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Top five new features in Windows Server 8

Windows Server 8 will likely please many admins when it ships next year. Find out the five features, like Hyper-V replication, IT pros are craving.

Earlier this month, Microsoft announced details about what’s new in the upcoming version of its Windows Server 8 operating system. So what are the top five most useful or innovative features? I’ve broken them down here.

1. Hyper-V replication. Disaster recovery preparation is challenging. There is a storage cost, and also a lack of storage flexibility; for example, you can't replicate from SAN to DAS systems, or file-based to block-based storage systems. There are also issues surrounding networking capacity and requirements, in particular, the time to initially replicate large datasets. 

Hyper-V Replica aims to change all of that with in-the-box, asynchronous, application-consistent VM replication with data compression and encryption. Hyper-V Replica includes support for Windows Integrated and certificate-based authentication, and both offline and online initial replication. It also comes with a decent management API and solves many of the problems with spinning up VMs over long  distances, for both disaster-recovery and standard operational reasons.

2. A GUI that can switch on and off without reinstall. In the past, there were only two choices when installing Windows Server 2008 R2: a full installation, with the standard graphical user interface; or the Server Core installation option, which is basically a headless version with only a command prompt. In Windows Server 8, it's simple to move between Server Core and full server by ticking a box once the server is installed. For novice administrators or poorly-coded software that doesn’t offer a command-line or remote installation option, just turn the GUI on, install the problematic software and then flip the GUI back off.

3. A full IP address management solution in the box. Most enterprises are way behind in this area: you have your internal IP ranges in spreadsheets. What happens when you get a new device and need to put it on the network? You scan your spreadsheet, hoping to find an available address that fits in your addressing scheme – x-to-y for servers, z-to-n for network equipment, and so on. Windows Server 8 brings your spreadsheet into a nice, visual database with support for automatic network discovery, automatic IP selection based on a device and regular audit and compliance reports to ensure there’s no more management nightmare when it comes to assigning IPv4 addresses to your infrastructure.

4. New Hyper-V virtual switch. In Windows Server 8, Microsoft is introducing the Hyper-V virtual network switch, which essentially gives administrators very tight control over networking between virtual machines and the physical network fabric. The virtual network switch will support applications like deep content security and filtering, traffic monitoring and analysis, tight integration with existing network infrastructure and virtual appliances already in production, as well as a customized management interface. Additionally, partners can write software extensions for the virtual switch that allow for the capture, filtering, and forwarding of all traffic—whether it originates physically or from a virtual machine—enabling any number of intrusion detection, compliance and access control scenarios while also allowing the flexibility to run these types of workloads in virtual machines.

5. Over 2,300 PowerShell cmdlets are introduced in Windows Server 8. Essentially, the world is intrinsically messy because of existing systems and rapid innovation, leaving administrators with no great way for any one management system to pull everything together into a cohesive whole. PowerShell transforms a messy world of non-woven systems and difficult integration into a world of high-level, task-oriented commands that are easy to understand and follow. Microsoft sees Powershell becoming a system administrator’s automation tool of choice in cloud and virtualized environments, and has made the scripting language into an automation engine with API, CLI, and remoting interfaces.

Jonathan Hassell
is an author, consultant, and speaker on a variety of IT topics. His published works include RADIUS, Hardening Windows, Using Microsoft Windows Small Business Server 2003, and Learning Windows Server 2003.

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