Top 10: New Features in Windows Server 2012

Get ready for better Hyper-V and cloud-ready management

At this past Windows Server Workshop in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft presented its upcoming version of Windows Server, currently referred to as Windows Server 2012 (formerly code-named Windows Server 8), although it's sure to have a new name when the final release comes. But the name is the least of the changes you'll see with the new release. Window Server 8 is without a doubt one of the biggest server releases Microsoft has ever produced, and the list of enhancements is way too long for one column. Nonetheless, here are my top 10 standout features from Windows Server 8.

1. Multiserver support in Server Manager—Windows Server 8 features a completely redesigned Server Manager. It's no longer oriented toward single-server management as it is in Windows Server 2008 R2. Because it embraces the cloud concept, the new Server Manager can manage multiple servers, and it provides an all-new dashboard that lets you drill down into local and remote servers.

2. Server Core is the default—Windows Server 8 uses the minimalist Server Core as the default server environment, marking a huge change away from dependence on the GUI for management. One super feature of this change is that the GUI is now considered a feature. Therefore, you can perform your initial server configuration through the GUI, then remove it when you're ready to move into production. Unlike Server 2008 R2, there's no need to reinstall the OS to get rid of the GUI.

3. Ubiquitous PowerShell management—Going hand-in-hand with the move away from the GUI is the move to PowerShell as the primary management tool. Server 2008 R2 started this trend and provided more than 200 cmdlets for server management. Windows Server 8 expands the available cmdlets to more than 2,300, providing cmdlets for managing all Windows Server applications. For instance, Server 2008 R2 doesn't have built-in cmdlets for Hyper-V, but Windows Server 8 provides a full set of PowerShell cmdlets for managing Hyper-V 3.0.

4. Built-in NIC teaming—Another overdue feature is the capability to provide NIC teaming natively in the OS. VMware's ESX Server has provided NIC teaming for some time. Prior to Windows Server 8, you could get NIC teaming for Windows only via specialized NICs from Broadcom and Intel. The new built-in Windows Server 8 NIC teaming works across heterogeneous vendor NICs and can provide support for load balancing as well as failover over NICs from different vendors.

5. SMB 2.2—The Windows Server Message Block (SMB) file sharing protocol has also been significantly enhanced in Windows Server 8. SMB 2.2 adds file server resiliency with no special configuration. In addition, server applications such as Microsoft SQL Server can now have their databases stored on SMB 2.2 shares, which gives them the benefits of SMB 2.2 with no configuration changes to the SQL Server databases.

6. Data deduplication—Windows Server 8 provides built-in data deduplication, a feature typically found in high-end SANs. Windows Server 8's data deduplication runs in the background, and it can automatically detect duplicate data, save the duplicated data in a separate system store, and replace the data in the original files with pointers to the system store.

7. Expanded cluster scalability—Windows Failover Clustering has also taken a big jump in scalability. VMware's vSphere supported clusters consisting of up to 32 hosts. Previous versions of Windows Server were limited to 16 nodes. Windows Server 8 clusters can support up to 63 nodes and up to 4,000 virtual machines (VMs) per cluster, effectively leap-frogging VMware's VM cluster support.

8. Multiple concurrent Live Migrations—Live Migration was introduced with Hyper-V 2.0, which was part of the Server 2008 R2 release. Although it filled an important gap, it lagged behind VMware's VMotion because Hyper-V 2.0 could perform only one Live Migration at a time; VMware's ESX Server could perform multiple concurrent VMotions. Hyper-V 3.0 brings that same ability to Windows Server 8 and the next release of Hyper-V Server as well.

9. Storage Live Migration—The addition of Storage Live Migration to Hyper-V 3.0 really closes the feature gap with VMware. Like VMware's Storage VMotion, Hyper-V 3.0's Storage Live Migration lets you move a VM's virtual disk, configuration, and snapshot files to a new storage location with no interruption of end-user connectivity to the VM.

10. Live Migration without shared storage—Unexpectedly, Microsoft really carved out a clear advantage in the small-to-midsized business virtualization market by introducing the ability to perform Live Migration and Storage Live Migration without requiring shared storage on the back end. The ability to perform Live Migration without a SAN back end helps bring the advantages of virtualization and high availability to smaller businesses that can't afford the cost or complexities of a SAN.

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