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Q&A: Windows user group founder talks Windows Server 2012 features

An independent IT expert goes over his favorite features in Windows Server 2012 and explains how they will make life easier for IT pros.

Windows Server 2012 includes features designed to make life easier for IT pros, but which ones are most beneficial?

Dennis Martin founded the Rocky Mountain Windows Technology User Group (RMWTUG) in 1994. He is currently the organization's president, as well as founder and president of Demartek, an independent testing firm that performs analysis and validation of server, network, storage and security technologies in its own labs.

We asked him to tell us about some of his favorite Microsoft Windows Server 2012 features.

One of the new features of Windows Server 2012 is the Server Message Block (SMB) 3.0 protocol. Why is that important to IT pros?

Dennis Martin: SMB 3.0 provides a number of benefits as an improved file protocol, which is available in Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, and will also be available in Samba and some storage filers from EMC, NetApp and others. We've demonstrated in our lab that we can run applications such as SQL Server across file shares, and get the same performance that we get with iSCSI over the same Ethernet connection. Microsoft did an excellent job in improving the performance of SMB [in version 3]. In addition, there are numerous other benefits, such as SMB Direct, which supports RDMA [remote direct memory access]; SMB Multi-channel, which provides NIC [network interface card] teaming at the OS level; SMB encryption and more.

Windows Server 2012 adds support for single root I/O virtualization (SR-IOV), which is designed to help IT pros virtualize complex and demanding workloads. How does it help?

Martin: SR-IOV is a technology that's gained support from the major hypervisors this year, including Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V, at least for Ethernet. SR-IOV basically offloads the management of virtual functions in many of the 1GbE [Gigabit Ethernet] and 10GbE NICs away from the hypervisor and into the card. This provides increased Ethernet performance for the guest virtual machines, and gives the virtual machines direct access to the full features of the NIC.

The hypervisor is bypassed, so the CPU cycles that would have been used to manage the virtual functions are now available for the guest virtual machines and their workloads. We have begun to test this in our lab, and have seen significant performance improvements for guest virtual machines, especially high-traffic virtual machines. The potential downside to SR-IOV is that, because the activity bypasses the hypervisor, measuring performance cannot be done at the hypervisor level.

Windows Server 2012 features the latest version of the PowerShell scripting environment, which includes some 2,300 cmdlets, a big jump from approximately 300 previously. What do you like about PowerShell 3.0?

Martin: I'm not a full expert on PowerShell, but Microsoft is making PowerShell the command-line interface that not only provides all the functions of a shell environment that Linux/Unix administrators like, but takes it a step beyond that to making it a way to manage applications and the server itself. Microsoft provides cmdlets that are like subroutines composed of individual shell commands to get, in some cases, major work items completed. For example, major applications such as Exchange Server, SQL Server and others can be installed and managed from within PowerShell.

How about the new Server Task Manager?

Martin: When I first started the new task manager, I was a bit surprised by what I saw, because it's noticeably different than the task manager from the last few versions of Windows Server. However, once I began to look at what it provides, I've decided that I really like it. For example, it shows the actual operating clock speed of the processor, which is interesting to watch based on the workloads that are running. I like the fact that you can see the real-time levels of CPU, memory [and] network connections, even though you might be displaying the graph for just one of them.

With the previous task manager, I would often toggle back and forth between the network graph and the CPU/memory graph, but now I can see everything at a glance. Task manager still has a link to the resource monitor that was introduced not long ago, and, of course, for full performance statistics there is PerfMon.

Anything else?

Martin: I do like the new Server Manager interface, as it provides some nicer viewing into the various settings. I like what I've found so far.

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