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What Makes Windows Server 2012 a 'Cloud OS'

When Microsoft announced the general availability of Windows Server 2012 last week, it described the release as heralding the start of the company's cloud OS era. In a carefully scripted, pre-recorded webcast, Microsoft executives illuminated the cloud characteristics of its new server OS.

Marketing hype aside, the release of Windows Server 2012 culminates a four-year engineering effort to build a common architecture for IT to develop and deploy applications on private, hybrid and public clouds. Microsoft has talked up the combination of Windows Server and System Center as a platform for private and hybrid clouds for some time.

Dubbing Windows Server 2012 a "cloud OS" simply advances Microsoft's messaging and lets IT decision makers compare it to a slew of other cloud infrastructure OSes such as Eucalyptus and open source software distributions delivered by those aligned with OpenStack including Rackspace and Red Hat, as well as VMware's proprietary VM and cloud software portfolio.

With the emergence of so-called "modern apps" -- those designed for various computing and mobile device types -- Microsoft wants developers to build server-side applications in its new .NET Framework 4.5 using Visual Studio 2012 and have the ability to deploy them on Windows Server 2012 in their datacenters or hosted by third-party cloud providers such as Hostway and Rackspace, or in its own Windows Azure public cloud, or any combination.

"We built Windows Server 2012 with the cloud in mind," said Bill Laing corporate VP of Microsoft's server and cloud division, who led the engineering team that developed Windows Server 2012. "It's the deepest and broadest release ever built for companies of all sizes, whether you run a single server connected to the cloud, or a large datacenter."

In the webcast, Laing pointed to four key attributes that makes Windows Server 2012 a cloud OS:

  1. Scalable and elastic: The latest generation of Hyper-V lets a customer scale from one to thousands of virtual machines as workloads dictate. It supports up to 320 logical processors and 4 TB of RAM per server, and Laing said it can virtualize 99 percent of all SQL Server databases. The new OS can run large virtual machines up to 64 virtual processors and 1 terabyte of memory per VM. So far, Laing said it has scaled 8,000 VMs per cluster.

  2. Shared resources: Windows Server 2012 is architected for multi-tenancy, critical to ensure the workloads of a given group, organizational unit or customer don't impact others. Combined with System Center 2012 SP1, Windows Server 2012 enables software defined networking, or SDN, which means "you can easily and dynamically provision isolated virtual networks running on the same physical fabric," explained Jeff Woolsey, a principal program manager for Windows Server and Cloud at Microsoft.

  3. Always-On: A feature called Live Migration provides VM mobility, which facilitates the movement of virtual machines from one physical server to another locally or over a wide area network. This cluster-aware feature is designed to provide continuous availability during patches, upgrades or failures.

  4. Automation and self-service: Users in departments can self-provision compute and storage resources. Windows Server 2012 enables automation with over 2,400 new PowerShell commandlets, designed to eliminate manual tasks and allowing IT to manage massive amounts of servers. Combined with System Center 2012, Windows Server 2012 offers automation via user-defined policies.

Microsoft makes a good case for Windows Server as a cloud OS and it should appeal to its installed base as customers build new apps for the cloud. But customers will determine whether Windows Server 2012, combined with System Center, is a viable option to VMware's cloud stack along with the open source and Amazon Web Services-compatible alternatives.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on September 10, 2012


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