First look: Windows Server 8 improves scalability and scope

Windows 8 on the server is just as radical a change as the client is on PCs.

Every once in a while, you get a glimpse of something in the tech world that takes your breath away. For consumers, the iPad's eye candy and extreme usability, for instance, have the power to change the way they relate to computers. For enterprise administrators, data center managers and system managers, the features and improvements in Windows Server 8 are right up there in significance. It's really a game-changer in the world of server operating systems.

Last week, I participated in a two-day workshop where Microsoft engineers, managers and product architects shared their vision of Windows Server 8 and demonstrated its new capabilities. It quite frankly knocked my socks off. Because of the tie-in between the client version of Windows and the server version, we were not permitted to bring code home or play with the preview in our labs; however, that's coming, and I'll update this piece as soon as possible with a screenshot gallery showing the most interesting new parts of Windows Server 8.

Since a developer preview of Windows Server 8 comes out today, and we can all get our grubby little hands on it, here's a guide to what to look for in the release that you'll find interesting and exciting.

Overall design goals

Microsoft explains that during the initial planning phases for Windows Server 8, the company sought to create and improve features that center around these four specific OS design imperatives:

Provide a complete virtualization platform. Microsoft set out to put a fully mature hypervisor into the box. Hyper-V is now a fully isolated, multitenant environment. It also now includes tools to help deliver service-level agreement performance, enable billing for usage and metering to different business units and organizations, and offer self-service features for end users.

Hyper-V has been re-engineered to scale to thousands of virtual machines on suitable hardware with performance enhancements that allow hosts to intelligently deliver services. These features will be a boon for enterprises creating private clouds within their data centers or those that are offering cloud services to the public.

Enable the "modern work style." That sounds buzzwordy, and it is, but step back to think about your end users, and even you as an administrator. Your users connect to your network from a variety of devices in a variety of locations. It might be a phone in the airport in Seattle, or a corporate notebook from the wireless network at a trade show -- or it might be a tablet computer from their homes. Why isn't their work environment stabilized and replicated anywhere and everywhere that users are connecting? And how do you ensure regulatory compliance in all of these disparate locations? How do you manage identities among all of these various devices, running different OSes and different hardware profiles?

In Windows Server 8, Microsoft strives to deliver the full Windows experience wherever a user wants to connect, while offering superior access control and audit capabilities based on strong identity-verification frameworks and data classification features.

Enable high availability while simplifying management. When you start thinking of data centers and clouds, images that come to mind may include racks of headless machines and tons of networking equipment, and then the hundreds or thousands of virtual machines that you probably have running within that infrastructure.

Windows Server 8 will expand the ability of the operating system to use commodity storage, networking and server infrastructure easily and efficiently, while using less power and increasing the ability to prevent failures from occurring and to recover from errors when they do happen. And management tools have been upgraded with new single-pane-of-glass views, PowerShell capabilities in full and exposed Web-service management endpoints that get you well on your way to full lights-out automation of your Windows Server infrastructure.

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