Microsoft earns cloud cred with Windows Server 2012

Officially released last week, Windows Server 2012 erases any doubt that Microsoft wants to play to win the private cloud game

The idea behind the private cloud is to package the advanced automation techniques pioneered by public cloud service providers like Amazon or Salesforce so that you can "try this at home" with your own data center. With the launch of Windows Server 2012 last week -- and System Center 2012 earlier this year -- Microsoft is making big noises about moving in a private cloud direction.

Is that a credible claim? Absolutely. Windows Server 2012 is a huge upgrade; check out our coverage of the 10 best new features and reviewed the Release Candidate. To begin with, the server virtualization improvements raise Microsoft's game to VMware levels, from live storage migration to support for much larger Hyper-V clusters to the new virtual machine replication features -- all this in conjunction with new Virtual Machine Management functionality in System Center 2012.

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But server virtualization is only square one for the private cloud. Measured against the whole list of private cloud requirements, Windows Server and System Center 2012 look strong.

Most surprising to me are the new Hyper-V network virtualization features, which enable you to overlay multiple software-defined networks on a single physical network ("VLANs on steroids" as InfoWorld's Oliver Rist calls it). Although at a very early phase, network virtualization is the key enabler of the software-defined data center, a tipping-point trend where all data center resources can be virtualized and recombined in new and interesting ways.

The network virtualization features center on the Hyper-V Extensible Switch included in Windows Server 2012. This virtual switch is based on the Network Device Interface Specification, and third parties are already creating plug-ins to add features. System Center 2012 SP1, due later this year, will upgrade Virtual Machine Manager to support the IP address mapping necessary for VMs to use Windows Server 2012's network virtualization. Interestingly, SP1 will also enable you to migrate VMs to the Windows Azure public cloud more easily.

Windows Server 2012 excels at other key private cloud capabilities, including self-service and identity management. It's easy to set up portals so that users can provision their own computing resources. With the new Active Directory Dynamic Access Control features, administrators get extremely fine-grained control over what users can do based on who they are.

About the only area where Microsoft is lacking is in metering and chargeback. When infrastructure is shared, you need a way to divide up and meter pooled compute, storage, and networking resources and automatically charge line-of-business accounts -- or at least show those charges to the appropriate stakeholders. Without that capability, IT people either get mired in spreadsheets estimating charges or settle for inaccurate or unfair cost allocations that will come back to haunt them.

Overall, though, Microsoft deserves high praise for its giant step into the private cloud. Of course, Microsoft's private cloud is (surprise!) pretty much an all-Microsoft affair; you can throw some Linux VMs on Hyper-V, but of course Microsoft only provides the tools to manage the VMs, not the OS they contain. Likewise, although the application management features of System Center 2012 earn kudos, they really begin and end with Microsoft apps.

How many customers will decide to roll out Microsoft private clouds on a large scale -- where the benefits are most apparent -- remains to be seen. But the massive technology effort behind Windows Server and System Center 2012 has without question earned Microsoft its private cloud stripes.

This article, "Microsoft earns cloud cred with Windows Server 2012," originally appeared at Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.