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Microsoft Details Next-Gen Server Releases, Unveils 'Windows Azure Pack'

Microsoft announced a slew of upcoming product updates during Monday's opening TechEd conference keynote in New Orleans.

Previews of Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2 and SQL Server 2014 will be available sometime this month, Microsoft said. Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 will become generally available toward the year's end, while SQL Server 2014's release will happen "shortly thereafter."

Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2
Microsoft outlined its plans for Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2, saying the products provide parity with Microsoft's datacenter infrastructure software and in its public cloud portfolio. The upgraded server OS and system management platform are also designed to help IT better manage user-provided devices, providing extended mobile device management capabilities.

Microsoft plans to release previews this month of the R2 versions of Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012, which are slated for general availability by year's end. Also planned is an upgrade to the cloud-based Windows Intune systems management service. Microsoft plans to upgrade its entire portfolio of datacenter software and services.

Talking up the so-called bring your own device (BYOD) trend, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Brad Anderson, joined on the TechEd 2013 keynote stage by principal program lead Molly Brown, said Windows Server 2012 R2 will let administrators register all user devices by creating a "workplace join" to Active Directory.

In a demo by Brown, an administrator can join a Windows 8.1 device to a domain. IT can use a new "Web application proxy" to publish corporate resources for access by end users, which is tied to Active Directory. Admins can also register a device with ADFS. Windows Server 2012 R2, combined with System Center 2012 R2 Configuration Manager, supports enabling a two-factor authentication security feature called "Windows Active Directory Authentication," which is based on the technology that Microsoft acquired from PhoneFactor. The new R2 releases let administrators verify the identity of a user, for instance, by initiating a phone call to a mobile device as a secondary security precaution.

Windows Server 2012 R2, with the new System Center 2012 upgrade, will also include a feature called "selective wipe," which will let administrators remotely remove enterprise applications and data off of a user-owned device without deleting any data or apps owned by the user.

Another new feature coming to Windows Server 2012 R2 is Work Folders, which lets users store data on a device, replicate it to the file server and push out to other registered PCs and devices. With this feature, data is encrypted both on the devices and on the server, Anderson said.  "That is truly enabling what we call 'people centric IT' and enables you make your users productive on all their devices," he said.

SQL Server 2014
Microsoft also announced a major new version of its flagship database, SQL Server, that aims to extend support for big data and the in-memory processing capability added to the current version.

SQL Server 2014 is the official name for Microsoft's relational database management system, which will take advantage of Windows Azure with hybrid cloud scenarios. It contains built-in Hekaton technology that converts tables so they run in memory. Other improvements in SQL Server 2014 include improved backup and availability, according to Quentin Clark, a Microsoft VP, on stage during the keynote presentation.

Improved in-memory processing capabilities will support online transactions in near real-time, Clark said. An early tester of the forthcoming SQL Server 2014 is Edgenet, which is a Software as a Service (SaaS) provider of inventory management for retailers, Clark said. Retailers often update their inventory management systems using batch processes, meaning if a customer wants to know if an item is in stock, it may or may not be up to date.

Using the in-memory capabilities to process transactions, they can refresh that data in near real-time, Clark explained. "We're doing it because it's a way to achieve unprecedented latency and scale, low-latency and high-scale and throughput for transactional data," he said.

A preview release of SQL Server 2014 is slated for later this month, according to Microsoft's SQL Server Blog. Microsoft indicated it will ship shortly after the final releases of Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2. That would imply SQL Server 2014 will likely arrive early next year.

'Windows Azure Pack'
Looking to flesh out its "cloud OS" vision, Microsoft revealed plans to offer the new Windows Azure Pack, which brings the portal interface of Microsoft's cloud service to Windows Server and System Center.

Anderson emphasized the latest version of Hyper-V introduced in Windows Server 2012 last year is the same hypervisor offered in its Windows Azure cloud service.

"Consistency across clouds is one of the things you should absolutely add to the top of your list as you're looking at your cloud decisions," Anderson said. "If things are consistent, if you have the same virtualization, same management, the same developer interfaces, you have the same identity and you have consistency across data. What that allows you to do is you can just move VMs and applications across clouds -- no converging, no migration, no friction."

With the Windows Azure Pack, administrators can let lines of business configure and consume capacity, Anderson explained. It also enables high-density Web hosting, allowing organizations to deploy 5,000 Web servers on a single Windows Server instance just as they do in Windows Azure, allowing it to run in the datacenter. Features such as the Windows Azure Service Bus will also run on this new pack. Microsoft also will offer a set of APIs that let developers build apps and deploy them on premise or in the cloud.

"We're hardening [these] in Azure, and then through the Windows Azure Pack we deliver that and it just drops right on top of Windows Server and on System Center," Anderson said.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.