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.

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Make every application available in any cloud. Windows as an overall ecosystem, and Windows Server 8 in particular, will include frameworks, services and management utilities that let you manage workloads in your data center, then send them across to a private cloud and up to Windows Azure or whatever cloud service you choose, and then back again. All of this occurs with little, if any, downtime (in most cases), according to Microsoft.

The inclusion of open Web standards, Microsoft says, and the ability of Windows' management tools to directly connect to other infrastructure via these standards-based interfaces means you can build, provision and manage your environment more easily and quickly than ever and ensure that it interoperates with any other players in the marketplace.

As we delve into how these design imperatives manifest themselves in the new features of Windows Server 8, you'll see exactly how it all ties together.

The big move, graphically and intuitively

Perhaps the most significant user-facing change to Windows Server 8 is the fact that the GUI is no longer the preferred way to administer the operating system. Indeed, Server Core is now the default installation option. While you can add a GUI -- and, new to this release, you can add a GUI temporarily and then remove it, like a shell option -- it's expected that most of your servers will run Core and that you'll manage them remotely with some of the new tools and capabilities of Server Manager.

Since the product is now exposed in numerous ways via PowerShell and standards-based Web services, managing a fleet of servers -- whether they're Windows Server 8-based or on an older version of the operating system -- is just as convenient from a single console as it would be to establish a Remote Desktop session into each of them. It just works.

The second most jarring change in Windows Server 8 is the radically redesigned Server Manager user interface. The client version of Windows 8 is full of the Metro interface, the beautiful but mostly unused user interface theme that debuted on the Windows Phone 7 series of handsets.

This Metro user experience is carried over into Server Manager, which offers very useful at-a-glance rollups of events and workloads across multiple servers, not just the one on which the UI is running. It lets you think in terms of what you want to do -- put in a new DNS zone, or change DHCP settings -- rather than considering where you have to do it and how to roll out that change.

Of course, true automation lies with the command line, and PowerShell has a huge part in Windows Server 8. There are over 2,300 new PowerShell cmdlets that cover the entire gamut of management operations under the operating system. Plus there's improved remoting, so you can manage your whole infrastructure of Windows Server 8 machines from a script and, Microsoft claims, have it simply work like you'd expect to, with no weird firewall errors or communication problems.

There are more management and interface changes than this, but there's much else to cover as well.

Virtualization changes

Hyper-V in this release continues its maturation as a compelling hypervisor platform. Reports indicate that in pre-preview testing, Hyper-V in Windows Server 8 supports up to 160 logical processors, 2 TB of RAM, 32 virtual processors and 512 GB of memory for virtual machines, along with support for guest NUMA and an end of the virtual-to-logical processor ratios.

This all comes into play when you consider scaling up -- especially in a cloud scenario. Why does NUMA, or non-uniform memory access, matter? Essentially, as a developer, you want to make sure processors are scheduling threads locally and allocating memory as best they can. You want to avoid crossing node boundaries to avoid latency, slow caching and other performance-impacting symptoms, since allocation and latency depends on the memory location relative to a processor.

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