Windows Server 8: Highlights of the upcoming server OS

ITworld got an exclusive first look at Windows Server 8. Here's the cream of the crop of the 300+ new features.

By  Virtualization, Hyper-V, Microsoft

In version 3 of PowerShell, Microsoft upped the number of commands to over 2300 commands, all designed to let the admin folks without tons of developer experience manage and automate their servers. The server team also made it clear to us that they wanted to reduce the learning curve for PowerShell by using suggestive mechanism. Say, for example, that you want to create a new folder share and want to give it a unique description. PowerShell allows you to do that remotely or locally just by typing commands such as "New", "Share", "Path" and "Description" -- a pull-down menu shows lets you choose the appropriate commands.


Hyper-V: "Version 3 kills them all"

In an unusually aggressive move, Microsoft bragged about Hyper-V, claiming that "once we get to version 3, we kill them all." And I think they're on to something.

Hyper-V 3 in Windows Server 8 sports some pretty hefty performance improvements and balancing that's sure to make the virtualization crowd go wild. The server team made sure that CPU power, memory, network I/O and storage I/O are automatically balanced or can be balanced based on admin policies. They've also beefed up the maximum usage of hardware resources immensely. Windows Server 8 Hyper-V supports 160 processors and up to 2 TB of RAM (physical) and 32 CPUs and 512 GB memory per virtual machine.

And thanks to new features such as Guest NUMA and the ability to remove virtual CPUs, it allows for a more dynamic performance management of Hyper-V. In essence, guest NUMA allows the guest operating system to make smarter (and controllable!) decisions about thread and memory allocation.

Scaling has also been an issue in Hyper-V in the past: even by adding more virtual CPUs, you couldn't really expect the performance to scale accordingly. In Windows Server 8's hypervisor, that's changed. Microsoft promises scaled performance with every V-CPU you add. Until we’ve gotten our hands on the new Hyper-V, we have to take their word for it, though.

On the networking side of things, Hyper-V got some impressive feature that improve network performance such as, Single Root I/O, Dynamic Virtual Machine Queue (DVMQ), Receive Side Scaling (RSS) and Ipsec Task Offload, all designed to allow for a more effective bandwidth allocation, priorization and and throttling when needed.

There are also a handful of storage enhancements found in Hyper-V 3.

Besides multiple performance fixes, such as multipath I/O, we're going to see three big new features coming in 3.0. First, there's the new VHDX format. This new format supports sizes of up to 16 TB and is more resilient to corruption. Plus, the user defined metadata is already included and it gives admins support for larger block sizes to adapt to workload requirements. Another big one is Live Storage Migration, which moves any VHD files, saved states and other VM metadata from one machine to another without the need to take it offline. That's actually quite amazing since you won't experience downtime during servicing (such as SAN Upgrades or regular migrations). For that to work, the machine will automatically be mirrored and synchronized during runtime. Once the copy process is done, it will be deleted on the source machine. The VM keeps on running, with no interruption with the exception of one millisecond of network connectivity loss, when the adapter switches from one machine to another.

And Hyper-V replica allows you to seemlessly duplicate virtual machines (or just single VHDs) without the need to take the virtual machine offline. As Steven Sinofsky confirmed in his September 7 blog post, there are very strict hardware requirements, so Hyper-V will solely run on the latest generation of Intel and AMD CPUs.

The last feature I want to mention is Hyper-V Network Virtualization. It allows you to run multiple virtual networks on physical network: each virtual network has the illusion of running as a physical fabric in and of itself.

Now read: Windows Server 8's massive storage enhancements

This article, "Windows Server 8: Highlights of the upcoming server OS," was originally published at ITworld. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

Sandro Villinger is a contributor to ITworld. For more by Sandro, see:
15 incredibly useful (and free) Microsoft tools for IT pros
Windows 8 Hyper-V and MinWin: A game changing strategy?
Hyper-V & virtual PCs: How to handle virtual disks.

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