Microsoft Windows Server 2012 review

The best new feature in Hyper-V is Replica support. Nothing is required beyond two Hyper-V hosts with replication enabled. Right-click a VM in Hyper-V Manager, select Enable Replication, and you can set up a VM that’s resilient to hardware failure. This increases network traffic, as you’d expect, and Microsoft recommends excluding virtual disks used for paging files. Moving VMs is also easier, with live migration now supported without the need for clustered storage.

A word to the wise, though: the old Server 2008 Hyper-V Manager can’t be used with Server 2012 Hyper-V hosts, and the same is true the other way around.

One interesting new feature of WS2012 is Storage Spaces, which enable the creation of a pool of physical drives with optional resiliency through either drive mirroring or parity striping. Virtual drives can be created on the pool, which can be bigger than the physical drive space available, a feature known as thin provisioning. When the physical space is exhausted, more can be added to the pool.

Microsoft Windows Server 2012

Among around 300 new features are also DHCP failover, DirectAccess connections even behind a single network interface card (NIC), NIC teaming, simplified management for Remote Desktop Services, extensible virtual switches and virtual Fibre Channel adapters in Hyper-V, built-in data deduplication and offloaded data transfer for fast storage operations on a storage area network (SAN).

Finally, there are the changes to the way WS2012 is licensed, moving to per-processor licences, which is perhaps just as critical as all the new features.

There are now four main editions: Foundation is an OEM version that allows up to 15 users; Essentials allows up to 25 users and replaces Small Business Server; Standard uses a client access licence (CAL) model and covers up to two processors plus two virtual instances; and Datacenter permits up to two processors per licence and unlimited virtual instances. The idea is that you use multiple licences on a single box, so with four processors you’d need either two Standard or two Datacenter licences. Other editions include the free Hyper-V Server, with full Hyper-V features including Replica.

Microsoft Windows Server 2012

However, there will be winners and losers with the new licensing model. The free Hyper-V Server edition is a bargain, but unless you run only Linux VMs, Microsoft still gets your money from licences for the guest VMs. Businesses that choose to run many VMs in order to keep each one focused on a single role really need the Datacenter edition, which covers unlimited VMs, but the price is substantial. Essentials is a good deal, but presents expanding businesses with a hefty upgrade bill once they break the 25-user mark. Standard is fair value, but it may push administrators towards trying to save licence costs by combining too many roles on each VM, regardless of best practice.

Is it worth upgrading? Provided your applications support it, there’s plenty here to whet the average administrator’s whistle. However, with such dramatic changes to the licensing model, it pays to work out the various permutations carefully before you commit.

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