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Microsoft delivers first Windows Server 8 beta containing new features

Ed Scannell

Microsoft made the most of this year’s “extra day,” releasing the long-awaited beta of Windows Server 8 on Leap Day. The company also made the Windows 8 Consumer Preview available for download yesterday.

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Server 8 beta includes a few dozen new features and enhancements to existing features since the Developer’s release last September. Highlights include a new Metro-style interface for easing routine administrative tasks, new installation options, the improved Resilient File System (ReFS) and support for more memory and increased virtual hard disk size for Hyper-V virtual machines.

In particular, Microsoft officials believe the added memory and larger virtual hard disk size will help improve the product’s competitiveness.

“Going from 512 gigabytes of memory to 1 terabyte per virtual machine is a pretty substantial enhancement. This puts us on par with the other top hypervisor technologies. And I think we go beyond the other hypervisors in going from 16 terabytes to 64 terabytes of virtual disk,” said Chris Phillips, General Manager with Microsoft.

“There is only one reason they are doing this and that’s to be in the same ballpark with VMware when they talk to high-level IT executives. If they run up against VMware bigots, this helps remove just one more objection they might have to Hyper-V,” said Mark Minasi, a well-known Windows consultant and author. “I would have been happier to see more (processor) cores supported in Hyper-V, which I believe is only 64,” he added.

Also new is the Hyper-V Role, which permits users to create and manage a virtualized environment using just the virtualization technology built into the beta. The new technology virtualizes hardware, allowing it to run multiple operating systems simultaneously, each in its own virtual machine.

Microsoft has fashioned a new Metro-style user interface that reportedly makes it easier for admins to carry out routine tasks such as locating and opening management tools, creating shortcuts for frequently used programs, or running applications that have elevated privileges.

The company is including a Metro-like Remote Desktop application that offers a touch-first remote desktop client, simplifying access to remote resources from any Windows 8 client.

Microsoft is now giving admins the choice of doing a Server Core installation, or installing it using a graphical interface. By choosing the Server Core option, users can reduce the required amount of disk space along with the size of the attack surface.

Microsoft has made a couple of improvements to the product’s clustering capabilities such as clustering support for a number of new Hyper-V scenarios, including guest clustering through Fiber Channel.

Another improvement is the Cluster-Aware Self-Updating Mode which enables the Cluster-Aware Updating feature to be configured as a workload on a failover cluster being updated. Administrators also have more control in determining their own update schedules.

Microsoft has added support for the Server Message Block (SMB) 2.2 protocol, which offers users an additional way to provide virtual machines with shared storage without having to use a SAN.

“We are introducing VSS infrastructure here that supplies application shadow copies that we traditionally did locally. We have extended that for SMB file shares. We are working with all the application backup vendors so it can be fully integrated with the VSS infrastructure that everyone knows," Phillips explained.

Microsoft has integrated Voice over IP (VoIP) with Remote Desktop Services. This means that VOIP-based applications can work with RemoteFX to offer VDI Desktop users with a better experience with audio and video conferencing.

Users interested in downloading the Windows Server 8 beta can do so here.

Ed Scannell is Senior Executive Editor with SearchWindowsServer.com. He can be contacted at escannell@techtarget.com.


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