At TechEd 2013 North America in New Orleans, Microsoft announced major changes in their development strategy, producing a cloud-first model for the future where innovations and features are envisioned and built for the Microsoft Cloud before their on-premise counterparts. This helps solidify Microsoft's "All in" mantra from a couple years ago. At TechEd 2013 North America, Microsoft wowed the keynote audience with the best event start in years, but the major storyline for the keynote was the promise of new innovations coming in a major "R2" release for Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012.

To prove that they are, indeed, on track with their announced accelerated product release schedules, Brad Anderson, corporate vice-president of Windows Server and System Center at Microsoft, took the TechEd 2013 Europe stage and announced the completion of his New Orleans promise by introducing preview releases of the "R2" products available for download today. But, Microsoft wouldn't be following their cloud-first strategy if only downloads were available, so in addition to being able to download the "R2" bits to preview in an on-premise test environment, Microsoft is providing the same previews running on Windows Azure. So, you can choose to download, install, configure, and test the "R2" bits, or you can just allow Windows Azure to spin the bits up for you and start testing in a few minutes. This really underscores the value of the Windows Azure solution, allowing companies to test right now, instead of setting aside an enormous amount of time to setup the preview bits on-premise.

Below are the links for both "R2" downloads and "R2" on Windows Azure.

Windows Server Evaluations

System Center and Windows Intune Evaluations

SQL Server Evaluations

Windows Azure Evaluation

Windows Azure Pack