Upgrade to Windows Server 8?

Since Microsoft recommends a clean install over an update, it really comes down to what your current problems are and whether or not you will benefit from the new features, of which, there are many in '8'.

By Eric Geier | Posted Apr 4, 2012
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The next edition of Windows Server, named Windows Server “8” thus far, may be the most substantial update Microsoft has made to their server platform yet. The exact details aren’t set in stone, but the beta release is showcasing hundreds of new and enhanced features, with a large emphasis on virtualization and cloud deployments.

Should you plan to upgrade? That is the question.

Obviously, you need to discover the new and improved functions. There are many, so here’s only a short and sweet listing:

Networking: Many enhancements will increase networking reliability and security:

  • NIC teaming provides fault tolerance by bonding two or more network interfaces.
  • SMB 2.2 adds encryption and availability improvements of file shares and storage resources.
  • IP Address Management (IPAM) helps discover, monitor, audit, and manage a network’s IP addressing.
  • DHCP provides failover and load balancing between multiple servers.

Virtualization: Hyper-V gets many new and updated features, enabling scalable multi-tenant clouds:

  • Easier replication of VMs between storage systems, clusters, and data centers for fault tolerance and disaster recovery.
  • The virtual switch improves network virtualization for better multi-tenancy support and security, and extensions can add functionality for monitoring, forwarding, and filtering packets.
  • Resource metering to measure physical processor, memory, storage, and network usage of individual VMs.
  • Hyper-V module for Windows PowerShell enables easier management of Hyper-V, VMs, and VHDs.

Security: Updates include features to better control, update, and security your servers and network:

  • Dynamic access control (DAC) enhances traditional file permissions with new ways of tagging, classifying, and auditing access of data.
  • Cluster-aware updating (CAU) to automate the updating of server clusters.

Storage: Many storage enhancements help conserve disk space and increase availability and scalability:

  • Data deduplication can help reduce the amount of disk space required to store your files and the bandwidth used when transferring files via a WAN using BranchCache.  It does this by dividing files into chunks and only saving a single copy of any identical chunks, which can apply to both identical and similar files.
  • The new Resilient File System (ReFS) promises better file integrity, availability, and scalability.
  • Storage pools lets you to group multiple hard drives and create virtual disks (storage spaces) across them.

Server management: Improvements have also been made to make your job easier:

  • Server Manager offers easier management of both physical and virtual servers/roles.
  • PowerShell 3.0 simplifies syntax for easier management of tasks like job scheduling, setting default parameter values, and script sharing.

The new metro-style interface that you may have seen or heard about in Windows 8 makes its way into Windows Server 8 as well, offering a different way to access server components and admin tasks. This can be a loved or hated feature depending upon the admin. But it may not matter to those who prefer command-line or other management tools as you can now install servers without the GUI or remove it later and manage multiple servers via a single location.

For more details on new and updated features, at least for what’s in the beta version, check out the TechNet site. Or better yet, try the beta version out for yourself and/or take a look at their evaluation guide. And think about trying out the client OS as well: the Windows 8 Consumer preview. And keep in mind; features can vary between the beta and final release editions and you won’t be able to upgrade from a beta install to the final release.

Though you’ll likely be pleased with most of the new and updated features of Windows Server 8, there are still some concerns you should have. Of course, you’ll have to invest the time and resources to change over your existing servers. While it should be upgradable from Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2, Microsoft recommends a clean installation. Like other new releases, remember there are always the chances of some bugs before the first service pack.

Before upgrading you should also review the removed and depreciated features to see if there are any significant functions or programs that won’t be supported anymore. Microsoft lists those features and functions missing in the beta version.

Though Microsoft hasn’t announced a release date, Windows Server 8 will likely be released in the fourth quarter of 2012 or first quarter of 2013.

Since it looks like Microsoft will be trying to really push this server edition, I’d assume the pricing and licensing for Windows Server 8 will be closely aligned to what they’re offering for Windows Server 2008 R2. But we’ll find out more in the months prior to release.

If you’re looking to upgrade your client PCs and your Windows servers, I’d certainly consider waiting for Windows Server 8. And, even if you’re relatively up-to-date, consider upgrading if you require cloud-type functionality or you’re an IT provider serving multiple customers. But do highly consider the investment to upgrade, possibly bugs in the beginning, and any removed features.

Eric Geier is a freelance tech writer. He’s also the founder of NoWiresSecurity that helps businesses protect their Wi-Fi with enterprise (802.1X) security and On Spot Techs that provides on-site computer services.

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