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All the hoopla surrounding Windows 8 means the recent release of Windows Server 2012 is flying way under the radar. And that's a shame, because it has a lot to offer. In fact, the server side of Microsoft's ambitious road map may make a far greater impact on your company next year.
We want to state up front that if you hate the Metro interface, you'll cringe the first time you boot Server 2012. But don't be deterred: If you can get past the UI changes (and let's face it, you'd better), you'll be rewarded with features that can solve pressing business problems.
First, let's take a look at cost, to put the features discussion in context. Virtualization has changed the economics of licensing Windows Server, and Microsoft has standardized on a CPU-socket-based pricing model for Hyper-V. For a short time, Hyper-V enjoyed a competitive advantage against VMware ESX based on RAM licensing restrictions. The ensuing customer backlash clearly was heard, however, because VMware announced at VMworld that it will abandon the vRAM entitlement strategy. So from a server virtualization perspective, you won't pay more to scale out Server 2012 if vSphere is your platform of choice.
To Microsoft's credit, the Server 2012 pricing matrix has been simplified. Server 2012 Datacenter edition, which lets you run unlimited virtual machines on a host, lists for $4,809 per processor license, without the required client access licenses. A per-processor license in Server 2012 covers two CPU sockets, as opposed to vSphere's model, where you pay per socket with a 64-GB base vRAM entitlement. So, for a four-socket server, expect to shell out around $9,600 for the Datacenter edition. Server 2012 Standard edition will run you $882 list per processor license but lets you run only two virtual instances on the physical host.
The biggest change in the Server 2012 pricing matrix is the elimination of the Enterprise edition. Go with Datacenter if you're running a highly virtualized environment, and go with Standard for standalone servers. Two SMB editions are available; we discuss these and more pricing details in our full report.
So the costs are reasonable. Still, when's the last time you saw a flash mob of network administrators fighting to be first in line for a copy of Windows Server? The reality is, server migrations are cumbersome. They're costly and time-consuming, and they sometimes cause more problems than they solve.
Inspiring the masses to migrate this time around is complicated by two factors. First, companies tend to upgrade legacy servers to the latest operating system during hardware refreshes, but because so many data centers are now massively virtualized, we're buying less hardware. And second, Microsoft has a habit of using Windows Server releases to solve business problems that were burning 12 to 18 months earlier. Often, IT's already made significant investments in third-party software to meet these needs, so that leverage is gone.
Despite these challenges, the 452 respondents to our InformationWeek 2012 Windows 8 Survey who are upgrading report that by 2014, they'll be running 33% of their servers on Server 2012; 37% will still be on Server 2008. But the trend line is going in the right direction since just 4% say they have no plans to deploy Server 2012.