How moving to Windows Server 2012 will make you a bigger and better business

Article Maxwell Cooter Dec 7th 2012

Don't think the changes in Windows Server are only for the techie guys - there's plenty there to change the way that businesses are run

Microsoft states that Windows 8 is “reimagined;” but it turns out that the server team has done some reimagining of its own. It is “the cornerstone of the Cloud OS”, says the company, being careful not to say that Server 2012 itself is the cloud OS, but rather that you can build a cloud OS on top of it.

At the heart of this transformation is virtualisation. Microsoft took its existing Hyper-V virtualisation platform, which lets you run one or more servers in software-based virtual machines (VMs), and extended its capabilities, lifting its limitations and adding a host of new features such as built-in resiliency and easy migration of VMs from one server to another.

Alongside virtualisation, there is an enhanced automation engine, in the form of PowerShell, Microsoft’s scripting platform. Scripting administration tasks may seem harder than clicking on a GUI (Graphical user interface), but if you want to repeat the task at intervals or on many machines, it is a more powerful approach. PowerShell has over 2,200 new cmdlets (script commands) greatly increasing its capability, as well as a work flow engine that lets you automate long-running tasks. In addition to this a whole new interface to enable you to write scripts as well as well as a complete history of scripts run against a particular server.

Next up is storage. However much space you have it is never enough; but enlarging disk volumes can be a painful process. Server 2012 introduces Storage Spaces, virtualising storage so that you can add drives to a pool, with resiliency built-in, and create virtual drives on that pool that can be bigger than the available space (thin provisioning). It is not really magic, since when physical space runs out you will have to add more drives, but it is flexible and expandable. In addition, data deduplication makes file storage more efficient by storing identical repeated data just once, deduping data at a block level customers have achieved savings of up to 70 percent.

Modularity is another advance. Best practice dictates that your server should only run what it needs to run, since unneeded features are a maintenance and security burden. Using Server Manager, you can add and remove roles and features in a modular fashion. Most features work with the Server Core install, which has no GUI, or you can use a minimal GUI that supports graphical applications but without a GUI desktop. Most server administration can be done remotely using the Remote Server Administration Tool (RSAT), and this together with PowerShell automation makes running a GUI on the server unnecessary in many cases. One of the hidden gems of Windows Server 2012 is the ability to remove the GUI or re-add it again, whereas in the past this would have meant a rebuild.

These are highlights from among thousands of new features; you can see a comprehensive list here.

The key question though: what is the business value? The answer will be different for every business, but here are some areas where deploying or upgrading to Server 2012 can make an immediate impact.

Virtualisation with resilience and flexibility: the new Hyper-V
Virtualisation is nothing new, but its usage is still growing. What are the benefits?

It turns out that there are many. The first is efficiency. Without virtualisation, servers tend to be under-utilised, in part because they must be specified for peak demand, and in part because some services or applications are installed on separate servers, for reasons other than capacity, such as security, ease of maintenance, or isolation from other applications with which they might conflict.

Virtualisation lets you consolidate many physical servers into a few hosts. There is an immediate saving in both space and power efficiency, since you can now get most of the benefits of separate servers by using virtual machines, and add many virtual machines to a single host in order to increase utilisation.