Q: What are the new features of Windows Server 2012 R2?

A: Windows Server 2012 R2 promises to be far more than a basic incremental update and is bringing many of the technologies built for Windows Azure to the on-premises solution. Microsoft is now focused on a "cloud first" engineering methodology designed for the largest scale, bringing those features and learnings to the on-premises solutions such as Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2. Key features include the following:

  • Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 will ship at the same time with full feature support.
  • Tiered Storage Spaces provides greater performance and scalability. Allows a mix of SSD and HDD in a single space and the storage spaces engine automatically moves the hot blocks to the SSD from the HDD via the in-box tiering technology. The ability to size the SSD and HDD tiers separately is available. It's possible to pin important files to the SSD tier.
  • Ability to graphically create a three-way mirrored virtual disk on a Storage Space.
  • Site-to-site VPN Gateway.
  • In-box iSCSI target now leverages VHDX, allowing larger LUNs (up to 64TB).
  • Dynamic NIC Teaming allows more granular balancing based on flowlets, enabling best performance and utilization of available resources.
  • IPAM support for virtualized environments, providing a consistent IP management experience.
  • New PowerShell Desired State Configuration (DSC) extensions as part of Windows PowerShell 4, which helps ensure the components in the data center have the correct configuration.
  • Work folders enable users to have access to all their data by replicating all user data to corporate file servers then back out to other devices. Data is also encrypted and if a user device is un-enrolled from management the data corporate data is removed.
  • CIM and DMTF standards-based, enabling great consistent management across all types of devices.

Hyper-V Specific features include these:

  • Live Migration between Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2.
  • Compression of memory for Live Migration, resulting in huge performance improvements of Live Migrations. Uses a small amount of compute for compression (most virtualization hosts have spare processor cycles) to offer huge improvements to the live migration performance. Typically live migration time with compression is a fifth of the time than when no compression is used.

    - Additionally the ability to leverage SMB Direct (RDMA) for Live Migration, when available. This doesn't use compression since the processor is bypassed when using RDMA, and this gives the greatest Live Migration experience--22 seconds (RDMA) versus 38 seconds (memory compression).
  • Hyper-V Replica has new control on the frequency of replication so instead of every five minutes, you now have a choice of 30 seconds, five minutes, and 15 minutes, to cater to the different requirements and bandwidth availability between sites.
  • Ability to have a Hyper-V Replica virtual machine (VM) replicated to another Hyper-V server for extended disaster recovery (DR) capabilities. For example, VM1 replicated from ServerA to ServerB can now have the replica VM1 on ServerB further replicated to Server C.
  • Hyper-V Recovery Manager provides Windows Azure-based service to manage all Hyper-V Replication within an environment. This is just orchestration of the process and the actual replication of VMs is still utilized via the Hyper-V Replica functionality. Actual replication is still direct site-to-site and not via Windows Azure. Hyper-V Recovery Manager provides full control of the order of failover of VMs in addition to the running of scripts and even manual actions as part of the failover process.
  • Support for deduplication of VHDXs, which actually improves the performance of the VMs (almost twice the speed). With deduplication, the process knows what the common blocks are, so it enables better caching of the most common blocks for running VMs.
  • Dynamic VHDX resizing when connected to the SCSI bus, allowing VHDX files to be resized while a VM is running, and then within a VM you can easily expand volumes to use the newly available space. It's also possible to shrink a virtual disk, provided unpartioned space is available on a disk.
  • Support for shared VHDX files by VMS, enabling new guest clustering scenarios by allowing multiple VMs to access the same VHDX and see the VHDX as shared storage. The shared VHDX is exposed to a VM as a virtual shared SAS disk and the VHDX file can be dynamic or fixed. You can specify a disk as shared via Windows PowerShell or via the Advanced Features when adding a disk to a VM. The ability to provide a shared VHDX file is very useful, particularly in hosting environments where you would not directly expose fibre channel or iSCSI LUNs to clients (the Windows Server 2012 method to provide shared storage to VMs).
  • VM Connection improvements, allowing copy and paste via VM Connection plus audio support/printer/smart card redirection as Remote Access is now via VMBus. This is a very useful feature if a VM loses network connectivity or RDP is blocked via a firewall so administrators can't RDP to a VM. With the new VMbus-based connection, administrators always have full access to VMs at a console level.
  • Automatic activation of VMs that are running on an activated Windows Server 2012 R2 Datacenter server (no specific channel version required). The VM doesn't have a key at all, so no key management is required.
  • New Generation 2 VM:
    - Generation 2 VMs use UEFI, have secure boot capability, and can boot from SCSI devices and synthetic network adapters.
    - Generation 2 VMs are Windows 8/Windows 2012 or later and 64-bit only. This is because the OS needs native UEFI and must ship with Hyper-V integration drivers in-box.
    - Generation 2 provides a faster boot and install experience. Day-to-day operations are about the same.
    - It is fully supported to mix Generation 1 and Generation 2 VMs on the same host.
  • Virtual Receive Side Scaling (RSS) allows a combination of RSS and VMQ (which were mutually exclusive in Windows Server 2012) and allows a VMQ to no longer be linked to a single core, giving greater performance by spreading loads across cores. Uses a RSS hash to spread traffic processing across multiple cores.
  • Resource metering monitors incoming and outgoing storage IOPs in addition to existing CPU, memory, disk allocation, and network traffic.
  • Storage QoS allows a maximum IOPs cap for each VHDX of a VM (even when running). Minimum QoS alerting when a virtual machine disk isn't getting required IOPs.
  • Full Linux support including dynamic memory support (add and remove), live backup (file consistency through new file freeze in Linux integration services), 64 vCPU SMP, virtual SCSI, and hot-add/resize of storage.
  • Clone a running VM and export a checkpoint (which generates a merged virtual disk for the export) which is very useful.
  • Cluster Shared Volumes coordinators automatically rebalanced across all nodes in the cluster.
  • Use ReFS with CSV.
  • Easier virtual network management (Software Defined Networking) and additional capabilities including in-box gateway functionality to link different virtual networks even across hybrid clouds.
  • Simple remote live monitoring of network traffic through a new graphical experience using Message Analyzer, which can collect remote and local packets.
  • Enhanced Hyper-V Extensible Switch architecture to enable coexistence with forwarding extension implementations, which previously couldn't work with Hyper-V extensions.
  • USB pass-through, which allows USB device pass-through within certain conditions.
  • Windows Azure Pack (formally known as Windows Azure Services for Windows Server). Takes the innovation from Azure and brings it to Windows Server and System Center. Consistent portal experience to match Azure, high density web hosting, and Service bus

Windows Azure specific:

  • No longer charged for stopped VMs in Windows Azure as of today.
  • Now billed per minute rather than per hour so if you run a VM for 30 minutes, you get billed for 30 minutes' worth instead of a whole hour.
  • Can use MSDN server licenses on Windows Azure at no charge.
  • Easy view of burn rate of Windows Azure, how much credit is left, and prediction based on existing use if it will run out.

 

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