15 Mar 2012

As far as servers go, you don't think much of them.  They generally just sit in the background and do what they are supposed to.  One usually doesn't think of flashy GUI interfaces when it comes to servers either.  They generally are fairly straight forward and basic and in the case of Windows, haven't change a whole lot in the past several years, until now with Windows Server 8 and its Metro interface, which most likely will be largely ignored however, at least initially.

The Metro Tile interface has replaced the Start Button and Menu, just like in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview.  Microsoft is calling it the Metro-style interface.  There are tiles present that manage the functionality of the server.  You can even add more admin tiles by enabling them and subsequently you have the usual tools you are used to. 

There is not a definite release date for Server 8, but a likely time frame will be just around or after the release of Windows 8 later this year.  Windows Server 8 only comes in x64.  Its the first server to only to support x64 systems from release date.  

Windows Server 8 beta is available from this link and was released to the public on March 1st, 2012 (one day after Windows 8 Consumer Preview).  Its available as a VHD (Virtual Hard Disk) or ISO.  The VHD is meant for at least Server 2003 and Virtual Server 2005 (Hyper-V).  See our YouTube video below for a quick run down on the setup and features.

Here is a video demo of installing Server 8 and installing the File Services Role, along with a look at some of its features (choose 720p for the best quality):

Table of Contents

System Requirements

  • CPU:  Minimum 1.4 GHz 64bit processor
  • Memory:  Minimum 512 MB RAM
  • Disk Space:  32 GB (actual initial disk space used in our VM instance was actually 9.78 GB)
  • Optical Drive:  DVD
  • Display:  Super VGA 800x600 or higher

Main Features

Azure Integration

Server 8 now supports the Azure cloud integration.  Through a scalable cloud infrastructure it provides 3rd party developers with the ability to develop compatible applications.  Azure enables developers to build, host and scale applications.  There are storage options in the cloud such as Blobs, Tables, and Queues, all part of the Windows Azure Storage account.

Resilient File System (ReFS)

ReFS is a new local file system that is available in the beta version.  ReFS includes some advantages over NTFS that include an extremely scalable volume size and a maximum file length beyond 255 characters.  ReFS also emphasizes maximum data availability and integrity through checksums and integrity streams and other methods.  ReFS is most likely going to be used more often with the Storage Spaces feature that includes automatically repairing data corruption.

Microsoft Online Backup Service

Microsoft Online Backup Service is cloud backup for Windows Server 8, featuring encryption.  Currently it only will back up data on Windows 8 beta servers.  To use the service, users have to request a Microsoft Online Backup Service account (currently invitation only).  An agent must be installed on each server.  It also requires Windows PowerShell, Windows Identity Framework and Windows Live ID client authentication and 10-15 GB free space for cache purposes.

Metro-Style Remote Desktop, VoIP Integration

There is the Metro-style Remote Desktop client available with Server 8 beta.  VoIP applications can integrate with RemoteFX, which is a feature of Server 2008 that enhances the remote desktop experience in the areas of 3D and video in particular.

Cluster Aware Updating Self-Updating Mode

Cluster Aware Updating (CAU) is a feature where all nodes in a cluster are updated in such a way that there is no downtown.  Server 8 beta has the CAU Self-Updating Mode to let administrators configure the CAU feature.

Hyper-V Memory Support Increase and VHD Capacity Increase

Hyper-V now supports twice the RAM, now at 1TB and virtual hard disks at 64TB (instead of 2048 GB as before).

SMB Encryption

SMB encryption will protect sensitive data from being snooped.  When a client accesses data from the server via SMB, the data is transmitted in clear text.  Administrators can choose to encrypt this data simply by right-clicking on a share in File and Storage Services, then properties.. check off "Encrypt data access".

The Setup

Upgrade Paths

Upgrades paths supported only include coming from Server 2008 R2.  You also will not be able to upgrade the final RTM Server 8 release from this beta.  There is also not a roll back option with the beta, so it should be installed in a test environment only.

It's too soon to tell if IT departments with Windows 2003 servers and Active Directory infrastructures will be able to incorporate the new features of Server 8 without upgrading all clients and servers, though as you will see below, it is likely legacy ones will be supported.

For this article, once again, as for Windows 8 Consumer Preview, I used Vmware Workstation 8 with 2GB of memory and assigned 1 CPU, 2 cores to the VM.

The first part of setup, is as in the past.

Installation Options

At this point you have two installation options:

  • Server Core - basically just a powershell window
  • GUI - typical graphical user interface with System Manager applet

After setup finishes, you specify the username for "administrator".

And after completion, you are put at the lock screen, where you can then log in.

Server Manager Overview

After logging in, you are placed in the desktop mode, not the Metro UI by default, unlike Windows 8 (Consumer Preview) and the Server Manager.  It's most likely, that the server admin will spend most of his time in the Server Manager rather than the Metro Start Screen, as just about everything can be accessed right from here.

You can also launch Server Manager from a tile on the Metro-style UI. 

As in the past, Server Manager is where you access wizards for adding roles, managing remote servers, and creating server groups.  You have two options:  Role-based/Feature-based installations for configuring things by adding roles, role services and features.  And then Scenario-based installations for Remote Desktop Services.

Installation of server roles can be done by selecting a server from a server pool or via a virtual hard disk.  You can add roles to other Windows 8 Servers as well, right from the Server Manager.

All logged events, performance alerts and services on local and remote servers can be viewed from this central management area of Server Manager.

Take note that there are new roles and features with Server 8.  One new role includes the Volume Activation Service, while some new features include the Windows Biometric Framework and Windows Powershell Web Access.  The Volume Activation Services server role enables you to automate and simplify the issuance and management of software volume licenses.  You can install and configure the Key Management Service (KMS) with the VAS role and enable Active Directory-based Activation.  With the Windows Powershell Web Access you can manage your servers anywhere you have a web browser.  The Windows PowerShell Web Access is an IIS web application that provides a Windows PowerShell Console in a web browser.  Its effectively a gateway to connect to any machine that has Windows PowerShell remoting enabled.

Windows PowerShell Web Access was developed using HTTPS, Javascript and cookie support (web standards).  Microsoft did limited testing on devices like the iPhone, Android and Windows Phone.

 

Adding Roles

Example:  Adding the File Services Role

After clicking the Add Role option, we are presented with two choices, either "Role-based or feature-based installation" or "Remote Desktop Services scenario-based installation"

Next we choose what server to install the role on or what virtual hard disk.  Choosing a virtual disk means that you can create an image that can be used by a virtual machine running in Hyper-V to provide the role being configured, hence you could partition multiple Windows network services into several virtual machines running on the same server.  For this article we are just choosing the local machine for deployment:

We select "File Services" under "File and Storage Services":

After you click "Install", you can monitor the progress of the task in the Server Manager:

Clicking "Task Details" shows even more information regarding the action:

Of course you can also check CPU utilization and other information in the new Task Manager, which is basically the same as the one seen in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview:

If we had chosen a different role, such as the AD Services Role, after it completed, we would have had new tiles on the Metro Start Screen, but in the case of File Services, given what defaults we chose, nothing changes on the Metro interface.

Summary

Server 8 has its biggest marks coming in areas such as Hyper-V replication, Cluster Aware Updating and NIC teaming.  The Metro-style interface is nice, but largely not necessary, at least until more Metro apps would become available.  Since Server 8 will feature many of the under the hood enhancements that Windows 8 currently has, it should prove to be one of the best performing servers to date, however.


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