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Windows Server 2012: More than Virtualization!

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Since it was in pre-release I have been evangelizing Windows Server 2012.  I have gone from sea to shining sea talking about it at Launch events, at Partner showcases, in IT Camps, at user groups talking about how much better it is than Windows Server 2008, but more importantly I chiefly discuss the improvements to Hyper-V over previous versions, and how it (and System Center 2012) compares to VMware’s vSphere 5.1 and vCenter Server.

While all of that is true, to say that virtualization is the only benefit to Windows Server 2012 is doing it a disservice.  Don’t get me wrong, Hyper-V officially rocks; but if virtualization was the only benefit to the new Server, couldn’t companies simply deploy the new version on their host hardware, and leave their virtual machines running Windows Server 2008 R2?

Going forward when someone asks me what is new and exciting in Windows Server, I am going to start with the improvements to Hyper-V… but then we can go into the real meat of the product, and see where it takes us.  Improvements such as:

Storage Spaces (or Storage Pools), which I have equated to software-RAID after ten generations of improvement.  With Storage Spaces you can build your volume from multiple disks of equal or disparate size, on similar or disparate architecture.  Imagine having three SAS disks of 450GB, 146GB, and 72GB combined into a single volume of 668GB… or a 146GB SAS disk, a 500GB SATA disk, and a 2TB USB disk combined into a 2.46TB volume.  Add to that the ability to hot-add drives on the fly (in a recent demo I added two disks in under 30 seconds), and have your volume protected by Mirroring or Parity. All of this is built into Windows Server 2012, and we have written about it extensively.  Try it for yourself by following my article here.

Data Deduplication is built into the operating system.  Previously a tool that storage-conscious companies would pay thousands of dollars to third-party vendors for, is now a check box away when creating your volume.  Once it is enabled on your volume you can either use the GUI tool or, if you are efficient, Windows PowerShell to either schedule your dedup or run the job immediately on either your local or remote systems.

Software iSCSI Target was exclusively a feature of Microsoft Storage Server until April of 2010 when Microsoft released it as a fully supported free download.  Now integrated in Server 2012, it gives you the ability to create a software SAN device on your server with all of the functionality of most hardware SANs, but at a fraction of the cost.  While I will still not replace my hardware SAN devices in large organizations, it brings that functionality to smaller businesses without the budget for the extra hardware.  Couple this feature with Storage Spaces and Data Dedup and you have yourself a real ballgame!  To get started check out our article here.

MinShell is the new ‘compromise’ step between the full GUI Server installation and the Server Core installation.  It allows you to have a sort of ‘safety net’ of the GUI management tools, without actually having the Windows GUI environment installed.  You will save tons of resources across your virtualized environment because you no longer need the GUI on hundreds of virtual machines, as we wrote about here.

Server Manager was introduced to Windows Server 2003 R2 with all of the ho-hum yawning that it deserved.  Okay, a lot of our tasks were brought into one app, but that was about it.  That is why I was so surprised that the modern Server Manager in Server 2012 blew me away with its true multi-server management, the Dashboard functionality that gives the administrator a birds-eye view of the health of all of his or her systems, and the ability to manage… well, everything from one console.  Install roles and features on your local or remote servers with the same ease.  Manage multiple servers from the same console – add them by simply right-clicking the All Servers context, and then without any more work see that all of the services running on that (or those) remote server(s) are instantly added to your Dashboard.  I recorded a video of some of the great functionality in Server Manager for our blog here.

PowerShell 3.0 is the breakout version of this already incredible scripting environment, with nearly ten times the cmdlets than previously available (out of the box).  Add to that the Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE) and you have a powerful scripting environment that is even easier to learn and use than before!

Active Directory Administration Center is a new all-encompassing tool for Active Directory management.  No longer will admins have to open one of several different consoles depending on what they wanted to do, the ADAC is it… plain and simple!

Active Directory Recycle Bin was introduced in Windows Server 2008 R2, and is now even easier to use to use.  Enable it in the ADAC (remember that once enabled it cannot be disabled).  To lean how to enable it read our article here, and the to use it to restore an object we have another article here.

Windows PowerShell History Viewer records the underlying Windows PowerShell commands when action is taken in the Active Directory Administrative Center so that the admin can copy and reuse the scripts.  This is also a great way for admins to start learning PowerShell!

Cloning and Snapshotting Domain Controllers, along with DCs that are fully aware of virtualization, mean that we no longer need to maintain a physical domain controller in our fully virtualization (or cloud-based) organization.  I can rapidly deploy new domain controllers (either in an existing or new domain), and quickly and easily restore business continuity during disaster recovery.  I can rapidly provision test environments and quickly meet increased capacity needs in branch offices.  Our virtualized domain controllers will detect snapshot restoration and non-authoritatively synchronize the delta of changes for Active Directory and the SYSVOL, making DC virtualization safer.

Fine-Grained Password Policies in Active Directory allows me to have better security for my infrastructure by making it easier for users with no access to sensitive information have more lenient password policies, while enforcing stricter policies for users with more access and for service accounts.  While everyone will still have to have password awareness, this will see a marked decrease in Post-It Note Security Violations.

Dynamic Access Control is a new way of securing your information, whether on file shares, in SharePoint Document Libraries, or even in e-mail.  It works with Rights Management Server using Central Access Policies to verify who is accessing what information from where (what device).  The expression-based access policies determine before decrypting the content that both the user and the device are trusted.  If you have highly sensitive information that should only be accessed on corporately managed devices this is going to be a great new security feature available to you!

DirectAccess was introduced in the 2008 era with a plethora of complex requirements and prerequisites needed to implement.  In 2009 Rodney Buike wrote an article that is a great explanation of DirectAccess on our blog which can be read here.  In Server 2012 it is so much simpler to plan for, deploy, and use.  Anthony Bartolo wrote the article about what it is, what it needs, and what it does recently, and you can read that article here.

…and the list just keeps going and going.  I urge you to download the evaluation software and try it out by clicking on the appropriate link:

Windows Server

System Center 2012

Windows 8

In addition to downloading the software and reading our articles, you could have a chance in winning your lab computer by participating in free Microsoft offered Virtual Academy.  To have a chance to win an HP EliteBook Revolve and two chances to win 400 Microsoft Points enter here.  Complete two TechNet evaluations, and take the selected Microsoft Virtual Academy courses for your chance at a $5,000 grand prize!

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