So Microsoft bounces in with another brand new server product. Generally, we find new versions of Microsoft server products are better than their predecessors and certainly much better than their desktop operating system counterparts which have caused a few ripples of excitement but more of nervousness and people seem to be awaiting the inevitable service pack 1 release.
Having had a play with the release preview of Windows Server 2012, we have discovered some interesting things about the new server to share with you. Some people are sceptical about the new interface formerly known as Metro, but with more emphasis on Server Core and the Minimal Server Interface, the UI is unlikely to be the deciding factor when choosing to upgrade. More important are the big changes and new capabilities that make Server 2012 better able to handle your network’s workloads and needs.
Here are 11 reasons to give serious consideration to upgrading to Server 2012 sooner rather than later.
1: Freedom of interface choice
A Server Core installation provides security and performance advantages, but in the past, you had to make a choice: If you installed Server Core, you were stuck with it with only the command line as your interface. However, this changes with Windows Server 2012.
Microsoft realised that the command line is great for some tasks and the graphical interface is preferable for others. Server 2012 makes the GUI a “feature” – one that can be turned on and off at will, therefore saving resources when the server is simply being a server. You do it through the Remove Roles or Features option in Server Manager.
2: Server Manager
Regarding the Server Manager, even many of those who dislike the new (metro) tile-based interface overall have admitted that the design’s implementation in the new Server Manager is brilliant.
One of the best things about the new Server Manager is the multi-server capabilities, which makes it easy to deploy roles and features remotely to physical and virtual servers. It’s easy to create a server group – a collection of servers that can be managed together. The remote administration improvements let you provision servers without having to make an RDP connection.
3: Server Message Block 3.0
The SMB protocol has been significantly improved in Windows Server 2012 as well as Windows 8. The new version supports new file server features, like SMB transparent failover, SMB Scale Out, SMB Multichannel, SMB Direct, SMB encryption, VSS for SMB file sharing, SMB directory leasing, and SMB PowerShell. It also works beautifully with Hyper-V, so that VHD files and virtual machine configuration files can be hosted on SMB 3.0 shares. A SQL system database can be stored on an SMB share, as well, with improvements to performance.
4: Dynamic Access Control (DAC)
Microsoft has shifted the focus from separate security products to a more “baked in” approach of integrating security into every part of the operating system.
Dynamic Access Control is one such example, helping IT Pros create more centralized security models for access to network resources by tagging sensitive data both manually and automatically, based on factors such as the file content or the creator. After that, claims based access controls can be applied.
5: Storage Spaces
Storage is an interesting topic in the IT industry these days. We are still a long way off storing everything in the cloud many organizations are still concerned about security and reliability. There are a myriad of solutions for storing data on your network in a way that provides better utilisation of storage resources, centralized management, better scalability along with security and reliability, SANs and NAS do that, but they can be expensive.
Storage Spaces is a fantastic new feature in Server 2012 that lets you use inexpensive hard drives to create a storage pool, which can then be divided into spaces that are used like physical disks. They can include hot standby drives and use redundancy methods such as 2- or 3-way mirroring or parity. What’s great is that you can add new disks any time, and a space can be larger than the physical capacity of the pool. When you add new drives, the space automatically uses the extra capacity.
Virtualisation was the biggest thing before the cloud hit the IT industry and it is still the thing to do when it comes to servers. Hyper-V is Microsoft’s answer to VMware / XenServer. Microsoft’s virtualisation platform is liked by a lot of IT Pro’s and with each new version Windows hypervisor gets a little better, and Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 brings a number of new features to the table. One of the most interesting is Hyper-V Replica.
This is a replication mechanism that will be a disaster recovery Godsend to SMBs that may not be able to deploy complex and costly replication solutions. It logs changes to the disks in a VM and uses compression to save on bandwidth, replicating from a primary server to a replica server.
You are able to store multiple snapshots of a VM on the replica server and then select the one you want to use. It works with both standalone hosts and clusters in any combination.
7: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
Windows Terminal Services was renamed Remote Desktop Services and has since expanded to encompass much more than the ability to RDP into the desktop of a remote server. Microsoft then launched a centralized Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solution in Windows Server 2008 R2 and now some significant improvements have been made in Server 2012.
You no longer need a dedicated GPU graphics card in the server to use RemoteFX, which vastly improves the quality of graphics over RDP. Instead, you can use a virtualised GPU on standard server hardware. USB over RDP is much better, and the Fair Share feature can manage how CPU, memory, disk space, and bandwidth are allocated among users to stop certain users stealing all the bandwidth.
DirectAccess was supposed to be Microsoft’s “VPN replacement” It allowed you to create a secure connection from client to corporate network without the performance drain and with a more transparent user experience than a traditional VPN. Administrators get more control over the machines and the ability to manage them even before users log in. Group policy is utilised to control the machines as well and there is no hassle of setting up a VPN connection.
So why hasn’t Direct Access taken off? Two main reasons, it can’t be virtualised and its dependent on IPv6. However in Windows Server 2012, DirectAccess now works with IPv4 and lo and behold it can run on a Hyper-V virtual machine. It also comes with a new wizard to help make configuration a lot easier.
9: Resilient File System
NTFS has been around since 1993 and it’s been a long and well needed replacement for a while. There was speculation early on that a new file system would be introduced with Windows 7, but it didn’t materialise.
Windows Server 2012 finally brings us our long-awaited new file system, the Resilient File System. While it supports many of the NTFS features, a few have been abandoned, i.e. file compression, EFS, and disk quotas. However, instead we get data verification, auto correction and it’s designed to work with Storage Spaces to create shrinkable/expandable logical storage pools.
Maximum scalability is the key drive behind ReFS, supporting up to 16 exabytes in practice. ReFS supports a theoretical limit of 256 zetabytes (more than 270 billion terabytes) that allows for a lot of scaling and a whole bunch of cloud storage!
10: Easy licensing
Microsoft and easy licencing don’t really go in the same sentence. However Microsoft have actually listened this time and Windows Server 2012 is offered in only four editions: Datacenter, Standard, Essentials and Foundation. The first two are licensed per-processor plus CAL and the other two (for small businesses) are licensed per-server with limits on the number of user accounts (15 for Foundation and 25 for Essentials)
11: The New Active Directory
In today’s business environments, data is not always stored on the customer’s server due to the utilisation of cloud technology. In addition data is accessed by staff on various different devices like phones, laptops, desktops and other removable devices.
To address these new challenges, organizations have to change how they approach identity and security. Windows Server 2012 contribution to helping with this challenge is the introduction of Dynamic Access Control, and it brings with it exciting new capabilities and deployment options for Direct Access. This means you will be able to better manage and protect data access, simplify deployment and management of your identity infrastructure and provide more secure access to data from virtually anywhere.