep I also want to caveat this by saying this is a preview version so this all may be addressed by release time (I hope). In addition, this may also be due in part to my particular configuration.
Before we get into the issues I had, let me first describe my particular setup as it impacts the results I got. For starters I do not use a traditional router and use Untangle (see reference articles at the bottom) which does not support UpNp. If you fall into the camp of having a UpNp router and the feature is enabled, than your results would probably be quite different. Personally I have never liked UpNp as it has been known to be a security concern, therefore, even on old routers I have used in the past, I have always had UpNp disabled.
To put in perspective as we go through this keep in mind that this process took me about 3 days and several installs (starting over after messing up some settings as well as troubleshooting various issues) to get this work. Though it ended well, I though this extremely painful to get to work and is definitely something Microsoft will need to tighten up and make a bit more robust before the final version as not all the world uses UpNp. The problem started in creating the port forwarding for the anytime access to work. During the setup process the wizard walks you through and wants you to let it automatically setup a UpNp router, but gives you option to skip if you want to manually configure your router and setup it up manually which you have to do if you use a router that does not support UpNp, or if you have the feature disabled. The problem starts with the fact that every instruction I could find claims that all you have to do is port forward 443 and all will be well. This is simply not the case on anything I tried. The fact is I could not get rid of error messages without forwarding the same 3 ports that where required in V1 of WHS and WHS 2011 (443, 4125, 80). Without the inclusion of the other two ports, the setup verification would constantly fail, even on what ended up being my working configuration.
Some of the error messages I received
Besides the port forwarding issue, I also was unable to to get it to work when I had dual NICs in the system, tried to use an Intel NIC, and worst of all, when I had the Hyper-V role installed. I can not completely explain why all these various configurations did not work and find it very puzzling. All but a basic configuration would work correctly both on dedicated hardware as well as a VM. Actually I had more trouble with dedicated hardware than I did with a VM.
After 3 days of playing around, I finally got success.
After trying everything in every configuration I could do, I finally got it to configure correctly but it was painful beyond words. In the end, I was never happy with how it worked on dedicated hardware and plan to try yet another system. I was able to finally get to work in VM after a bit fussing around however it is temperamental. If anything changes, it will fail and force you to run the configuration wizard again.
Though I really like the new Essentials R2, this feature so far has been the worse next to the Media Streaming which has some real issues with metadata and filtering again. Is it possible that these problems are unique to my setup, absolutely, however I would submit that a clean install on fairly current hardware such as a Sandy Bridge Core I5, with a router that does not support UpNp is not that uncommon. As a matter of fact it might be considered a basic standard configuration and the fact I had so many problems getting it to work speaks volumes about the readiness of this preview. Again I do realize that this is preview software but if history repeats itself, we will have RTM in next couple of months and I am concerned that there is enough wrong with some of the features that it may not get addressed. I will post an update once the RTM is released to see if round two is more successful.