In October 2012, Microsoft debuted its new operating system, Windows 8, to mixed reviews. Technology expert Jakob Nielsen described it as a combination of two UI styles: one for use with desktops and one for mobile devices. According to Nielsen, “On a regular PC, Windows 8 is Mr. Hyde: a monster that terrorises poor office workers”; on a tablet the OS is “akin to Dr. Jekyll: a tortured soul hoping for redemption.” Technology reviewers agreed, with many IT professionals taking a pass on Windows 8.
Companies were understandably concerned about any product running on Windows 8 architecture, which included Microsoft’s server OS upgrade, Server 2012. But don’t throw the server OS baby out with the desktop OS bathwater; the replacement for Windows Server 2008 not only gets the job done but also does it better than expected. For data center pros, an upgrade to Windows Server 2012 may actually be worth the cost.
Here are five reasons why:
1. Internet Information Services 8 (IIS 8)
With Server 2012 came a revamped version of IIS, which significantly improved the information-management capabilities of Microsoft’s offering. In an article for The Register, technology consultant Trevor Pott described IIS 8 as putting an end to “more than a decade’s worth of ‘you use Windows as your Web server’ jokes.”
Why? Because it supports script precompilation, granular process throttling, centralized certificate management and SNI. In addition, Microsoft managed to incorporate a streamlined FTP server, something technology professionals have wanted for years.
2. Powershell 3.0
Sure, Powershell 3.0 doesn’t exactly change the scriptlet landscape, but it’s implemented so well in Server 2012 that it’s almost worth the cost of admission alone. Powershell 3.0 not only lets system admins handle every aspect of the server OS but also offers control over SQL, Exchange and Lync-based companion servers. Downside? The documentation can be spotty, even now. But once you find or create the right scripts, 2012 is managed with ease.
3. Optional GUI
Users love great-looking graphical user interfaces (GUIs), but this has brought trouble for Microsoft in the past — think Windows 8 and its “Live Tiles” — and for server management, a GUI can be more of a distraction than a benefit. Apparently, someone in Redmond got the message.
When you first install Server 2012, you get two options: core or full. Core is recommended, and it comes with an optional GUI. Install the GUI role on top of the core deployment and you’re ready to go, no reinstallation necessary. Use the graphical interface for ease of server configuration and, once you’re ready for deployment, simply remove the GUI role. This reduces server load and helps to limit attack surface.
4. Simplified Versions
Of course, upgrading to a new server OS always comes with the question of licensing. Server 2012 strips down the available choices and offers just two: Standard and Datacenter. Midsize companies with only a few server instances are well served by Standard, which provides full functionality and two virtual instances. Larger companies should opt for Datacenter, which provides unlimited virtual instances — this is especially helpful if you plan to run live mitigation.
5. Server 2012 R2
In October 2013, Microsoft released Windows Server 2012 R2, and it, too, boasts some notable upgrades. First is the storage-quality feature for virtual hard disks (VHDs), which lets you set minimum and maximum I/O loads for each VHD. The result? Predictable throughput across hard disks. R2 also includes a Hyper-V upgrade that lets you export virtual machines (or checkpoints) on the fly, which means you don’t need to power down virtual machines and waste precious time.
The Windows 8 architecture had its share of detractors, but Server 2012 (and R2) more than makes up for these shortcomings and effectively levels the server OS playing field.
[image: Tomasz Wyszołmirski/iStock/ThinkStockPhotos]