Why you should download Windows Server 8 beta today

Now in beta, Windows Server 8 adds capabilities that will shift the balance in virtualized data centers and private clouds

Windows admins and software developers, start your downloading: Microsoft has made a beta of Windows Server 8 generally available for evaluation. Judging by early analysis by InfoWorld's experts, Redmond has built a far better Windows Server by injecting such features as richer, scenario-based deployment tools, pervasive scriptability (including native PowerShell support in Hyper-V), and advanced virtualization capabilities for larger-scale Hyper-V deployments. It's not without its flaws, based on incoming observations, but it's well worth a test-drive.

As InfoWorld's Brian Chee and Doug Dineley can tell you, picking out just 10 of the best new features in Windows Server 8 is tough. The platform's cloud friendliness is definitely a selling point; Server Manager is redesigned for managing multiple servers, headless server (Server Core) deployments become the rule, and PowerScript hooks are everywhere, as Hyper-V finally has native PowerShell support.

On the virtualization front, Windows Server 8 comes loaded with new levels of Hyper-V scalability and advanced virtual networking -- enough to give VMware a run for its money. For example, Windows 8 is encroaching on VMware territory and beyond with support for as many as 63 hosts and 4,000 virtual machines per cluster. Backing up the raw numbers are a slew of features that improve performance, manageability, availability, and security in large environments: cluster-aware patching, storage resource pools, thin provisioning, storage off-load for data transfers, BitLocker encryption for cluster volumes, data deduplication, and live storage migration.

What's more, organizations can team NICs from different vendors, with or without LACP support on their upstream switch. Windows Server 8 also brings Fibre Channel support to Hyper-V guests. You can configure multipath I/O or cluster guests with Fibre Channel for high availability, yet still make use of live migration.

Also noteworthy: Windows Server 8 lowers the bar for VDI, so it's far easier to deploy and remove the requirement for central storage. It'll be interesting to see if Server 8 gives VDI a shot in the arm.

InfoWorld's Windows maven J. Peter Bruzzese has cited key features that should tantalize Windows admins of the world. Among them is the platform's multisystem support, which lets you configure and make changes to multiple systems at once. For example, you can create server groups that allow you to implement changes to multiple systems. That means you can now group and remotely control your IIS or DHCP servers as if they were one -- perfect for headless systems running Server Core. You can also do your admin work in bulk: install updates, reboot, make adjustments, and so on.

Bruzzese also spotlighted four big changes to Active Directory features in Windows Server 8, including the elimination of dcpromo for an easy-to-use wizard; an enhanced administrative wizard; a GUI for the AD Recycle Bin; and better implementation of fine-grained password policies.

Some of Windows Server 8's changes (or lack thereof) may detract from the overall glow of the package. Among them, it's not a cloud object because Redmond prefers the PaaS model -- where the platform is used as the least common denominator in the cloud -- over the IaaS model. That means Microsoft is holding on tight to control over OS payload licensing costs, while preventing commoditizing of Windows 8 Server licenses. Resilient File System, with its built-in error recovery techniques from numerous fix-it angles, is not bootable. Further, the platform is not ported to ARM, which has increased interest over the past few years as more device manufacturers use the low-power processors to run mobile devices.

One looming question: Will Windows 8 and Windows Server 8 work "better together," which was a big theme for Server 2008 and Windows 7? With the general availability of the beta today, we'll soon know.

This article, "Why you should download Windows Server 8 Beta today," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.