Windows Server

An overview of what's new in Windows Server 8

In this overview, Scott Lowe describes the newest and most interesting features in Windows Server 8.

You're going to see a whole lot of Windows Server 8 content hitting the net and TechRepublic isn't an exception. At TechRepublic, you're already seeing some technical deep dives into specific Windows 8 features and you will see these from me, as well. In this article, however, we're going to focus at the 30,000-foot view and take a look at the general new features that are available in Windows Server 8.

Centralized multi-server management

Windows Server 8 comes with a new version of Server Manager. In this latest iteration, Server Manager gets a Metro UI makeover and the ability to monitor and manage multiple servers simultaneously.

Figure A

Server Manager in Windows Server 8

Increased Hyper-V scalability

One of the most anticipated updates coming in Windows Server 8 is the new version of Hyper-V and its new features. With Hyper-V 3.0, Microsoft will go a long way toward shrinking the growing feature gap between vSphere, the market leader, and Hyper-V.

More features means that more organizations will choose Hyper-V over vSphere, but there's more. Scalability alone will help in this process and enable larger workloads to be hosted under Hyper-V. A single Hyper-V 3 cluster will be able to support up to 4,000 hosts.

Each host will support up to 160 logical processors, 2 TB of RAM. A single Hyper-V virtual machine will support up to 32 vCPUs and 512 GB of RAM, making them suitable for even large workloads.

Figure B

Hyper-V Manager in Windows Server 8

The Metro interface

Like its consumer cousin, Windows Server 8 sports the Metro interface, which you've already seen in the new Server Manager.  However, this also extends to other aspects of the operating system, such as the Start Menu, shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Windows Server 8 has the Metro interface

Resilient File System (ReFS)

With Windows Server 8, Microsoft is releasing a new file system named ReFS. ReFS builds on a subset of popular NTFS features while optimizing the file system for massive scale and, not surprisingly, resiliency.

From a Microsoft blog post on ReFS, here are some ReFS features:

  • Metadata integrity with checksums
  • Integrity streams providing optional user data integrity
  • Allocate on write transactional model for robust disk updates (also known as copy on write)
  • Large volume, file and directory sizes
  • Storage pooling and virtualization makes file system creation and management easy
  • Data striping for performance (bandwidth can be managed) and redundancy for fault tolerance
  • Disk scrubbing for protection against latent disk errors
  • Resiliency to corruptions with "salvage" for maximum volume availability in all cases
  • Shared storage pools across machines for additional failure tolerance and load balancing

ReFS volumes can be up to 2^78 in size... if my Excel skills are halfway decent, this translates to 281,474,976,710,656 terabytes, which roughly translates to "huge".

ReFS volumes do have some limitations, though. In this iteration, you can't boot from an ReFS volume, for example.

Learn more about ReFS at this blog post.

This is a topic that will get a lot more attention at TechRepublic.

DHCP Failover

Microsoft has done a really good job with availability for many aspects of Active Directory domains, including domain controllers themselves. By integrating DNS into Active Directory, this fundamental service enjoys high availability. However, by its nature, DHCP has not enjoyed this level of availability until now. With Windows Server 8, Microsoft is implementing DHCP Failover. DHCP Failover addresses one of the issues that can commonly create downtime issues by being a single point of failure.

Domain controllers are virtualization-aware

If you've virtualized your domain controllers, you've probably heard that you should never take a snapshot of your DC and then restore that snapshot as doing so can damage AD beyond repair.

Guess what! This is no longer the case with Windows Server 8-based domain controllers running on Hyper-V 3.0! In addition, Microsoft is working with other hypervisor vendors to help them adjust their products to support this enhancement.

Personally, I think this is a big step forward in the right direction.

Deduplication

Microsoft has added block-based, post-processing deduplication to Windows 8 as a role.  Once this role is enabled and configured, Windows creates scheduled tasks that run to perform the actual deduplication.  However, deduplication is not supported on the Windows boot volume or system volumes, but it does work on storage volumes.

PowerShell 3.0

I took PowerShell 3.0 for a quick spin a couple of months ago and discovered that it is a major upgrade, not just a minor one.

Here are some of the new features in Windows PowerShell 3.0:

  • Workflows: Workflows that run long-running activities (in sequence or in parallel) to perform complex, larger management tasks, such as multi-machine application provisioning. Using the Windows Workflow Foundation at the command line, Windows PowerShell workflows are repeatable, parallelizable, interruptible, and recoverable.
  • Robust Sessions: Robust sessions that automatically recover from network failures and interruptions and allow you to disconnect from the session, shut down the computer, and reconnect from a different computer without interrupting the task.
  • Scheduled Jobs: Scheduled jobs that run regularly or in response to an event.
  • Delegated Administration: Commands that can be executed with a delegated set of credentials so users with limited permissions can run critical jobs
  • Simplified Language Syntax: Simplified language syntax that make commands and scripts look a lot less like code and a lot more like natural language.

Storage Spaces

With Storage Spaces in Windows Server 8, administrators can combine storage from any number of sources. For example, you can combine your server's internal SAS or SATA disks with a bunch of external USB disks into a single storage pool that can be sliced and diced as necessary.

This feature is much like the Drive Extender feature that Microsoft ultimately dropped from Windows Home Server. Personally, I found Extender to be a fantastic technology, so I look forward to its return.

Summary

These are just some of the big new features that are coming in Windows 8. There are many more enhancements in the operating system. Over the coming months, we'll deep dive into many of them right here!

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

32 comments
Fahim@sickkids
Fahim@sickkids

I could not resist from commenting...Metro interface? Really? Was the server manager of 2008 not nice enough? We as the poor end-users were happy with it? werent we? Guys at my company love it.. and now this? Some confused people must be working on the DEV team at MS....

MrBoa
MrBoa

Finally there are some news (for Windows) in the server arena. All of these "new" technologies were already present 10 years ago in the Sun/Oracle Solaris OS. ReFS sounds a lot like ZFS, with the little difference that ZFS has been ironed out during 10 years or more. But, I always think that you need to be brave to put your whole business inside a Windows box using virtualization. I agree that it will be an annoying thing to have the Metro GUI in the middle of huge server box. You don't put a noob to admin such a thing.

sean.madge
sean.madge

Hopefully they provide a Core install option

donbevan
donbevan

I cannot believe what I'm hearing. IT needs to speed up the process not go back to typing. If I recall that's why DOS went away. I know we all want to keep our jobs but why would you pay someone to sit there and waste time writing powershell scripts when we should be telling Microsoft to do it for us. We pay a lot of money for their product. If I have to do all the work using powershell then I should just go to Linux. It's atleast cheaper. Powershell is a big step backward.

ccolht
ccolht

If the gui can display the PS used to actually do the work it would be a great tool. AIX has had this for years in SMIT. Do it once in the gui and script it from then on.

xyvyx
xyvyx

I think the Metro-style UI could be great for a performance dashboard sort of view... give me important stats & simple drill-through navigation to get to various admin screens to affect those stats. While the core CPU, memory & disk utilization could be shown, if the server is specified for a webserver role, it should show IIS-specific KPIs. Of course once we server admins need to start DOING things on these servers, all these pretty GUI things tend to get in the way. The more features that creep into the server OS from the desktop, the more things that power users need to turn off/disable. The disappearance of menu items like the "directory up" button tells me MS doesn't really understand their user base, at least IT professionals and those of us who actually understand the concept of nested folders, etc...

mwalters1984
mwalters1984

Metro may be at home on a server. My ideal situation: Metro on the physical console with a touch screen KVM. Standard desktop through RDP. I always hated the server KVM keyboards and trackball... a touch interface seems more intuitive.

ng128
ng128

metro interface on the server. Are they going mental?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Because if you're going to be performing the job on a regular basis, or if you're going to be performing the job on a large number of objects, a script is more accurate. It can also faster, even including the development time. Because if you're operating a high-volume server, the overhead needed for the GUI is often wasted.

jasongw
jasongw

Your first part was spot on, but you went off track a bit in the second paragraph. In Win8, the Metro UI is designed specifically to get out of the way. You'll drill into a rich app that's full screen and lets you work--or, just as likely, you'll simply launch a powershell prompt and get to work on the command line :)

jasongw
jasongw

Depends. If you mean by "mental", "brilliant," then yes--they're mental. Metro on Server is a fantastic thing. Why? Because having the ability to setup the most important indicators for your servers, tracking things like storage, CPU and memory utilization, service status, etc as Live Tiles that are omnipresent, updated in real time at a glance, is a *fantastic* innovation. Once there are apps in place to allow for all this sort of monitoring easily, via built in UI instead of proprietary apps/hacks/gadgets and in-house customized tools, the job of tracking problems as they develop will get a whole lot easier for Systems Admins. I've been an admin at various levels, from desktop to systems engineer, for 16 years, and I'm really looking forward to this, both on the desktop AND on the server :)

cybershooters
cybershooters

Beat me to it. I think we all realize that metro is a way of getting IT departments to buy a lot of new touchscreen monitors with DisplayPorts. But on servers?

honeymonster
honeymonster

Through its ability to use Windows Remote Management, the server manager *can* be executed at the server, but it can *also* be executed on a client machine. You will still have all the power of the entire application, only the actual actions will be executed remotely. Indeed, any server manager on any machine (server or client) can be used to remote admin any server. Servers can be grouped and actions can be invoked for the entire group, e.g. install IIS with certain modules. The Server Manager will then issue the commands to each server transparently and consolidate the results back to the controlling console.

vsmith1
vsmith1

To the man with a hammer the whole world looks like a nail. Why is it that MS persists in the belief that one size (ie one UI) fits all?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

What possible value is there in a touch interface on a server? What is this, a kiosk? On the other hand, we'll probably roll out W8 Server before we deploy the W8 client OS. It's easier for IT types to adapt than users.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

graphic user interface on the server. Are they going mental? hehe.. couldn't resist.. I figure it's like the MMC though.. when everything is a Metro module then it'll be the natural interface for the server. Since software is specifically targeting Windows Server that may happen pretty quick too. personally, I'd like to see more work towards Windows headless.. leave the graphic interface off entirely.. remote mmc or powershell are more than enough to manage the box beyond a local text terminal for basic functions.

cybershooters
cybershooters

As someone pointed out on here before, powershell isn't a way of writing scripts, it's a way of everyone writing the same script. Basically no-one can wrap their heads around doing complex scripts so they find them on the web, download them and run them. How is that better than using the UI? I try and avoid using it simply because I can't remember all the commands, this was the problem with DOS.

donbevan
donbevan

I'm just not sold on it. I've done some I wasn't all that thrilled with it. I guess what got me upset is in Exchange 2007 they have a gui to restore a users mail file from back ups. With Exchange 2010 you have to use powershell. I mean, that's backward. I like going forward.

jasongw
jasongw

In this case, they're right. Metro works well in existing environments, and will *really* work well with servers. Think about it: your Start screen customized with Live Tiles representing status of services, CPU and memory usage, storage capacities, network utilization, error logs, admin tools, etc. There's all kinds of potential for Metro goodness on the server OS.

dinomutt
dinomutt

I believe that's the whole point of Windows 8, that one interface isn't right for everyone and you now have choice for which UI you want to use - Metro, Desktop or Shell.

grayknight-22253692004129760887070084760051
grayknight-22253692004129760887070084760051

I certainly like remote desktoping to a server on my Samsung Slate and using touch to unlock users or reset passwords, or other tasks. Having more ways to do something is better than fewer ways.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I recall that they'd already determined the server direction was going to be less GUI and more PowerShell. Imagine my disappointment.

nwallette
nwallette

Bandwidth is very real concern. Consider two ways to accomplish the same thing.. You've got a log filled with errors. You can do this the Linux way (or PowerShell if that's your speed, but I'm more familiar with the Unix command set), and SSH into the server and use your favorite editor or pager to display the log. You can filter out inconsequential lines using grep, and scroll through pages with very little impact on whatever connectivity you have -- be that 3G, WiFi, or Gb Ethernet to a few rooms over. Now consider the GUI approach. You have the Windows Event Viewer open and you're navigating the filters to try and reduce it to the useful categories and services. Now, you're scrolling through the event list and browsing the details pane for the info you need. Lots of scrolling, and (e.g.) thousands of pixels of graphics to transmit as you page-down through that list. If you're NOT on a fast connection, that hurts. I know this first-hand because our company isn't contained in one building, so remote access is the norm, not the exception. When I'm at home, with the 17000 foot loop to the telco CO, my 960Kbps DSL (if only it really were) would much rather serve me the text listing.

cybershooters
cybershooters

Oh "bandwidth" and "overhead", give me a break, what are you guys using it on, an IBM AT? I remember when Powershell first came out, I went to a presentation for it and the whizz from Microsoft typed a page of commands in to do whatever it was he was trying to do (install a core version of 2008 iirc) and it took him ages to get it to run without an error. It was embarrassing. Basically we came to the conclusion the objective was to make IT administration so difficult that only experts like me can do it, fair enough, then a few years later Microsoft start blathering on about the cloud which is supposed to put people like me out of business. They've lost their way.

nwallette
nwallette

When you're used to a shell, it's so much faster to pop into a box (not physically located within an Ethernet cable) and type a few commands to get what you need. It takes much less bandwidth, and usually less screen real-estate (think phone, tablet, or with reference material open) to use a text-based interface. Also, the more code you have on a server, the more chance of it being exploited. Imagine how much fat is in Windows to support the GUI. Now imagine the OS without it. Leaner, meaner, safer. Finally, as Palmetto alluded to, let's see how quickly you can jump into Windows explorer and delete all the log-yyyymmdd.txt files between January and April, unless they have the word "breach" in them. For every job there is a proper tool. If you shun the command line as "old technology", you're severely limiting your options for the most efficient way to handle a task.

grayknight-22253692004129760887070084760051
grayknight-22253692004129760887070084760051

is to replace the old-skool mainframe systems with easier to use web based applications. It isn't that the system is broken exactly, but it needs more capabilities that just aren't easily available in mainframes.

nwallette
nwallette

But in terms of business continuity, you don't mess with that which isn't broken. There's a reason people still use old-skool mainframes. Data processing has NO NEED for transparent title bars and Direct X libraries. That's time wasted that the CPU could be doing something else. (And most servers come with absolutely the worst video chipset available.)

jasongw
jasongw

I've worked as a systems admin for 16 years now, and there's one thing I've seen happen repeatedly: when the market changes, if you're the one who has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the future, you're the one most likely to be replaced by the new kid with the shiny new certification. Embrace the change, and learn what it can do for you. Will it be unilaterally better? Probably not. Will it make many kinds of tasks better? Without a doubt. Live forward--clinging to the archaic UI's we've been living with since Apple and Microsoft ripped off Xerox Parc is futile. And frankly, kind of dumb :p

cybershooters
cybershooters

No you don't, you have to use the metro start ribbon or whatever the hell it's called, even to get to the desktop and there's no start menu anymore. Doing it on desktop computers is questionable, doing it on servers is bizarre.

jasongw
jasongw

As a 16 year Sys Admin, I'll respectfully disagree. Quality implementation counts FAR more than good iea+poor implementation.

jasongw
jasongw

Less GUI doesn't mean "GUI-free". Server core is predominantly GUI free, but it's clear that this version of server will make extensive use of Powershell. Good news for admins!