Ensuring hardware compatibility with a Windows Server 2012 upgrade

With Windows Server 2012 available, admins have a lot to consider when it comes to hardware. Here's what you need to know before you make the move.

Now that Windows Server 2012 is out and available, there are some big questions that need to be answered. Is a machine refresh needed? How much do I need to budget for new hardware to take advantage of this system? What new features do I need to know? In this tip, I'll present some general information to give you what you need to know about silicon and the new Windows Server.

Windows Server 2012 upgrade considerations

Like Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012 was designed and engineered in such a way to run as well, if not better, on the same hardware as its predecessor. With Windows Server 2008 R2, we saw a 15 to 20% power use reduction on the same physical machine just from installing the new operating system. Windows Server 2012 may not deliver the same power use reduction, but it uses memory and CPU cycles more efficiently and, on later model machines, it can adjust idle speed and settings so it saves you money.

The big deal in Windows Server 2012 is the ability to stack more lower- to medium-capacity virtual machines (VMs) on a single piece of hardware. The ability to achieve more density in VM consolidation scenarios was one of the chief design goals of the Windows Server 2012 team.

It's important to remember when considering a Windows Server 2012 upgrade that it is a 64-bit-only operating system release. If you continue to have 32-bit hardware running the x86 version of Windows Server 2008, those machines and machines like them won't be able to handle the upgrade to 2012. In terms of actually doing an in-place upgrade, you can run the Windows Server 2012 installer on top of an instance of x64 Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2008 R2 and go directly to 2012 without needing to reinstall. I would advise most administrators do a clean, format-based install of the operating system, though.

Clustering improvements

Many hardware manufacturers are looking to take advantage of the improvements to failover clustering in Windows Server 2012 by creating hardware that specifically leverages these new features.

The Primergy series of servers from manufacturer Fujitsu, for example, will come in several pretested configurations and include Microsoft Private Cloud Fast Track along with an intriguing program called "Cluster-in-a-Box." These will allow businesses to simply order a server, unbox it, plug it in and be ready to operate in production environments without fussing over the initial configuration. You can buy these preconfigured near-appliance solutions in towers, blades or rackmount models.

A known issue with bare metal restore

A bug was recently discovered wherein bare metal restores made from the Windows Server 2012 built-in backup program were unreadable. Three events were logged: an 8193 error and a 12290 error, both from the Volume Shadow Copy Service, and a 16387 error from the Automated System Recovery (ASR) Writer. This issue occurs because the ASR partition is generally formatted as a hidden partition by default. When you attempt to perform a restore from a formatted computer, Windows tries to back up the system partition, which commonly is the active partition on the disk used when you cold-boot a machine. However, the ASR Writer doesn't support hidden partitions. Microsoft has a knowledge base article with steps to resolve this hardware incompatibility.

Updates to the 'Certified for Windows Server 2012' logo

If you are like many administrators, you don't pay much attention to the certification labels Microsoft offers for various hardware. Those types of certifications have traditionally been more oriented at consumer products and peripherals. The situation is a bit different now since the Certified for Windows Server 2012 label guarantees that whatever solution it is affixed to has been fully tested and is 100% supported in a Hyper-V virtual environment. According to Microsoft, solutions that earned the label have full support in Hyper-V environments. Previous server certifications for Windows Server had no criteria for virtualization, so this is an important step forward.

This was first published in October 2012

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