Pluralsight blog Where devs, IT admins & creative pros go for news, tips, videos and more.
Pluralsight + Digital-Tutors - 3,000 tech & creative courses - starting at $29/month Get it now →
January 22, 2013

5 Improved Windows Server 2012 Features to Get Excited About

By windowsserver

Windows Server 2012 is loaded with new features–300 of them, according to Microsoft. But, it isn’t all about new features; improvements and upgrades to existing features have people everywhere talking about Windows Server 2012. Let’s jump right in and look at what makes IT departments ready to roll out Server 2012.

Interface

Windows Server 2012 has the Windows 8 interface. This will eventually be useful in environments where administrators actually interact with servers via their new touchscreen laptops and tablets. For now, you might think that the new Metro interface would just get in the way. Apparently, Microsoft thinks the same thing. Windows Server 2012 boots directly to the desktop interface within the Server Manager dashboard.

Server Manager has been upgraded. Now, you can manage servers in groups via the GUI. Several servers can be grouped for management purposes removing the need to figure out how to script repetitive tasks or sit there making the same mouse clicks again and again.

Virtualization

Perhaps no area has gotten more attention in Windows Server 2012 than the continuing improvements to Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization solution. Hyper-V has been around long enough that people are starting to take it for granted as a part of Windows Server, however, as it continues to improve, it’s tight integration and free sticker price make it an increasingly important element of any server platform evaluation.

Hyper-V has been around since the first release of Windows Server 2008. Since then, it’s taken on a major update in the Windows Server 2008 R2 release, and now, in Server 2012, IT is looking at a solid, mature, third generation implementation. Upgraded again to support even more hardware, Hyper-V now supports up to 64 processors, 1 terabyte of memory for Hyper-V guests, and support for up to 64 terabytes of disk space. But, bigger specs aren’t the whole story.

Hyper-V now offers a “shared nothing” live migration feature. Under Windows Server 2008, you could perform a live migration, but it required shared storage with a specific type of controller and disk storage setup. With Sever 2012, you don’t need shared storage, or for the virtual machines to even be on the same cluster, to migrate with zero down time. Similarly, Windows Server 2012 now offers Hyper-V Replica, allowing manual, disaster recovery, replication from one Hyper-V host to another without any additional tools or configuration.

Microsoft also claims increased reliability and scalability with this Hyper-V release.

Files and Storage

For environments that aren’t pushing Hyper-V hard yet, Microsoft went ahead and virtualized disk space itself. The new Storage Spaces feature finally brings the ability to take all of (or part of) your physical hard disks and put it together into one big pool. The disks can be physically anywhere, on different servers, as part of storage arrays, or in standalone disk systems.

From this pool, JBOD (just a bunch of disks) virtual drives are carved out. These virtual drives act just like a regular hard drive to the processes above. However, data is written wherever necessary, regardless of the capacity or capability of a single disk. These virtual drives can be dynamically expanded when they begin to fill up. When the pool itself begins to run out of space, new physical disks can be added with zero downtime. Storage Spaces can be configured under three different options, Simple, Mirror, and Parity, which correspond roughly in functionality to RAID 0, 1 and 5 arrays respectively. The aggregate size of the virtual drives can even be bigger than the physical space available. When physical space gets tight, just add another drive

However, Windows Server 2012 comes with data deduplication available. This feature might mean that the day new disks are needed is far in the future. With data deduplication, files are only stored once. Every time the same file is stored again, by another user, or another program, Windows Server just points to the original file instead of adding another copy. Depending on the environment, the space savings can be mind boggling. (Why do users keep saving the same files in so many places?)

PowerShell 3.0

What started out as a way to finally improve upon the cobbled together scripting of batch files and Virtual Basic has evolved into a full-scale way to manage just about anything in a Windows Server environment. In fact, with the release of PowerShell 3.0, built by default into Server 2012, Microsoft says that there is nothing that can be done via the various management GUIs that can’t be done with PowerShell. As in Server 2008, the PowerShell scripts that actually execute the orders entered via the GUI are visible as they run. These scripts can be copied and used to automate future tasks.

Full remoting now comes standard with PowerShell 3.0. When enabled, administrators can run PowerShell scripts against any system they have the proper credentials for access.

More Server Core Choices

When Microsoft debuted Windows Server Core, it offered the stark choice between a full GUI operated system, and one with no GUI, limited roles, and no additional services whatsoever. Assuming that you would now not need any of those “extra” parts of Windows Sever was a bit of a gamble. Knowing that you would NEVER need those parts, or need to add a new role, was a very hard call to make.

Windows Server 2012 adds several more roles that can run on Windows Core.  You can even install SQL Server 2012 on a Server Core, however, Reporting Services is not supported on Core, so you’ll have to do that elsewhere. More interesting, however, is the ability to go half-way. That is, Server 2012 now offers a Minimal Server Interface mode. To get a Minimal Server Interface server, an administrator installs the server as a full server, uses all the GUIs they like to get the install up, running and configured. Then, just remove the Server Graphical Shell in Server Manager. In other words, do all the hard stuff with all the familiar tools and then before you lock the server away, remove those unnecessary components. The best part is, if you ever need to get the full interface back, via the Install-WindowsFeature PowerShell command.

Improvements

There are plenty of “silent” upgrades where features of Windows Server 2012 just work better than before.

The promise of DirectAccess was secure access from anywhere without the complexity of a VPN. Unfortunately, DirectAccess was every bit as complex as a VPN. Now DirectAccess is easy to configure in Server Manager and is easier to set up on Windows 8 systems as well. Most important of all, you don’t have to use IPv6 anymore!

BranchCache is easier to set up and faster. Failover clusters no longer require higher licenses. Dynamic Access Control offers new ways to manage and audit security within Active Directory. The list goes on and on.

No matter what you do with Windows Servers, or what your environment looks like, people are very excited about all that Windows Server 2012 offers.

Want to learn more about Windows Server 2012? See TrainSignal’s Windows Server 2012 Installing and Configuring (70-140) Training.

About the Author

(MCSE, CNA) is a professional freelance writer and small business owner with the freelance writing business ArcticLlama, LLC. Brian’s experience includes network and systems administration, financial planning and advising, and he even has a degree in Biochemistry. Brian specializes in several areas of highly technical writing for ArcticLlama including technology, science and medical. He is also a freelance financial writer specialist. He lives in Colorado with his wife and daughter. Brian contributes articles on Windows Server 2008 and other related topics.

Author's Website: http://www.arcticllama.com/


Discussion