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Microsoft Windows Server 2012: Worth the wait?

It is finally here and it is looking promising

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Microsoft made the official announcement of Windows Server 2012 on Tuesday, 4 September, ending what has seemed like an interminable sequence of rumors, Beta releases, and endless speculation about this successor to Windows Server 2008.

So, is it worth the wait and does it live up to its hype? All omens point to a resounding “YES.”

Make no mistake, this is a really major restructuring of the OS, and a major step in function capabilities aligned with several major strategic trends for both Microsoft and the rest of the industry. While Microsoft’s high level message is centreed on the cloud, and on the Windows Server 2012 features that make it a productive platform upon which both enterprises and service providers can build a cost-effective cloud, its features will be immensely valuable to a wide range of businesses.

What It Does

The reviewers guide for Windows Server 2012 is over 220 pages long, and the OS has at least 100 features that are worth noting, so a real exploration of the features of this OS is way beyond what I can do here. Nonetheless, we can look at several buckets of technology to get an understanding of the general capabilities. Also important to note is that while Microsoft has positioned this as a very cloud-friendly OS, almost all of these cloud-related features are also very useful to an enterprise IT environment.

  • New file system — Included in WS2012 is ReFS, a new file system designed to survive failures that would bring down or corrupt the previous NTFS file system (which is still available). Combined with improvements in cluster management and failover, this is a capability that will play across the entire user spectrum.
  • Deploy and manage at scale — WS2012 (an abbreviation that is probably not approved by Microsoft) is designed to make it easy to deploy multiple copies of the OS on geographically distributed systems. Obviously this is a good feature for cloud platform, but is of use to almost any enterprise IT group. Improvements in application development and deployment promise the ability to deploy any WS2012 application to any location(s) from a centralised deployment server.
  • Vastly improved Hyper-V, virtual networking, and associated tools — WS2012 has many improvements to Hyper-V, including features to improve HA/DR provisioning, enhanced virtual networking, and improvements to the size of individual VMs. Microsoft’s new management solution, Systems Centre 2012, offers deep integration with Hyper-V for advanced management.
  • Heavy emphasis on multi-tenancy — A fundamental for deploying clouds, either as an internal private cloud or as a service provider offering shared cloud services, the ability to securely and efficiently handle multiple tenants on the cloud is a fundamental requirement. WS2012 has multiple features to enhance this capability, most of which will also be potentially useful for traditional enterprise IT environments as well. Security across the entire OS is integrated with these enhancements as well.
  • Client and remote office functions — Improved management of client devices to allow centralised control of data and enhanced audit and compliance. Improvements in Branch Cache remote file services will allow tighter and more efficient management of data served to remote offices.

What Does It Mean For IT And I&O?

There is no doubt that this is the most significant jump in OS capabilities since Microsoft first introduced Windows as a server OS. It appears to me, based on numerous contacts with Microsoft and conversations with several Beta users, that this is essentially a complete rewrite of the OS, involving 1000s of developers over at least five years and probably somewhere between 40 and 50 million lines of code.

So should everyone rush out to deploy it widely across your company? Heck no. It’s new, will have bugs, and like any major release, will certainly need some updates to stabilise it (that said, my impression from Beta users is that this is the cleanest OS release Microsoft has ever done, so I may be being overly cautious regarding early production deployment).

But, and this is critical, you must begin to evaluate and pilot it even if you are still completing your rollout of Windows Server 2008, as many Forrester clients still are. My guess is that WS2012 is the future of Windows OS, and will probably serve as the core of Microsoft’s strategy for the next decade. I doubt their ability to produce a radical upgrade to this in the next four or five years, and even the next version of the OS is likely to look like WS2012.

This implies that you need to understand how this new OS will change and enable your strategic IT road map, particularly since the new OS has features and capabilities that, if properly exploited by you (or by your competitors), could generate real competitive differentiation such as the ability to deploy applications more rapidly, manage them more efficiently, etc.

How Does This Change Competitive Industry Dynamics?

Aside from an impressive array of new features, this OS could have the same transformative impact on the industry as the first release of Windows server did, directly addressing Microsoft’s strategy to become a major player in the cloud (both enterprise and public), and changing the dynamics of the emerging competitive battle with VMware as both attempt to become the centre of what VMware has begun marketing as the "software-defined data centre” (look for an upcoming research note from me on this topic).

The vision of the software-defined data centre, a term which I believe will assume some general currency as a description of a fully virtualised network, server, and storage capability that allows easy definition and deployment of complex virtual infrastructure that spans enterprise and public execution spaces as required, will become the locus of competition between Microsoft and VMware as well as other vendors over the next two years.

I&O groups should expect continued innovations from both vendors, along with attempts by each to subsume the management of the other’s VMs in an effort to become the end-to-end enterprise virtualisation framework.

From a tactical perspective, I don’t expect large numbers of users to abandon their investment in VMware and march to Hyper-V and its shiny new tools and capabilities, because migrations between functionally similar platforms are generally an inefficient investment of resources.

However, because the two platforms are now much more functionally equivalent under WS2012, VMware will face a resurgent competition from Microsoft for new workloads and major infrastructure transformation projects. Consumers of this technology can expect to maintain lively and intense competition between two capable suppliers, which is always good for both users' pocketbooks as well as serving as a goad to continued innovation.

Recommendations

As noted above, there is no need to derail migrations to WS2008, but just about everyone who uses Windows should evaluate this new release. For those whose migration plans are scheduled for next year or later, WS2012 may be the target platform, depending on how aggressively Microsoft can garner support from ISVs. As with WS2008, consider running older OS and software stacks within a VM, particularly given the improvements to the overall Hyper-V environment.
For users contemplating a major new cloud or virtualisation project or initiative, WS2012 should be the platform of choice, and any preconceived notions about Microsoft versus VMware for the virtualisation layer need to be re-examined.
Comments welcome. What are your plans for Windows Server 2012?

Posted by Richard Fichera

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