6 intriguing features of Windows Server 2012

Experts who’ve had the opportunity to get their hands dirty with the beta release of Windows Server 2012 point to six intriguing features that should pique the curiosity of IT managers. But are the new bells and whistles enough to prompt a mass exodus away from earlier versions?

Even though Microsoft released the final version of Windows Server 2012 on Tuesday, the beta release became available in March. So there’s been plenty of time to evaluate its key upgrades.

Besides enhanced storage and virtualization capabilities, the newest iteration of the server operating system features streamlined admin functionality. For instance, the new Resilient File System (ReFS) improves data availability and integrity; Hyper-V Replica makes replicating virtual machines a much simpler operation than before; and server groups can be managed more easily using the highly-touted Server Manager interface.

  • The way in which the new Resilient File System (ReFS) writes data to disks throughout the file system makes it possible to repair damaged disks or volumes without taking them offline. It also scales further than the previous New Technology File System (NTFS).
  • Hyper-V Replica makes it possible to live-migrate virtual machines without shared storage. You can also live-migrate multiple virtual machines on a single host at the same time.
  • The new Server Manager interface lets you create groups of like servers and manage them from one dashboard view. This is an advantage for organizations with large numbers of servers and for those without dedicated monitoring software.

But these are just the tip of the iceberg. Of particular interest to IT managers: DirectAccess, a VPN with a wizard-based setup; Dynamic Access Control, an innovative tool for assigning access privileges to files automatically; and a complete IP Address Management suite that comes free with the operating system license.

  • First, Direct Access. If you have many users working remotely or more than a few branch offices, this is your selling point. The setup wizard makes a once cumbersome process simple and straightforward. Not only that, but no client-side management agent is required to connect. A secure tunnel is established behind the scenes.
  • Dynamic Access Control moves away from assigning access privileges to individuals at the micro level (i.e. files and folders) to thinking in broader terms about who should have access to what based on data types and user groups. For example, admins can control the flow of sensitive data by creating security policies that assign access privileges to files automatically after a given file is found to contain data of a certain type (e.g. client social security numbers).
  • According to one expert, the IP Address Management suite gives you the ability to “allocate, group, issue, lease and renew IP addresses in an organized fashion, as well as integrate with the in-box DHCP and DNS servers to discover and manage devices already on your network” – a big deal since such an all-inclusive tool is normally out of reach for medium-sized businesses.

Despite the fact that there’s been plenty of time to investigate the new features of Windows Server 2012, it’s not clear that IT managers will upgrade en masse before the traditional waiting period of one to two years while the kinks are worked out. But for many, even at this early stage it’s worth more than just a passing glance.