This content is part of the Essential Guide: Guide to tackling a server refresh project

Windows Server 2012 review: Should I upgrade?

With the upcoming release of Windows Server 2012, our expert explains why you should, or why you should not, take advantage of the latest version.

Windows Server 2012 feels like, and probably is, the most ambitious Windows Server release to date. Now available to volume license customers -- and to retail customers in September -- this is the time to think about your plans.

This OS is so large, and with so many new features, it can be difficult to figure out if it will benefit you. 

Below, I sort potential Windows Server 2012 customers into categories. See which one fits you and why you should or shouldn't get the upgrade.

Make the Windows Server 2012 upgrade if …

You're a customer with vast swaths of servers in well-connected datacenters. For these customers, the answer to Should I or shouldn't I? is an unequivocal yes. Simply put, there's a lot here for you. Improvements to PowerShell v3 cmdlets and remoting support, in addition to Server Manager interface changes to make managing the same action on server groups automatic, will save you time and money. You Windows guys will be scripting like never before. Windows Server 2012 was built to be rolled out in these kinds of situations. You're most likely virtualizing, so you'll find you can achieve a high level of fault tolerance and resilience to disaster with the Hyper-V replica feature, too.

You have significant populations of remote workers and branch offices. This is the other sweet spot for Windows Server 2012 deployments, so if you identify with this category then you should absolutely deploy the new OS. The new DirectAccess wizard-based setup is nothing short of spectacular. If you've played with it in the past, you needed either your provider to deliver IPv6 to your network, or you needed to play complicated Teredo and 6-to-4 conversion games to get it going. None of that is necessary now -- you need just one wizard. Now, you can create a tunnel without all of the instantiation a VPN requires. Your clients are always on and touching your network, which makes them easier to manage. It's so brilliant, you'll wonder why this hasn't taken off before now. The caching and transfer improvements available for file services also makes sense for branch offices and other satellite operations where connectivity back to headquarters isn't great.

You have Software Assurance and are current in terms and receive rights. If you get the OS as part of what you're already paying for, then why not make the change? There are few application compatibility problems. If you're looking to virtualize, just spin up new instances and run workloads on those 2012-based virtual machines while you carry out compatibility testing.

Wait to make the Windows Server 2012 upgrade if …

Your IT budget is frozen. Perhaps you didn't renew your software assurance agreement last year. Maybe your servers are at least four or five years old and aren't capable of running Hyper-V hypervisor or supporting x86 functions. To upgrade to Windows Server 2012, you'd need to get a few machines ready to function as domain controllers then deploy the rest of the forest as Windows Server 2008 or earlier. For these customers, the value of the upgrade is practically nothing. However cheaply you may be able to acquire the operating system license, your hardware won't allow you to derive any benefit. The clear choice here is to wait for a hardware refresh so you can at least have a few beefy machines on which you can virtualize. After that, you can begin to explore what Windows Server 2012 can do for you.

It's not necessary to upgrade to Windows Server 2012 if …

You're a customer with very simple, straightforward needs. There's not much new in file and print services. For mid-sized shops, the minor enhancements to on-premises Active Directory aren't worth the upgrade cost. If you're at 25, 30 or 35 servers, things are rolling along just fine, and your Windows needs are primarily serving internal clients in your same location, then the licensing cost probably isn't worth it for you.

Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker residing in Charlotte, N.C. Jonathan's books include RADIUS, Hardening Windows and Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual.

Dig Deeper on Microsoft Windows Server 2012