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Windows Server 2012 – The Path to the Cloud

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While this latest version of Windows Server 2012 offers many of the capabilities one expects to find in a client/server network operating system, the real benefits of this release lie a little bit further beneath the surface.

Windows-Server-2012-LogoThe two editions of Server 2012 being released, Standard and Datacenter, replace six of the editions of Server 2008. The Small Business Standard, Enterprise, HPC, and Web editions of Windows Server have been retired. However, Microsoft will offer a free HPC software pack add-on to Standard and Datacenter for high performance computing applications.

Having just two versions greatly simplifies things. If you're running a major application on a dedicated machine, such as Exchange and SharePoint server apps, a SQL Server database, or just about anything that goes beyond basic file and print services, the Standard edition of the OS will work just fine. However, if you intend on running a stack of VMs, you will want the Datacenter edition.

There will be two additional versions of Server 2012, but those will fall under more specialized deployment scenarios. For example, Foundation edition, will only be sold through OEMs, and is intended as a totally bare-bones server with no virtualization support. The other version, which is based on the same stripped-down code, Windows Server 2012 Essentials, will replace Windows Small Business Server Essentials 2011 and will be available later this year. 

Server 2012 Standard and Datacenter both support significantly larger amounts of processing power, storage, and memory than Server 2008 R2. It handles up to 320 “logical processors,” or CPU cores, double the processing maximum for R2. Memory capacity is also doubled, up to 4 terabytes. And the failover clustering capabilities of Server 2012 have been vastly expanded, supporting up to 64 cluster nodes—up from 16 in the previous release.

There are a number of features in Server 2012 that can significantly improve the resilience of an organization’s applications, whether they’re deployed in a data center or on a couple of servers in the back room. Improvements in Hyper-V virtualization, storage functionality, and the networking features of Server 2012 all add ways to make servers less likely to fail—and in the event that they do, make it easier to quickly recover.

Major enhancements to Hyper-V are a welcome bonus, almost turning Hyper-V into a platform level server itself. In fact, the free Hyper-V Server, available as a download from Microsoft, offers all of the same features as the hypervisor environment in Server 2012, minus the management tools. For small organizations, a single copy of Server 2012 could be used to configure and manage multiple standalone Hyper-V servers to create a cluster of servers, including Linux server instances, all configured for automatic failover.

However, the big news around Windows Server 2012 is how Microsoft has stepped into the world of the private cloud. Windows Server 2012 also excels at providing critical private cloud functions, 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 actually are.

For those who doubt the prowess of Microsoft’s cloud capabilities with Windows server 2012, adding Systems Center 2012 to the mix brings enhanced management and additional cloud focused capabilities to the operating system. So much in fact, that Microsoft shops may have an unbeatable combination to build cloud enabled services that straddle private public and hybrid cloud offerings. Microsoft is embracing the cloud, and creating the tools that allow their customers to do the same on their own terms.