Review: Weighing Windows Server 2012

From network services and storage to virtualization and private cloud, the beefy new Windows Server leaves no server role unturned

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You can sum up Storage Spaces as the ability to group your storage resources into logical pools. Allocate one disk, pieces of one disk, or multiple disks to give users and workloads consolidated logical storage ... well, spaces. This feature is designed to work with Windows Server 2012's failover clustering, so you can keep storage pools running behind server clusters without as much concern for physical hardware.

Roll-your-own storage systems
This bleeds directly into another subset of storage features you'll want to explore deeply: better DIY SANs, or the ability to provide high-availability and high-performance storage on commodity hardware. Microsoft has done quite a bit of work on giving Windows Server 2012 the ability to act as an integrated front-end management interface for third-party storage solutions, while also giving storage managers even more tools to roll their own storage solutions across a broader variety of hardware.

For example, you can now attach simple JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks) arrays via high-speed network interface cards that support RDMA. By leveraging RDMA, NICs can transfer data without bothering the OS, which means significant improvements in overall performance. This offload-to-NIC performance model is a common theme in Windows Server 2012, as you'll find other such features supported, including Receive Side Coalescing (RSC), Receive Side Scaling (RSS), Single Root IO Virtualization (SR-IOV), and TCP Chimney Offload. All this means that storage geeks will have an easier time building in-house storage arrays and even full-on SANS using just the tools provided in Windows Server rather than paying for third-party infrastructure.

With these new data protection, performance, and scalability features, Windows Server 2012 now has enough muscle that third-party storage hardware vendors may simply rely on the OS for storage management -- or it'll force those same vendors to raise the management bar. I expect these features will prompt many an admin, especially in midsized companies, to simply start building their own storage infrastructures with off-the-shelf parts, rather than spending a premium on more expensive turnkey storage.

Finally, with tempers running hot, I apparently must touch on The Great GUI Debate. Anticlimactically, this really isn't interesting to me. Yes, Metro survived the RC cut, which means it'll be in the final release. You can use the Tiles feature to pin oft-used management applications or even logical groups of network resources to the Start menu for quick access. I expect to see more Microsoft and third-party Windows Server Metro add-ins coming out over time.

But if you're one of the spear-waving anti-Metro tribesmen, relax. Remember that you can always turn Metro off. Indeed, Microsoft is pushing harder for a GUI-less install than a Metro-based screen. You'll find Server Core has been fleshed out with new depth and ease-of-use features, many related to the evolving PowerShell scripting language. PowerShell, by the way, is practically mandatory for Windows Server administrators going forward and well worth an in-depth look with another reported 2,000-plus commandlets added in this release --10 times the number released with Windows Server 2008.

All this only scratches the surface of Windows Server 2012's new capabilities. When Microsoft calls this a "major" release, the company isn't kidding. Windows Server 2012 really does change the game, and that's across all roles: file sharing, identity, storage, virtual desktop infrastructure, and certainly server virtualization and cloud. You can expect to see more in-depth coverage here in the future. In the meantime, download the Windows Server 2012 RC installation bits and conduct your own evaluation based on your organization's needs. Then let us know what areas you'd like to see us dive deep into in the coming months. There's a lot to cover.

Microsoft Windows Server 2012 Evaluation Resources

This article, "Review: Weighing Windows Server 2012," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read the Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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