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Windows Server 8

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Microsoft has not announced a ship date for Windows Server 8, although roadmap documents released some time ago pegged it for 2012 (earning it the nickname of Windows Server 2012). A developer's preview of Windows Server 8, including Hyper-V, was made available during Microsoft's BUILD conference in Anaheim, Calif., in September.

Much more than a minor upgrade, Windows Server 8 brings many new features and functionality. The software is currently a Developer Preview release. This means Windows Server 8 isn't even available for beta testing yet.

Windows Server 8 is a much more significant release than Windows Server 2003 or Windows Server 2008. Both of those products were good, but they were mostly evolutionary. In Windows Server 8, Microsoft has taken a much bolder approach and is creating an OS that's by far the most innovative since Windows 2000 Server.

Doing away with the GUI

Microsoft says that Windows Server 8 contains more than 300 new and improved features. Server Core is the preferred configuration for Windows Server 8. Yes, Microsoft actually recommends running Windows Server 8 without the GUI - it could actually look like a Linux (at distance)! But some applications simply won't run in a Server Core environment. GUI components are required in order to install the application. Of course, there's always the learning curve issue. Many administrators who are used to having a GUI environment consider Server Core to be a handicap. Nobody wants to have to learn how to use Server Core by using it to manage a production server. In Windows Server 8 the GUI is an optional component that can be installed or removed on an as-needed basis. In Windows 2008 Server would have to be re-installed from scratch!

The new Hyper-V

Many of the new features in Windows Server 8 involve much-needed improvements to Hyper-V. One of the first improvements Microsoft announced was that the new version of Hyper-V will be much more scalable than its predecessors. A single Hyper-V cluster will be able to support up to 63 host servers, and organizations will be able to host up to 4,000 virtual machines (VMs) within a single cluster. It seems as if upstaging VMware Inc. might have been one of the major driving forces behind the development of Windows Server 8, because so many of the new features are focused on Hyper-V.

The centerpiece of the latest version of Hyper-V is flexible live migration. Live migration is a feature that was originally introduced in Windows Server 2008 R2. It allows a running VM to be moved from one Hyper-V host to another, without user interruption.

Server Manager changes

Microsoft also redesigned Server Manager so it can be used to manage multiple servers simultaneously. Furthermore, the new management and monitoring features are granular in scope. This means you'll be able to use Server Manager to manage your servers by role.

One last management capability deserving mention is something Microsoft is calling Dynamic Access Control. The basic idea behind this feature is that Windows Server 8 allows files and folders to be classified through the use of metadata tags. These tags identify what the file or folder is used for and can be applied by users or by an automatic classification feature that's built in to the OS.

Dynamic Access Control makes it easy to set policies based on the way files and folders are tagged. For example, you could create a blanket policy to ensure that only HR employees are able to access HR data. Such policies augment your existing file and folder permissions rather than completely replacing them.

Windows Server storage architecture

Windows Server 8 will make it possible to create storage pools so that physical storage is completely abstracted. This means that the underlying physical storage becomes nearly irrelevant. Windows Server 8 introduces a new type of virtual hard disk that can be up to 16TB in size.

Microsoft says:

When it comes to building a private cloud, offering cloud services, or securely connecting to clouds, the message is clear: organizations want a consistent, integrated approach that helps them solve fundamental business and IT challenges. They also want to take advantage of new applications and services that can be deployed on-premises and in public cloud environments. Cloud optimize your IT infrastructure with the next release of Windows Server codenamed "Windows Server 8" and get the best possible solution to meet these unique needs.

Sources: Microsoft, Redmondmag, PCWorld
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