Lost in much of the hype around the release last week of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview was the fact that Microsoft also shipped a beta version of Windows Server 8.
In many ways, the latter might be more significant for IT organizations, as most businesses will not likely move their PCs to Windows 8 for at least a year or two. Indeed, the majority of businesses haven't yet moved to Windows 7. But the migration from Windows Server 2008 might be a lot quicker given that Windows Server 8 can jumpstart key initiatives around private, public, and hybrid cloud environments.
Here's a look at some of the major features of Windows Server 8, as revealed in last week's beta.
1. Networking. Windows Server 8 offers a number features designed to boost network flexibility and security. NIC teaming technology boosts fault tolerance; DHCP provides failover and load balancing services; and SMB 2.2 supports continuous availability of server and storage resources. Also, new support for Single-Root I/O Virtualization (SR-IOV) capable systems and network devices helps improve throughput while reducing network latency and CPU use.
2. Virtualization. Microsoft's virtualization engine, Hyper-V, gets stronger in Windows Server 8 with beefed up multi-tenancy capabilities that are designed to keep virtual machines isolated, even on the same network. That's key in cloud hosting environments that cater to numerous customers. Also, the Windows Server 8 Hyper-V Extensible Virtual Switch supports third-party extensions for enhanced or custom networking and security capabilities.
3. Remote Access. Windows Server 8 offers several tools to facilitate secure, mobile computing. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) provides three options for VDI deployment: Pooled Desktops, Personal Desktops, and Remote Desktop Sessions (formerly Terminal Services).
Also, with DirectAccess in Windows Server 8, admins can establish a managed link to remote systems without having to use a virtual private network. BranchCache provides remote caching for branch offices, so that frequently used documents and data can be accessed locally, reducing loads on network links to main offices.
4. Security. Windows Server 8 offers admins and security officers new ways to tag and classify data with Dynamic Access Control. DAC facilitates tagging based on content; the tags can then be used by central access policies to control file access based on predefined permissions. DAC also includes an audit feature for compliance reporting and forensic analysis to track access attempts.
5. Storage. One of the most noteworthy storage-related enhancements to Windows Server 8 is a feature called Storage Spaces. The technology creates a collective storage asset by grouping individual, physical disks into virtual "pools," which in turn can be grouped into spaces. The size of the pools can be increased or decreased by removing disks from them.
For backup, data can be mirrored across different disks within a pool. Microsoft says Storage Spaces brings high-end storage performance to low-cost systems that can be built with commodity, or JBOD (Just A Bunch Of Disks) arrays.
6. Server management. Windows Server 8 includes an enhanced version of Server Manager that extends features such as remote role and feature deployment to both physical and virtual servers. Servers and virtual hard disks can be provisioned from a desktop without physical access to the server. Also, Remote Desktop Protocol connections are not required for each server.
Also new is PowerShell 3.0, the latest version of Microsoft's server automation framework. Microsoft says PowerShell 3.0 offers simplified syntax to ease management of tasks such as job scheduling, setting default parameter values, and script sharing.
7. Web and application platform. Microsoft's belief is that, although the cloud is here to stay, most organizations for the foreseeable future will operate in hybrid environments that blend cloud services with on-premises resources. Windows Server 8 is built with those environments in mind.
For instance, the Windows Azure Service Bus provides the ability to run loosely-coupled hybrid apps that run locally and in the cloud, and Windows Azure Connect establishes network-level connectivity between Azure services and local resources such as databases. Virtual machines can be provisioned, managed, and moved between private and public clouds through System Center 2012.
8. Metro interface. Like its desktop cousin, Windows Server 8 features Microsoft's new Metro interface for key controls such as PowerShell, Task Manager, and Group Policy Management. It's not as colorful or elaborate as the desktop version, but it does give admins a clean, unified interface from which they can access their most frequently used features.
The beta version of Windows Server 8 is currently available as a free download from Microsoft's website. The company has yet to announce a final ship date or pricing details.