If platform alignment is your goal, it looks like Microsoft is getting closer with the new Windows Server 8.
“The server product is really kind of cool, because it’s one of the final stages in this grand unification strategy Microsoft has been pursuing for almost two decades,” said Sanjay Bhatia, who attended a Microsoft sneak-peek event in early March.
Bhatia, founder and CEO Izenda, a provider of self-service reports and dashboards for the ASP.NET platform, said the whittling down to a single code base brings products across the Microsoft platform, from servers to phones, into line on the API side.
Currently in beta, Windows Server 8 has been promoted by Microsoft as “a more dynamic, available, cost-effective server platform that allows organizations of all types and sizes to cloud optimize their IT.” That emphasis on the cloud is evident throughout the product.
“A lot of effort seems to have gone into improving support for VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] and DirectAccess, which reflect the growing trends of desktop virtualization and remote access,” said Aryeh Goretsky, distinguished researcher at ESET, a provider of antivirus and antimalware security solutions for home and business users.
Happier network admins and the cloud
Greater support of cloud environments, along with a shift away from the need for extensive server setup support from IT and a move toward what Bhatia described as “a cloud-based application, where you basically sign up and have access to it,” is a profound concept that should please IT administrators.
“You’re going to be able to do that with your private cloud infrastructure with Windows Server 8,” Bhatia explained. The scarcity of experienced IT workers and SMBs’ need to get new servers online quickly is one benefit of the new product.
Simplification is helped along by more wide scale use of PowerShell for management and, along with Microsoft’s introduction of a number of new cmdlets, “should make lights-out management of servers much easier,” Goretsky said.
On the security side, he believes that “the virtual switch technology for Server's Hyper-V is going to provide security vendors with some interesting opportunities for developing new products to secure servers.” He also pointed to Secure Boot as another interesting technology, which he suspects will be more beneficial to desktops than servers, but could still “solve the train of trust issue” that has traditionally plagued IT through “having an untrusted boot path on the PC.”
Bhatia said he doesn’t see significant changes in PowerShell, but agrees that “it’s going to mean that a lot more of these server core installs will have a GUI-free delivery, where you’re just basically using PowerShell to manage services.” He also believes that removing the Windows GUI will free up management and memory overhead, and give administrators a simplified environment.
Virtualization and management improvements
Advances in virtualization and management will likely be among the most attractive features to potential buyers of Windows Server 8, according to Michael Cherry, research vice president of operating systems at Directions on Microsoft, which provides independent analysis of Microsoft technologies and strategies.
The main drivers for adoption, he said, will be “improvements in virtualization, improved ability to manage multiple servers, improvements to PowerShell, and improvements to the core installation mode.” Cherry thinks companies will likely adopt Server 8 relatively quickly, and because many companies employ fewer servers than desktops, upgrades won’t be as daunting a task.
“Main drags on adoption are compatibility with other server applications,” he continued. “Some companies will wait until versions of SQL Server, Exchange, and SharePoint are supported on the new release.”
Goretsky said Server 8 is designed to work well with previous versions of Windows and the ability to support a mixed environment will likely mean Server 8 will move into the enterprise as new servers are purchased.
“If those pilots prove easy to manage and use, then I would expect that trickle to become, well, not necessarily a flood, but a steady stream, especially for Microsoft customers with Software Assurance licensing,” he said.
Server 8 availability
A release date in the fourth quarter of 2012 or early 2013 is likely, according to Cherry. “Part of this assumption is based on the quality of code. The other part is based on Microsoft’s recent history of releasing the client and server versions of OS at the same time."
“I would be surprised if they don’t at least release the release candidate by the time Windows 8 Client is out,” Sanjay added. “Since it is a unified code base, it’s going to depend on Windows 8.” He surmised that Microsoft may be looking to release Visual Studio 11, at least some of the editions of Windows Server, and Windows Client at the same time; with a release date probably near the holidays. The good news, said Sanjay, is that the beta is solid.
“The beta is more solid than any production operation I’ve used before,” he said.
Microsoft has traditionally released price and packaging guidelines in the last stages of bringing a product to market, but experts predict the price point for Windows Server 8 is likely to be similar to the current server product.
“Based on recent changes to the SQL Server licensing, I am thinking the Windows team may also make some changes to both packaging and pricing, and could go to a system of core-based charging,” Cherry said, adding that he believes Microsoft wants the Windows 8 OS to be the foundation of public and private cloud computing, and “so it will likely be packaged and priced to promote that.”