Servers

Top 10 Features In Windows Server 2012 You Should Already Be Using

Much of the emphasis at TechEd North America 2013 this week has been on the new features coming in Windows Server 2012 R2. However, with the original Windows Server 2012 just nine months in the market, many businesses still aren’t taking advantage of features that are already available. Here are 10 that are worth using in your Windows network deployment.

This list comes from a presentation by core infrastructure principal technology specialist John Savill at TechEd. As he pointed out, the rapid upgrade cycle we’re currently seeing with Windows Server releases means that taking stock is often helpful. “There are great new features coming in R2, but many clients aren’t using the features in Windows Server 2012 yet”: he said. “There’s so much available already.”

Here are 10 areas where features are either entirely new or significantly enhanced from Windows Server 2008 R2. All are worth noting if you’re planning or considering an upgrade.

1. Server Core

While the GUI-free Server Core interface also existed in 2008, it’s much more flexible in 2012; you can add and remove a GUI interface as needed, making it easy to set up a system with it in place and then remove afterwards. “The huge change in 2012 is that this is an optional layer,” Savill said. “The graphical interface is something you can add or remove at any time.” The main advantage of Server Core is that stripping out non-essential elements makes the process of patching the server much easier; no Internet Explorer means no IE patches, for instance.

2. Server Manager

User the Server Manager dashboard, you can easily manage multiple servers from a single system, grouping together functionally matched systems (such as domain controllers or web servers) rather than having to handle each one separately.

3. PowerShell

We’ve spent plenty of time this week singing the praises of PowerShell, and the fact that virtually everything in Windows Server 2012 can be controlled via PowerShell opens up huge possibilities for automation.
“Everything Server Manager can do, PowerShell can do,” Savill said. “And the reality is there’s stuff you can do in PowerShell that you can’t do in any of the GUIs.”

4. Storage Innovation

While the shift to SMB version 3.0 and the creation of Storage Spaces are obvious highlights, Savill also pointed out the improvements to file system error checkng and the ability to automatically classify content as highlights. When drives fail, Chkdsk is now a two-stage process — first identifying errors and then taking systems offline for repairs — which makes the process much speedier. “Eight seconds is the longest it will ever bring a volume offline,” Savill said. Auto classification rules for new content mean policies can be immediately applied; for instance, if a document is created that includes a tax file number, it can immediately be classified as containing personal identifiers and tagged accordingly to ensure compliance.

5. Remote Desktop Services

While RDS features existed in Windows Server 2008, they were complex to implement (the ‘quick start’ guide ran to a full 50 pages). In Windows Server 2012, the process has been automated to a handful of clicks. That makes RDS much more feasible for situations where full VDI would be overkill: “VDI is great for power users and developers, but for a task worker you don’t need VDI.” RDS can also now be managed from Server Manager, and allows the creation of templates. Other improvements include the ability to assign a remote GPU in VDI environments, something Savill demonstrates by running Lego Batman on a low-powered device.

6. Active Directory

Savill highlighted the ability to virtualise domain controllers as one big benefit. Key management is also much simpler; if you’re domain-joined, you can install and manage licences much more easily.

7. Windows 8 integration

If you have shifted to Windows 8, there are some key benefits, particularly in being able to use Branch Cache to cut down on multiple users downloading the same file and the availability of DirectAccess to connect without requiring a VPN. (That said, I suspect many sites will move to Windows Server 2012 faster than they move to Windows 8.)

8. Application & Web Services

Savill singled out the ease with which SSL certificates can be centralised and managed — very handy if you have multiple IIS servers deployed.

9. Failover Clustering

The big benefit in Windows Server 2012 is the ability to patch systems in a cluster without requiring manual intervention for each one. “In Windows Server 2012, you can basically point to a cluster and say ‘patch’,” Savill said. “It may still take hours, but you don’t have to do anything else.”

10. Hyper-V

We’ve written extensively about the benefits of Hyper-V and its enhanced VXHD format. Since it’s a free inclusion in Windows Server 2012, it’s hard to imagine many sites not experimenting with this one.

Any Windows Server 2012 features you’d add to this list? Tell us in the comments.

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