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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In addition, clustering gets some new functionality around scale and manageability. Windows Server 8 supports an industry-best 4,000 VMs per cluster and can now scale out to a massive 63 nodes in a cluster. In addition, Microsoft has extended cluster-shared volumes to Windows server workloads and now supports BitLocker-based volume encryption for shared cluster disks.

And to shouts of glee from administrators everywhere, CHKDSK is not an all-day process anymore. CHKDSK repair now takes less than eight seconds on a volume, with one corruption among three hundred million files, compared with times measured in hours in Windows Server 2008 R2.

Again, there's more in storage to talk about, but those are the big highlights at this point.

Access control: What's new?

Administrators deal with information governance challenges on a daily basis. With users and data growing seemingly exponentially, computing becoming distributed, new government and financial-service compliance rules multiplying, and budgets stagnant or shrinking, there's real pain on the part of enterprises everywhere when it comes to controlling access and distribution of sensitive corporate information.

The new dynamic access-control features allow companies to have the right compliance tools to avoid violating laws, see into their data shares and archives and control what's stored there, and get a full audit capability that lets others see the performance of these policies. This is all while making it almost brain-dead simple for a user to be in compliance, or get in compliance. The administrator applies appropriate access policies, audits access to information, automatically protects information using encryption, and applies relevant retention controls to that data.

How does this work? In four ways:

  1. The user can identify data via manual tagging -- a user in Word tags a document as, for example, PCI-sensitive information. The administrator can also define automatic tags so that any document stored on a particular share is instantly tagged and classified a certain way. You can also tag based on applications.
  2. Via these tags, central access policies are defined. You can use a regular Express-based language to define conditions for access based on claims for a user, claims from a device and the file tags themselves. Users can also request remediation when they are denied access, instead of just being booted and left wondering.
  3. As the tags and access policies develop on the infrastructure, administrators can define central audit policies across all of their file servers. Much like the set of policy tools that has been included in Windows Server for group policy for many years, there is a what-if simulation tool that lets you see the effects of proposed changes to access, tags or both.
  4. Data is automatically protected, in that Office documents get Rights Management Service (RMS)-based protection based on their tags, and non-Office file objects can have RMS protectors written for them.

And much more. . .

There's a laundry list of features and capabilities I haven't even touched on in this piece, simply because they've not been exposed to the light of day yet. Suffice it to say, Windows Server 8 changes everything -- assuming all of the changes remain in the final build of the OS. It takes the operating system an order of magnitude higher than it's been before and makes data centers fully ready for lights-out management, easy scalability and agile provisioning and support.

Time will tell, but this could well be the operating system against which everyone else is judged.

Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker on a variety of IT topics. His published works include a variety of books on Windows clients and servers, including Learning Windows Server 2003. You can reach Jon at or follow him on Twitter at @jghassell.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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