In a previous article, I discussed the impact of Microsoft’s new operating systems, Windows 8 client and server, on MSPs and particularly how service providers will need to adapt to the big change in the client-side user interface and experience. In this article, I’ll look in more detail at what’s new in the server product (the name of which – Windows Server 8 or Windows Server 2012 – is still up in the air). We’ll focus on how those new features can benefit MSPs, both on their own networks and on their customers’ internal networks.
Virtualization helps to decrease hardware costs and footprint and make server management and disaster recovery easier. It’s likely that your network includes virtualized servers, and the same is probably true of many/most of your customers’ LANs. Hyper-V in Windows 8 includes new and improved features that will make replication of VMs from one location to another easier and support private VLANs and ACLs for individual ports on the virtual switch. If you host multiple customers on a Hyper-V machine, the multi-tenancy support in Windows 8 will make it far easier.
Hyper-V’s virtual switch now supports features that once were only in VMware’s vSwitch. There is support for private VLANs, QoS and metering, OpenFlow, VN-Tag and much more. Setting up virtual machine replication also got much easier.
Large Hyper-V clusters are also supported now (up to 63 hosts and 4000 virtual machines per cluster), and you also get cluster-aware patching and other features that improve the security, reliability and performance. You can encrypt cluster volumes with BitLocker, and you can team NICs from different vendors.
We’ve been hearing for a long time that Virtual Desktop Infrastructure is the future of business computing but it’s been difficult and expensive to deploy. Windows Server 8 makes it easier, with improvements to RemoteFX, better admin tools and better performance.
Security is always important to an MSP network, as you have to be able to assure customers that your services are secured and won’t expose their data to attack. End-to-end encryption of data traveling across an untrusted network from SMB shares helps to protect against unauthorized interception and eavesdropping, without the necessity to purchase additional software (or hardware). You enable this through the File and Storage Services settings in Server Manager.
Dynamic Access Control (DAC) is another technology that implements claims-based identity for an additional layer of file-level security (on top of NTFS permissions), based on Active Directory attributes. You can create rules that apply to specific groups that are enforced on specific server types (such as file servers). And when users get an “access denied” message, they can now be provided with actual useful information, such as link to contact the administrator or the owner of the file or the help desk.
For an MSP, network reliability is vitally important. You can’t afford to have your network go down when your customers are relying on your services. Windows Server 8 gives you features such as NIC teaming and DHCP failover that will help to improve fault tolerance.
Data integrity in the event of an emergency such as a power outage is another big concern, and the Resilient File System (ReFS) in Windows Server 8 helps prevent file corruption when that happens. It can be repaired “on the fly,” without taking the system out of commission and it appreciably increases up time.
There has been plenty of discussion and controversy regarding the Metro interface on Windows Server 8 and whether it’s appropriate for a server or should have been limited to consumer products. There is always resistance to something new but if you can get past the big change, there are some real advantages to the Metro-styled Server Manager interface. When you add new servers (and that includes virtual machines as well as physical servers), Server Manager automatically inventories it and you get a live tile on the dashboard that shows you the server’s state. There are also live tiles that aggregate information across multiple servers and display it in a clean, easy-to-read way. If you prefer the command line as your management tool of choice, PowerShell reportedly has around 2300 new cmdlets.
There is also an IP Address Management Center that keeps track of address usage, detects address conflicts, interacts with the hardware inventory and audits changes.
Microsoft has claimed that the next generation of Windows Server has more than 300 new and improved features and these are just a handful of the ones that will benefit MSPs. The overall effect is more automation, easier deployment, easier administration and better performance – albeit in a package that, simply because of all the differences, may involve a bit of a learning curve.