Microsoft's upcoming Windows Server 8 has started gaining some prominence since the software giant previewed it at the BUILD conference last month. Its cloud-based paradigm and focus on large-scale deployments is self-evident, and at least one executive from Microsoft has called Windows Server 8 "the most cloud-optimized OS" developed by the Redmond-based company.
For now, its availability as a developer preview on MSDN means that various in-depth assessments of its capabilities are starting to roll in. It is clear even at this early stage that the next server operating system from Microsoft is a technically sophisticated one, and crammed with capabilities that bring many previously enterprise-only capabilities to small and mid-sized businesses.
So what are some of the top features that SMBs can expect from Windows Server 8?
Multi-server support in Server Manager
Microsoft has completely redesigned the Server Manager as a multi-server management tool that also combines formerly separate administrative utilities into a single interface. A dashboard shows the various servers in the network according to their roles or any other logical groupings. From the Server Manager, administrators are able to drill right down into running (and problematic) services on individual machines. For certain operations, it is also possible to select multiple servers to execute them with a single click of the mouse.
Windows Server 8 comes with data deduplication, a specialized data compression technique typically found only in high-end SAN. Deduplication can achieve substantial reduction of storage space by detecting duplicate data and storing it only once. Given its greatly enhanced virtualization capabilities (more on that later), administrators can expect themselves to be working a lot more with large virtual machine images - one candidate that can benefit greatly from data deduplication.
Storage Pools and Storage Spaces
Storage Pools and Storage Spaces are two new storage abstraction technologies that complement each other to dramatically improve the storage handling capabilities of Windows Server 8. Storage pools essentially aggregate the physical storage capacity of disparate hard disk drives into a single storage space. No special hardware is required, and new disks can be dynamically added to bolster storage capacity. On its part, storage spaces let an administrator create virtual disks with specific levels of resilience. Similar to traditional RAID, data protection levels can be configured to none, mirror or parity, thin provisioning-like abilities mean that the virtual disks can be configured to be larger than the available space in a storage pool.
Built-in NIC Teaming
Windows Server 8 now comes with native support for NIC teaming, in which two (or more) network cards work in tandem for failover and better performance. Also known as link aggregation, I have written about how this can help SMBs overcome their network bottleneck. On a practical note, the built-in support for NIC teaming in Windows Server 8 means that SMBs no longer have to rely on specialized NICs from vendors such as Broadcom and Intel to access the same feature, and can use NICs from their favorite vendors instead. Moreover, load balancing and failover support for heterogeneous NIC are also supported.
There are a few more capabilities that I want to highlight. I shall write about them in my next blog post.