With an eye on the upcoming TechEd 2013, TechRepublic held a Q&A with CBT Nuggets trainers and Windows Server experts Don Jones and Timothy Warner.

We asked them about the importance of Windows Server 2012 and the career opportunities it creates for IT professionals. During TechEd (June 3-6, 2013), CBT Nuggets is offering 24 hours of free Microsoft certification training to conference attendees. Don Jones will also be presenting at the event.

Why is Windows Server 2012 so popular in your view?
Don Jones: I’m not entirely sure it’s a given that 2012 is “popular.” It gets a lot of buzz because it’s new; that doesn’t equate to customer deployments. That said, most customers tend to use the newest server version for new server deployments, and they upgrade older servers as they’re able. A mixed-version datacenter is a lot more common, and is perceived as more manageable, than a mixed-version client base.

I think (Windows Server) 2012 has a lot of reasons to be liked, though. In Server Core mode, it’s a more efficient, lower-overhead (fewer patches, less rebooting), fully-capable server OS. It’s quite well geared for virtualization. SMB 3.0 is going to be game-changing once people fully wrap their heads around the idea of commodity SANs.

Server Core in a VM is especially efficient for infrastructure servers -domain controllers, DHCP, DNS, WINS, and the like. Less virtual RAM, less disk space, easier to live migrate, fewer patches, less rebooting–what’s not to like? 2012 finally makes Server Core the default installation, and I hope customers are paying attention to the significance of that.

Timothy Warner: Microsoft’s Windows Server releases have consistently improved ever since Windows NT. This is in stark contrast to their corporate desktop OS evolution, which has been scattershot at best.

I’ve always admired Microsoft for paying attention to their small-to-medium business size systems administrators. You get a heck of a lot of “bang for your buck” with Windows Server 2012. Consider the following new and/or improved features:

  • Storage Spaces/iSCSI Target: “Free” storage area networking
  • Data Deduplication: Enterprise file server feature built right into Windows
  • Scale-Out File Server: Highly available file services
  • Hyper-V 3.0: Enterprise-class hypervisor (can be integrated with failover clustering, too)
  • Failover Clustering: Highly available apps, services, and VMs
  • DirectAccess: Much easier to set up “always on” corporate VPNs

The other thing that’s cool is that the system requirements for Windows Server 2012 are not much (at all) different from those of Windows Server 2008. Thus, administrators don’t have to purchase new hardware to run Windows Server 2012.

What career opportunities does Windows Server 2012 create for IT managers and professionals?
Don Jones: Automation. 2012 is the first version of Windows (Server) with significant Microsoft investment in management automation, and they’re going to continue building heavily on that investment. IT managers should start to find “click Next, Next, Finish in a Wizard” unacceptably inefficient for their environments, and they should start to demand automation. “If I ask you to do something once, you should automate it, so I don’t have to ask you ever again” is a completely reasonable management expectation. That, of course, is also an IT professional opportunity – and a danger for IT pros who don’t meet the challenge.
Timothy Warner: Well, each of the primary focus areas of Windows Server 2012:

  • Virtualization / cloud infrastructure
  • Highly available apps, services, and VMs
  • Storage area networking

can be parlayed into a full-time career. If nothing else, the experience that a Windows administrator can glean by experimenting with these technologies will make him or her more valuable in the IT marketplace.

Some important new features, such as Dynamic Access Control, require admins to deploy at least on Windows Server 2012 domain controller. Thus, as tech moves forward (as it always does) any IT professional needs to maintain currency with the present Windows Server and client OS platforms.

What is the main take-home message about Windows Server 2012 for IT professionals?
Don Jones: If you haven’t taken PowerShell seriously yet, your career is in real jeopardy. You might not see it coming. You might not be happy about it. But it’s the truth anyway. Bigger companies are demanding automation, and they’re getting it. What bigger companies get, smaller organizations eventually want, too. I’d rather be designing automation that just pushing buttons, because frankly the designer gets paid more and is harder to fire. And PowerShell is going to get exponentially more integrated and complicated in future releases. Learn it now, because the curve is going to get steeper and steeper.
Does that mean Microsoft is eliminating GUI management tools? Of course not. But it does mean they feel sorry for people who have to use them, and I’m not sure that’s where I’d want my career pinned.
Timothy Warner: My message to IT professionals is, “Don’t be afraid of Windows Server 2012. Don’t be put off by the Start Screen, because you can easily restore the old Start menu by using third-party utilities. The system requirements are relatively modest, and the flexibility and power that Windows Server 2012 gives you demands that you embrace the platform.”