12 key advantages of Windows Server 2012

With Windows Server 2012, Microsoft has taken a significant step forward for all potential users and buyers. From the CIO through to system admins and even the end users, Windows Server 2012 is the biggest step forward since Windows Server 2000.

There is a long list of enhancements and top features, some of which might seem small but have a much greater impact than expected. As a result, selecting a top twelve is not easy and the features below have been selected to show key features that will impact different classes of users.

1. Fewer versions means easier licensing

For the CIO or server manager trying to decide which version of Windows Server he needs to install and license, Microsoft has made life easier. There are now just two versions: Standard and Datacenter. The key difference between the two is the number of virtual machines you can run.

For a medium-sized business with limited hardware and a few instances of key servers, Windows Server 2012 Standard is the right choice. Large, highly virtualised environments with a requirement to scale out servers quickly, will want Windows Server 2012 Datacenter.

That’s because if there’s a demand to run live migration with the organisation’s environment, then managing licensing with the Standard version is going to be too complex. Essentially, the more virtualisation there is, the greater the need for the Datacenter version.

For smaller companies with up to 25 employees, Microsoft Small Business Server and Microsoft Home Server have gone. Replacing them is Microsoft Server 2012 Essentials. For companies with fewer than 15 users, there is Windows Server 2012 Foundation: this will only be sold preinstalled on hardware and through OEMs such as Dell.

2. Data Deduplication

Nothing has grown so fast over the last decade as data. Storage is the number one item of expenditure in companies of all sizes and the storage market continues to grow at over 30 percent per year.

Previously available in Windows Storage Server, deduplication has been embedded into the core Windows Server OS. This has some real practical benefits for organisations. As an example, the London Borough of Newham has saved approximately 70 percent of disk space on its Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.

Deduplication eliminates the duplicated space by as much as 90 percent across operating system installations. The result will be 100s of gigabytes, even terabytes, of space reclaimed.

3. Thin Provisioning and Trim

Another feature from Windows Storage System is thin provisioning. Rather than dedicate an amount of storage to a virtual machine that it might take a year or more to use, you start small and let it grow in controlled increments. This reduces storage waste and makes the most of a resource.

Storage doesn’t always grow, sometimes it shrinks, especially after a project is finished and the data archived. To support the reclamation of storage, Microsoft now has a Trim feature that locates unused storage and pulls it back into the central pool so that all applications can take advantage of it.

4. Diskless boot

Everything that can be moved out of a server, reduces the power and cooling costs. In large complex environments, removing the hard disk out of the server and booting across the network has not only saved money but made the data centre more flexible.

Now Windows Server 2012 supports diskless boot as an OS feature. The savings are not just about removing unwanted hard disks from servers, there are also advantages from a management perspective.

For example, an administrator who wants to create a master image for his webservers can just download that image whenever he needs an additional webserver. The management saving is that you only patch and maintain the master image, not each installation.

5. Storage spaces

Not every business can afford expensive hardware Storage Area Networks (SAN) or even their software counterparts. Rather than buy third party tools or expensive storage products, companies can now throw all their cheap disks together into a large software pool and create a virtual SAN and begin to serve up virtual disks. It’s even possible to mirror or set them as hot “swappable” drives.

6. Shared nothing live migration

Virtual machines provide a great way of making the best of limited resourcesAs businesses look to rationalise and create efficiencies in their IT environments, the first step in the journey is to begin by deploying virtualisation. Virtual machines provide a great way of making the best of limited resources. Building the virtualised infrastructure brings with it other considerations, such as high availability and redundancy of VM hosts and availability of services by having guests always on.

In the past the infrastructure to support the movement of VMs could be expensive due to the need for shared storage. With Windows Server 2012 the new shared-nothing live migration means you can simply move a VM between servers with the only requirement being that the servers can see each other ie: all you need is an Ethernet connection.

7. Hyper-V 3.0

This has been significantly beefed up in Windows Server 2012. A much larger feature set and better support from the Microsoft management tools family makes this a VMware killer. VMs can how support 64 processors,a 1TB of RAM, 1,024 active VMs per host, 8,000 VMs per cluster, 64TB VHDx with 256 disks per VM. This means that there is are few applications that cannot be run at scale in a hyperv VM and thus a critical step towards full virtualisation of the data centre and then migrating customers to Windows Azure. Incidentally, changes in Windows Server 2012 now enable you to virtualise your domain controller.

8. PowerShell 3.0

Over the last four years, PowerShell has been gaining credibility among administrators who want to script how repeatable tasks are carried out. With Windows Server 2012 Microsoft has released no fewer than 2300 new PowerShell cmdlets. It is now hard to see anything that cannot be managed by PowerShell and that means that busy administrators can reduce their workload.

To help onboard those Sysadmins who have never written script before, there is a new PowerShell console and IntelliSense. Writing PowerShell script just got a whole lot easier. Taking the next step is simple: head to http://aka.ms/mvprocks and http://www.microsoftvirtualacademy.com

9. GUI-less install options

What has been built into Windows Server 2012 is to move between a GUIand GUI-less environment without having to rebuildWindows Core was introduced with Windows Server 2008 to provide a non-GUI interface that would free up resources for VMs and applications. In Windows Server 2012, this has been made a far easier. The SysAdmin has the choice on how to deploy the server, choice will depend on their experience and comfort with the command line.What has been built into Windows Server 2012 is to move between a GUIand GUI-less environment without having to rebuild.

So for example, you could deploy the server with the GUI for ease of setup and config, once you have configured the server, remove the GUI using a PowerShell command (the PowerShell script would be as follows: Uninstall-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra,Server-Gui-Shell –Restart).

10. Dynamic Access Control

Network security is becoming increasingly hard to maintain. Rather than spend time fixing a leaky sieve, the emphasis for smart administrators is on better ways of protecting the data. DAC has had some serious upgrades for Windows Server 2012.

Security is no longer at just the basic file and folder level, it is now possible to enforce access at the domain level and apply policies to users roles, departments or even to users connecting from a specific connection. With the increasing use of collaboration throughout organisations, this prevents the accidental posting of confidential information into public or less secure areas.

11. ReFS

NTFS has been around for almost 20 years and the last planned replacement, WinFS, didn’t happen. ReFS (Resilient File System) takes Windows Server into the future. With some key capabilities such as support for large terabytes of data, vastly improved chkdsk and automated healing.

With full support for storage spaces, it is not possible to have a combined filename and path of greater than 255 characters. That might seem a lot but unless the filesystem is very flat, it is easily exceeded. ReFS uses metadata to store information about files and provides specific features for data verification and auto correction. It will also support much larger volumes of data which, with the rise of big data, is going to be important.

12. Server management

Windows Server 2012 not only supports GUI and non-GUI interfaces, it also comes with the tiled interface of Windows 8 and Windows Phone. Although some may not like it, the ease with which it is possible to use a tile as a dashboard widget, means that companies can build a very flexible, easy to use, management dashboard that reflects the real-time state of the data centre.

The new Server Manager enables Sysadmins to have a single view of the server health as well as give them the ability to deploy new roles to an immediate or remote server, manage VDI clients, DAC, Storage and Networking. For those of us who are not PowerShell experts the Server Manager is a really simple to use console providing all requirements for day to day admin.