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Why Windows 8 server is a game-changer

More than just a few tweaks...

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Sysadmin blog Windows Server "8" beta is out, and everyone reading this should sit up and take notice. This isn't a boring iteration on a previous server operating system wherein a few tweaks have been achieved and nothing really changes. Server 8 - along with the suite of associated 2012-ish server applications - is nothing short of a complete redefinition of the server landscape.

Microsoft hasn't named the operating system yet, and I hope they name it anything except "Windows Server 8". Whereas Windows 8 is about radically redefining and limiting how we work (for our own good), Windows Server 8's equally radical approach is to provide us with the ability to do whatever we want to do in as open and standards-compliant a manner as is possible. It is such a fundamental change in attitude that I don't think anyone fully understands the long-term repercussions just yet.

The storage team in particular is due some "open" accolades. They are pushing standards-based storage management. They've been very active participants within the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), which involves working closely with all major storage players (including open source teams) to ensure that SMB 2.2 did not end up a proprietary protocol.

Windows 8 includes an NFS stack rewritten from the ground up*. It solves a lot of the compatibility issues suffered by previous implementations and offers massive performance increases.

The storage team have also produced the best PowerShell reference sheet yet. Interesting, as PowerShell scriptability is another important marker of Microsoft's growing commitment to openness and standards.

Compared to its precedents, Server 8 was designed backwards; everything in Server 8 can be manipulated via APIs and PowerShell scriptlets. GUIs are simply ease-of-use layers that offer a visual method of scriptlet control.

That means that anyone can build an interface to control any aspect of Server 8 from any operating system they wish. If you want to run a fleet of Windows 8 servers from Linux, Microsoft is not only happy to help, it built components for that.

Server 8 is also set to start breaking down some very important barriers by commoditising traditionally proprietary (and expensive) technologies and integrating them into the core OS. Long overdue features like NIC teaming join game-changers like deduplication, virtual HBAs and a thoroughly tested, enterprise-ready iSCSI target. Storage Spaces offers Drobo-like functionality, and Cluster Shared Volumes have moved beyond "Hyper-V only."

There are of course Microsoft-centric advances to Server 8 as well. Hyper-V, now supports Hyper-V Replica, Cluster Aware Updates, SMB 2.2 storage, and more. Start putting the pieces together and you get affordable HA Scale Out Storage – something that will radically redefine midmarket virtualisation deployments.

Hyper-V has gained forward momentum; live migration has been enhanced to the point where clustered storage is no longer a requirement. Branch Cache has improved significantly: it now uses bittorrent-esque technology to access files that may live on the local client, a nearby file server or out across the WAN. CHKDSK has been redone – it's faster, smarter and better. Bitlocker now supports clustered disks.

There's more. A lot more. Windows Server 8 beta has only been in my hands for a week, but it is already completely changing the way I think about IT. Technologies that last year were only accessible to most well-funded of enterprise IT departments, (or the most dedicated of open source administrators,) will now be available to everyone.

Microsoft's newly found openness means that no one is forced to use Windows 8 for administration. What's more, Windows Server 8 is a versatile and feature-rich backend for non-Microsoft client operating systems. Whether your business chooses Linux, Windows, Apple or BYOD client deployments, the case for Windows Server 8 as the backend is easily made. ®

Updated to add

* The Reg is happy to clarify that the Windows 8 NFS 4.1 server was developed in-house by Microsoft and not by a third party, as the article originally suggested. Redmond did pay the University of Michigan to develop the NFS 4.1 client - which is obviously distinct from the server - under an open-source licence.

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