Windows Server 2012: The 24 Things Microsoft Partners Should Know
Four years in the making, Windows Server 2012 formally launched on Sept. 4. While every release of the Windows Server OS is significant for the Microsoft partner community, Windows Server 2012 is no run-of-the-mill update. Here are the top things partners should know about the brand-new Microsoft server OS.
1. Cornerstone of the Cloud OS
There has been intense industry focus over the last year on the Microsoft "reimagining of Windows" on the client side. At the same time, Microsoft has been substantially overhauling Windows on the back-end, although in a different direction. Satya Nadella, president of the Microsoft Server and Tools Business, has consistently compared the latest shift with Windows Server to the way Windows NT brought on the client-server era.
"Windows Server 2012 ushers in the era of the cloud operating system," Nadella said in his Sept. 4 launch keynote. He described Windows Server 2012 as a "cornerstone" of that cloud OS, which also includes Windows Azure and System Center 2012 SP1 as key building blocks. The big vision is to provide one consistent platform for management and application development across private clouds, partner-hosted clouds and public clouds.
2. Waiting on System Center SP1
Many of the signature elements of the Microsoft cloud OS require technologies from two or all three of the discrete products involved. So it's significant that one of those products isn't really available yet, even though Windows Server 2012 is generally available. The missing piece is System Center 2012 SP1, currently in beta, which lights up much of the cloud OS functionality. System Center 2012 shipped this year but supported Windows Server 2008 R2 as the latest version. As Vijay Tewari, principal group program manager on System Center Virtual Machine Manager, described it at Microsoft Tech-Ed in June, SP1 actually represents a "full-featured release" of the product but was named as a service pack by the Microsoft marketing team.
In addition to bringing Windows Server 2012 support to the System Center suite, the first service pack is also required for moving on-premises VMs to Windows Azure, for cloud-based application-monitoring functionality and for private cloud "chargeback." Chargeback could figure into some creative partner solutions, because it shows pivot charts of cloud data that can be sliced and diced, allowing users to create price sheets with fixed costs and running costs for private clouds. Another System Center 2012 SP1 element of partner interest is the new "service provider foundation," which Tewari described as allowing "IT pros to get resources on an as-needed basis for your environment." System Center 2012 SP1 is expected to ship in early 2013.
3. Four Big Themes
Every new Windows Server release contains hundreds of new features, and Windows Server 2012 itself is no exception. However, from a marketing perspective, Microsoft is concentrating on four key themes to make sense of all the new features. These themes are virtualization, storage, networking and automation. Read more on all four of these in the "Features" section later in this story.
LICENSING AND SKUS
4. Editions Streamlined
The menu of editions available for Windows Server 2012 is much shorter than the Windows Server 2008 SKU list. Microsoft cut Windows Server 2012 to four basic editions: Datacenter, Standard, Essentials and Foundation. That means there are no Enterprise, High-Performance Computing (HPC) or Web Server editions in the Windows Server 2012 generation. From a general-purpose licensing standpoint, there are really two flavors: Standard and Datacenter, with the main capability difference between the two being that Standard is limited to two virtual instances, while Datacenter allows unlimited virtual instances. Essentials will have limited features and a 25-user limit, while Foundation, which is only available preloaded on OEM systems, will have limited features and a 15-user limit. HPC workloads will still be possible with the use of the HPC Pack 2012.
5. Essentials Arriving Later
Like System Center 2012 SP1, Windows Server 2012 Essentials isn't yet available. It's the only one of the four editions that wasn't generally available on Sept. 4. Microsoft expects Essentials to be available by the end of this year.
6. Specialty Server Products Retiring (Meaning, No SBS)
Microsoft won't build a version of Windows Small Business Server (SBS) on the Windows Server 2012 codebase, or release any future versions of SBS. In fact, Microsoft has declared that current versions of both of its specialty server products -- SBS and Windows Home Server -- are the last that will be released. The decision was met with a lot of pushback from Small Business Specialist Community members and other partners who focus on small to midsize business (SMB) customers. Microsoft cites the growing trend among SMBs of adopting cloud computing solutions for e-mail, backup and other services as the reason for shutting down SBS. Microsoft is positioning the unreleased Essentials edition as the migration path for SMB customers who need a server in-house.
7. Per Physical Processor
The explosion of multi-processor machines and multiple cores per processor has created a complicated situation for server licensing. For the Standard and Datacenter editions, Microsoft is choosing a per-processor licensing model, plus a Client Access License (CAL). Server licenses for Windows Server 2012 are allocated per physical processor, with one license covering two processors. This model is different from the licensing Microsoft chose for SQL Server 2012, which is priced per core.
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Pricing for Windows Server 2012 is divided into three publicly visible tiers. Not including CALs, the cost for two physical processors is $4,809 for Datacenter and $882 for Standard. Essentials costs $425 for a one-processor server license and up to 25 users. The Foundation price isn't public; it's charged to OEMs and bundled into the cost of the hardware. Analyst Michael Cherry at Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft recently analyzed the pricing changes in his report, "Windows Server 2012 Licensing Strategies." He concluded that, in general, it will be less expensive to license Windows Server 2012 for organizations running modest virtualization workloads.
9. License Stacking
One option for customers wanting to run more virtual instances on one physical server than the two the Standard edition allows will be "license stacking," the Directions on Microsoft report points out. Given the large price delta between the Standard and Datacenter editions, putting two or more Standard licenses on one server might get a customer to their required number of virtual instances without the big price increase for the Datacenter edition.
10. Downgrade Rights
The paring of editions that takes place between Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2012 will make exercising downgrade rights slightly tricky. Downgrade rights provide the option to buy a new license but run Windows Server 2008 R2 -- for example, in cases where an application isn't yet supported on Windows Server 2012. Windows Server 2012 Datacenter edition will be downgradeable to any edition of Windows Server 2008 R2. The 2012 Standard edition is downgradeable to the Enterprise or Standard editions of Windows Server 2008 R2, according to the Directions on Microsoft licensing report.
11. Virtual Scalability
Microsoft has been throwing around a lot of very big numbers when it comes to scalability of Windows Server 2012, and most of them involve virtualization.
At the September launch, Bill Laing, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Server and Tools Business, said Windows Server 2012 can virtualize more than 90 percent of all SQL databases. He announced a new statistic for Windows Server 2012: It's capable of running 8,000 VMs per cluster, which Laing called "the largest in the industry." Jeff Woolsey, a principal program manager for Windows Server and Cloud at Microsoft, said that Windows Server 2012 supports up to 320 logical processors per server, up to 4TB of memory per server and up to 64TB per virtual disk.
12. Live Migration
A lot of engineering work went into the Hyper-V "live migration" feature of Windows Server 2012, which allows for IP portability across subnets. Live migration used to be limited to functioning just within the same server, but now it can be performed between clusters and across widely dispersed locations. Microsoft is touting that the technology can perform 120 live migrations at a time using NIC teaming and Server Message Block 3.0, which are part of Windows Server 2012. The Windows Server 2012 shared-nothing live migration capability also supports updating and patching servers without affecting the service.
13. IIS 8.0
The Web Server edition of Windows Server may have gone away, but IIS -- which powers Web serving from Windows Servers -- got an overhaul. For the record, Microsoft said the reason for discontinuing the Web Server edition was that hosting provider customers wanted the flexibility to do more than Web serving with their Windows Server licenses if they so choose. New elements in IIS 8.0 include optimizations to support multitenancy in the cloud, such as the ability to expand the number of servers across the network, and CPU-throttling capabilities for better isolation. IIS 8.0 also improves management of SSL.
14. .NET Framework 4.5
The Microsoft .NET Framework takes a partial step up for Windows Server 2012. The .NET Framework 4.5 adds support for ASP.NET 4.5, HTML5, Web APIs and WebSockets, as well as better support for asynchronous programming.
15. Code Portability
Microsoft is also stressing the work that went into making code portable from Windows Server 2012 to Windows Azure. At the launch, Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Server and Tools Business, said using Windows Azure is a way to expose data to multiple users. The code portability hits Microsoft's major theme for the cloud OS -- that Microsoft is offering a platform that enables public, private and hybrid cloud environments, along with the ability to scale resources as needed.
Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) scenarios are also enabled by Windows Server 2012. The key technology for BYOD is Active Directory, both for the server and for Windows Azure. The concept is that user productivity, security and management can be enabled on any device anywhere through Active Directory. DirectAccess technology in Windows Server 2012 can be used to extend access to the network by devices globally. Control over access to content by devices can be established using Microsoft Dynamic Access Control technology, which classifies data and specifies who can access the data.
17. VDI in "13 Clicks"
Windows Server 2012 supports virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) scenarios. At the launch, Brad Anderson -- corporate VP of the Microsoft Management and Security Division -- claimed VDI, historically an extremely complex proposition, can be set up in "13 clicks." The trick requires use of System Center Configuration Manager, which will support Windows Server 2012 in the first service pack later this year. Anderson acknowledged that storage issues tend to dog VDI deployments, but claimed that Windows Server 2012 can help reduce those storage costs.
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Enabling automation was a major focus with Windows Server 2012. On a feature level, Microsoft added more than 2,400 Windows PowerShell cmdlets, a Windows PowerShell GUI and Windows PowerShell Web Access. A scale-out file server capability enables nodes to be added automatically as needed, such as after a node failure. At the same time, Microsoft is trying to encourage administrators to focus more on using command lines and scripting on the server, and reserving GUI installation for administrative clients. Microsoft has stated that it considers Windows Server Core to be the preferred configuration for Windows Server 2012.
19. Datacenter Practice
The technologies covered here and hundreds of others create opportunities for partners. Jon Roskill, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group, blogged last month about some of the high-level opportunities in the new server OS. Roskill's top recommendation involved deeper datacenter practice opportunities.
"With advanced capabilities like storage optimization, high availability, simplified backups and secure multi-tenancy, Windows Server 2012 enables you to deliver bigger, more complete solutions that go beyond virtualization," Roskill wrote. "Since these rich capabilities are built in, there are no additional licensing fees for customers -- freeing up budget for customers to spend on your services and solutions."
20. Consumerization of IT
The BYOD technologies and VDI capabilities present opportunities for partners to help with the customer challenges involving device management, Roskill said.
21. Cloud Computing
A recurring Microsoft theme in the cloud battles is customer choice -- between on-premises and cloud. Microsoft is hoping partners will hit that theme hard with the cloud OS enabled by the Windows Server/Windows Azure/System Center combination. "From elastic, cloud-optimized applications to cross-premises identity management to services like automation and disaster recovery, your opportunities with the cloud OS are quite broad," Roskill noted.
22. Servers for Small to Midsize Businesses
Roskill skirted the SBS end-of-life controversy by pointing to the remaining opportunity. He mentioned that more than 1 million customers are running SBS 2003 or earlier versions and will need to upgrade before SBS 2003 support ends in 2015. While the implication is that those customers should move to Windows Server 2012 Essentials, there's also a large SBS 2011 opportunity in that user base. Roskill also pointed to the "first-server market," Microsoft's designation for multi-PC customers with no server installed.
23. OEM Systems
Several OEM partners were on board at the launch with server hardware that's ready to go with the new Microsoft server OS. Those with systems available at launch included Acer Inc., Dell Inc., Fujitsu, Hitachi Ltd., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and NEC Corp.
24. Upgrade on Current Hardware
For customers not ready to make the jump to new hardware, a lot of current hardware can handle Windows Server 2012. "With Windows Server 2012 and Hyper-V, you can do most SMB virtualization scenarios on many customers' current servers," Roskill said.
Compiled and edited by Scott Bekker. Reporting by Kurt Mackie and Gladys Rama.
Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.
Gladys Rama is the senior site producer for Redmondmag.com, RCPmag.com and MCPmag.com.