Microsoft and the second half of 2013

System Center 2012 R2

Going hand in hand with Windows Server these days is System Center, which become a single product in System Center 2012 and has been improved in System Center 2012 SP1. As expected, the upcoming R2 release will build on the improvements that have been made before. Further, as new releases come, Microsoft has much more tightly integrating the suite and its ties to other parts of the Microsoft ecosystem, including Windows Server 2012 R2 (which Microsoft has taken to calling the Cloud OS) and Windows Azure.

On the device management front, System Center 2012 R2 will also bring to System Center better cross platform device management that will work better with iOS and Android devices. As we move into an increasingly mobile world, this enhancement will become even more critical.

Speaking of device management, Configuration Manager 2012 R2 will also more tightly integrate with Windows InTune, Microsoft’s cloud-based device management offering. This will coincide with Windows InTune “Wave E” (the expected codename) and will add the ability for IT administrators to selectively wipe devices, provision apps across a variety of devices, and provide users with a more streamlined IT support experience. Again, some of these features will only come into play for those that have chosen to deploy both System Center 2012 R2 as well as Windows InTune Wave E. Organizations will need to decide if the additional cost for Windows InTune is worth it.

In addition, there are plenty of other new capabilities coming to System Center 2012 R2, including:

  • Improved support for UNIX/Linux monitoring. Microsoft has made great strides in its support for UNIX and Linux servers in Operations Manager and will continue these efforts in System Center 2012 R2.
  • Improved Java application monitoring.
  • Improved user self service capabilities.
  • Support for virtual networks (What Microsoft is calling software defined networking).

System Center 2012 R2 will become increasingly important for organizations to deploy over time, particularly as Microsoft continues to enhance it to better bring together on-premises infrastructure and services based in the cloud.

Windows 8.1

Windows 8 has been a pretty massive flop. Whereas Windows Server 2012 has been very well received, Windows 8 has been met with skepticism, negative, and every downright hostility, and with good reason. The system introduced an unwelcome and, for many, an unintuitive and inconsistent user interface. While Microsoft isn’t jettisoning Metro in Windows 8.1, the company is taking steps to correct the mess.

First, the Start button is back. But just the button. When users click the button, they will be presented with the Metro-based Start screen introduced in Windows 8. While this isn’t what many were hoping, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Because the Start screen is here to stay, Microsoft has made a number of improvements to it as well. First, there are new tile sizes, which will allow users to more easily customize their Start screen. This will certainly improve overall usability. In addition, Microsoft is improving the search feature to be more global in Windows 8.1 and is updating the abysmal built in apps that were included in Windows 8 with new versions.

Moroever, users will finally have the option to boot the system into the desktop app rather than to the Start screen. This is another welcome improvement. In addition, rumors are that Microsoft has finished adding Metro-based settings from Control Panel meaning that users won’t have to undergo a jarring transition between the old Control Panel and Metro to configure system settings.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a new version of Windows without a new version of Internet Explorer to go along with it. Windows 8.1 will bring with it the new Internet Explorer 11.

SQL Server 2014

Of course, Microsoft is about more than just operating systems and IT management. To that end, Microsoft also announced the next version of SQL Server, cleverly named SQL Server 2014.

Perhaps the most significant new feature in SQL Server 2014 is the product’s in-memory OLTP engine, which enables the product to bring into memory selected tables, thus massively improving the overall performance of operations related to those tables.

In addition, SQL Server 2014 can now support much larger workloads thanks to its ability to scale to 640 logical processors and up to 4 TB of RAM. In a virtual environment, SQL Server 2014 can scale to 64 processors and 1 TB of RAM, which is still pretty significant!

Data visualization is a rapidly growing field and is one that Microsoft is focusing on in SQL Server 2014 with the addition of a number of new features to support this goal. Data Explorer and GEOFlow are the names. Data Explorer brings to Excel powerful analytics capabilities from a variety of sources while GEOFlow enables visual mapping in Excel. You can learn more about these features here.

SQL Server 2014 isn’t being left out of the cloud party, either. In fact, the new SQL Server will have the opportunity to leverage Azure, just like Hyper-V, through the use of Azure integrated backups. Through this option, which is exposed in the SQL Server Management Studio, administrators can create a backup copy of a database with the backup target being Windows Azure. In addition, by using Azure integrated AlwaysOn availability groups, organizations can leverage Azure for SQL Server disaster recovery purposes.

For SQL Server administrators, there’s a lot to love in SQL Server 2014.

Exchange Server 2013 CU2

With Exchange Server 2013, Microsoft has changed the Exchange update model and will release Cumulative Update 2 in mid to late 2013. The biggest change coming to CU2’s Enterprise Edition is the restoration of a 100 database per server limit. Previously, Exchange 2013 was limited to 50 databases per server, which was a decrease from 100 databases per server in previous editions of the product. This 50 database limit was originally instituted in recognition of Exchange 2013’s increased CPU and memory needs, but has been a sticking point for many organizations that want to upgrade from Exchange 2010. In order to do so, many would have had to deploy a lot more servers in order to accommodate the new 50 database limit. With CU2, Microsoft will help to streamline the upgrade activities for these clients.

Rumors are afoot that CU2 will also enable DAG witness servers to exist as Azure-based virtual machines. This could help organizations that are looking for additional availability opportunities bit that are out of physical locations in which to place servers.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to all of the Azure integration efforts being put forth by Microsoft is the fact that organizations will need to increase their comfort levels with cloud-based services and extend their environments to include Windows Azure’s services. That said, I think we’re certainly seeing a glimpse of the future!


If you’re working in a Microsoft-centric shop, there is a lot coming your way by the end of 2013!

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