Microsoft are due to launch their new updated server operating system, Windows Server 2012, on September 4th, and there is much hype surrounding the new anticipated product, which is marketed as a building block for private and hybrid clouds, as well as having the same controversial interface as the new Windows 8. But will it live up to expectations? Dove has put together an unbiased review of the new server to help you make up your mind.
The Metro interface of Windows Server 2012
The Desktop and Beyond
The Metro interface featured on Windows 8 has not been welcomed in the way Microsoft might have hoped. However, as the interface for Windows Server 2012 it should be much more favourable, largely due to the move away from graphical to command line management on servers.
Windows Server 2012 will be 64-bit only and installed without graphical user interface (GUI), and with a minimal set of server roles. PowerShell is the preferred command management interface with the number of ready-made cmdlets increased and the ability to do a lot more from the PowerShell command line than through the various graphical tools.
The GUI is not lost forever though, as Microsoft haven’t forgotten that some smaller enterprises nd people not in favour of command line management will prefer a graphical interface, which can still be addedas can a “minimal” interface configured without a desktop or start screen to give a happy medium ground between the two extremes.
If you choose to use the local GUI you will be met with the Metro front end and will not be offered the option of by-passing it. But the new Server Manager tool means doesn’t pose any major problems.
The new and updated Server Manager also boasts all round capabilities, unlike previous versions, with the added ability to handle most day to day management tasks, either directly or by invoking other utilities. It also has the ability to manage remote and group servers, and perform the same task on all members of a group at once.
Windows Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) are enhanced to handle the new OS, but the downside comes for those who want to create their own private clouds, as they will need System Centre 2012 with a service pack to handle Server 2012 due ahead of the OS launch.
One of the big enhancements that has everyone’s attention is the new and improved Hyper-V hypervisor, aiming to take on VMware head to head for the top spot in the virtualisation space. Scalability gets a major boost in Hyper-V 3.0. Starting at the virtual machine level with support for up to 64 virtual processors and 1TB of virtual memory per VM. There’s also a new virtual disk format (VHDX) to give VMs access to 64TB of storage.
At the host level Hyper-V 3.0 can handle up to 160 processors/cores and 2TB of RAM, sharing these resources across 1,024 VMs. There are also big improvements when it comes to clustering with support for up to 64 nodes per cluster, up from just 16 in Windows Server 2008 R2, and up to 4,000 VMs, to meet the scalability demands of private cloud deployments.
Another big enhancement is the ability to store virtual machine files on file shares rather than iSCSI or SAN storage. Live can now be performed between standalone hosts and can even be done without any shared storage at all. There is also the addition of support for multiple live migrations, bringing Hyper-V up to a similar level of functionality as vSphere.
The storage side has had a makeover, with the new Resilient File System (ReFS), and many more enhancements have been made with the aim of improving availability. This, however, can’t be used for boot volumes.
There’s also a new implementation of the SMB file sharing protocol (SMB 3) and an all new option called Storage Spaces. Storage Spaces, also a feature of the new Windows 8 OS, allows for the creation of storage pools from both internal and external sources, and allows for virtual disks to be created. It doesn’t matter what type of hardware is involved (SATA, SAS, iSCSI etc are all supported) or how much capacity is on offer, virtual disks can be created that are much larger than the amount of actual space would normally allow.
It is possible to expand the storage pools by adding more disks and you get simple access to a variety of redundancy options including mirroring, hot sparing and the automatic re-claiming of lost space when data is deleted. Data de-duplication is also available as part of the File Services role in Windows Server 2012 and can be applied on both NTFS and ReFS volumes.
Windows Server 2012 editions
New licenses for old
An advantage of Windows Server 2012 licensing is the streamlined and simple choice Standard and DataCentre editions, with payment based on a per-socket basis.
The UK pricing for Windows Server 2012 is not yet available, but the US price for the Standard license is $882, and the US Datacenter licence is $4,809, both for deployment on servers with two processor sockets. Little extra is gained in terms of features with the Datacenter license, the main difference being support for an unlimited number of VMs whereas the Standard licence supports just two.
With the launch of Server 2012 will come the end of the Small Business Server. It will be replaced with the release of an Essentials version of Server 2012 (US price: $425) limited to just 25 users which won’t support virtualisation, and unlike the Small Business Server, won’t come with Exchange or any other applications. Small businesses who oft for the Essentials package are advised to pair it with Office 365. A 15-user Foundation implementation for OEM server vendors, again, without virtualisation rights, is also expected.
And then some…
There’s a lot more in Windows Server 2012 such as enhancements to Active Directory to fit it to large scale private cloud deployments, plus closer integration with Microsoft Azure. Built-in tools for NIC teaming have been added along with IP address management and new controls when it comes to network access including the ability to manage what users are allowed to do on different devices.
Windows Server 2012 is clearly more beneficial to larger businesses and those with requirements regarding private cloud deployment, and it doesn’t offer much to entice smaller business to upgrade. Moreover, although compatible with earlier implementations, to get the full benefit of what the new platform has to offer enterprises will need to deploy Windows Server 2012 extensively throughout their organisations.
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