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WPC 2011 Microsoft has given a peek into Windows 8 Server, the successor to Windows Server 2008 R2 and companion to the tablet-tastic Windows 8 client.

The company is reported Tuesday to have boasted Windows 8 Server will pack more than 100 new features.

Speaking at its Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), however, Microsoft seems to have zeroed in on just one: the new Hyper-V it's positioning as an enabler of cloud computing when used to virtualize server operating systems and applications in your data center.

Microsoft's teaser came in the shadow of virtualization giant VMware's vSphere 5 launch in San Francisco, California, on the same day.

There, VMware chief executive Paul Maritz – a former Microsoft exec with 14 years at the company – boasted that according to various industry analysts VMware virtual machines are about six months away from running 50 per cent of the world's server workloads.

Microsoft is coming from behind in virtualization, and claimed at WPC in Los Angeles, California, that HyperV is the fastest growing virtualization stack.

Cutting to the features at WPC, Microsoft unveiled Hyper-V Replica that will let you replicate virtual machines either immediately or according to a schedule. This will, Mary-Jo Foley reports, let you do something like replicate a mission-critical database to an offsite data vendor.

Microsoft claimed it will be vendor-agnostic and support different storage, data center and software and service providers. In keeping with Microsoft's goal of getting customers to put more of their data in its cloud by not charging for imports, Microsoft will also give Windows Server 8 users unlimited replication without an additional fee per virtual machine.

Hyper-V, meanwhile, will also support more than 16 virtual processors per machine.

Microsoft called Windows 8 Server "the next step in private cloud computing".

Microsoft backed the cloud play by talking planned software that'll unify management of apps running on virtualized Windows servers and on Microsoft's Windows Azure cloud.

It announced Systems Center 2012, which will feature an account controller that gives single sign-in to all your apps on different servers, and that provides a tiled view of apps. You will be able to deploy apps using a set of best practices. Systems Center 2012 is due to ship this year.

On the apps front, Microsoft dressed an announcement about a third test build for the next version of SQL Server, codenamed Denali, with a demo of the ability to suck in data from the Windows Azure Data Market to the new database. It did this while showing off what it called "PowerPoint for data" that lets you customize and re-size data fields and turn them into charts and graphs by simply clicking and tugging at them using your mouse.

The Data Market is an online data store with pre-built integration for SQL Server, Office and Bing.

Microsoft, meanwhile, said that finished applications are now available for sale on the Windows Azure Marketplace - there are 578 offerings. Announced in November, the Marketplace, which includes the data Market, was originally a place for sharing data. ®

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