Microsoft’s upcoming release of Windows Server 2012 promises to be one of the most significant releases of the Windows Server operating system to date. Despite the glut of new features, one of the biggest changes is something more subtle—Windows Server 2012 marks a change in mindset for the way Windows servers should be run and managed. With Windows Server 2012, server management moves off of the desktop and away from the GUI into the command line. At the same time, there’s a corresponding move from single server management to managing all of your servers as a whole.

Server Core Is the New Default

The first change that really signifies Microsoft’s new attitude toward server management is the fact that the default installation type for Windows Server 8 will be in the Server Core mode. The advantages to Server Core and headless server management include less patching and improved security, thanks to a reduced footprint and code base.

Server Core has been available since Windows Server 2008. However, to date, it has never caught on. With the current release of Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2, Server Core is just too difficult to manage. I only too clearly remember attempting to set up a Hyper-V Server Core system only to find out I needed to go through 27 (I am not kidding) manual configuration steps, and then, in the end, it still didn’t work right. I wound up reinstalling the server using the full installation just to get on with things.

Microsoft revamped both the remote management in Windows Server 2012 as well as how Windows Server can switch between the Server Core installation and the full GUI. Windows Server 2012 remote management won’t rely on DCOM as Windows Server 2008 did. But, more importantly, the GUI itself will be a feature that can be installed and uninstalled.

This approach will allow you to install a server and initially configure it using the GUI and then pull the GUI off before commencing day-to-day operations. There’s no need to reinstall the OS like there is today. On a side note, SQL Server, another important Windows infrastructure technology, will also be supported under Server Core.

Multi-Server Management Is Built In

Windows Server 2008 R2 and earlier releases all focus on single system management. The Windows Server management tools had, of course, evolved and the Server Manager tool in Windows Server 2008 is far better than any of the previous versions. However, while the current Server Manager provides a useful and practical management dashboard, the tool is primarily oriented toward managing the local server.

Windows Server 2012 takes these practical task-oriented tools in Server Manager and extends their reach out to all the networked servers in your organization. The new Windows Server 2012 Server Manager enables you to create groups of multiple servers, and the actions available in the Server Manager can be applied to all the servers from a single management dashboard.

In addition, you can connect to remote servers and drill down into their management details much like managing local servers today. Remote multi-server management becomes especially important when servers in the enterprise are running headless with no local graphical management interface.

PowerShell Will Be the New Management Standard

True headless Windows servers and multi-server management are sure to be welcomed with open arms. However, PowerShell will definitely be a tougher sell to administrators. While Microsoft has most definitely lined up behind PowerShell, most administrators have not.

Microsoft has been gradually building PowerShell management into all of its server products. PowerShell is powerful but it is also complex. Perhaps more importantly, in the case of Windows Server management, PowerShell has also always been limited. Currently, there are too many cases where you need to drop back to Windows Command Shell, netsh, or VBScript and WMI to get things done.

With Windows Server 2012 Microsoft has really addressed the breadth of tasks that PowerShell can tackle. Probably the most notable change is the fact that Microsoft has increased the number of built-in cmdlets from about 200 to about 2300. The Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE) has also been enhanced. For Windows administrators, this is definitely a heads-up that it’s time to learn more about Windows management using PowerShell.

Managing Servers as Infrastructure

With Windows Server 2012, Microsoft really has moved server management off of the desktop and into the infrastructure where servers will be managed as servers. I, for one, am definitely convinced that this is the right direction—particularly when you see servers as background infrastructure components that are providing services to a dynamic IT infrastructure and to the private cloud.