I've spent the past few weeks presenting Windows Server 2012 community roadshows, a project sponsored by Microsoft where MVPs provide an overview to local IT professionals of the updated operating system's many new and enhanced features. It's been an interesting time presenting the product for people who work with different parts of the technologies, in a wide variety of company sizes and industries. Without exception, everyone I've gotten feedback from has gone into the seminar skeptical and come away impressed.

A conversation I had with a consultant colleague of mine sums up the reasons people are excited about Server 2012. My friend hadn't been paying much attention to the server OS and asked me to tell him the top three features. I recognized his approach to considering a new OS as I'd used it in the past; historically with OS upgrades, there were usually just a few big features that made it to the top of one's "must have" list. In the case of Windows Server 2012, three just wasn't enough. I had to limit myself to a top ten:

  1. Hyper-V Shared Nothing Live Migration. Allows you to move a VM from one Hyper-V host to another, without any common shared storage such as a SAN to hold the virtual hard disk, as long as there's an Ethernet connection between them. This is an industry first.
  2. Hyper-V network virtualization. Greases the skids for VM movement between hosts on different subnets or even service providers because you no longer have to re-address the VMs every time you move them.
  3. Storage Spaces. Storage virtualization that allows you to use a wide variety of low-cost disks configured in flexible storage pools that all server components take advantage of.
  4. Hyper-V Server 2012. The free version of Microsoft's hypervisor, which has every capability of the full product but Windows Server licensing. It makes a perfect Linux or VDI host OS, and far outstrips its free VMware competitor in both features and capacity.
  5. Hyper-V Replica. Allows you to easily provide disaster recovery for a VM by loosely replicating it to another host in the next rack—or the next state—with no extra hardware.
  6. Virtualization-safe and more easily deployed Active Directory. Unlike previous OS versions, you can’t damage a virtualized AD by performing improper operations on it. This new capability also allows you to safely clone new domain controllers from existing ones.
  7. IP address management (IPAM). A long-overdue IPv4 and IPv6 address space manager with more than 40 features that also manages all your DHCP servers from one console. It's an in-the-box alternative to address management products that cost five and six figures.
  8. Server Message Block (SMB) changes. Huge advances in the SMB protocol that provide the ability to use Windows file servers in ways you would never consider before, such as high-performing, fault tolerant remote storage for Hyper-V, VMware, or SQL Server.
  9. High availability DHCP. Finally! Available right out of the box.
  10. Dynamic Access Control. Provides a new degree of control over file server data partly thanks to the new support of claims in Active Directory.

A lot of IT pros who attended the workshops wanted to know which of these features would be in different versions of the OS. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer. But I suspect by the time you read this we'll all know.

Despite significant new features in previous OS versions, IT pros remain uncomfortable changing their user interface habits. Regardless of Jeffrey Snover's best efforts to convince IT pros of the necessity for PowerShell, I found that less than 10 percent of my audience is using it. I think that most IT pros won’t start using this scripting language until they're backed into a corner and have no choice. But once they learn it, they'll be glad they did, especially with an OS like Windows Server 2012 that allows you to do everything with PowerShell.

Even though these roadshows were at the tip of the Windows Server 2012 local education wave, there's already an unprecedented amount of Microsoft documentation available on Server 2012 features. The "Understanding and Troubleshooting" documents for various roles and features are thorough and detailed, and many virtual labs are available. Also TechEd 2012 deep-dive sessions into many Windows Server 2012 features are available on MSDN Channel 9. Windows IT Pro is also covering Server 2012 announcements and specific features on a regular basis. See the Learning Path for links to specific articles.

I predict that Windows Server 2012 will be the most rapidly adopted OS in Microsoft's history. Even if you aren't looking at building your own private cloud, the OS has such a compelling set of features, for so many scenarios, that it presents a strong business case for a wide range of industries and company sizes. The Hyper-V enhancements, in particular, provide companies the means to safely virtualize their infrastructure with more flexibility at a far lower cost than ever before.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @shorinsean.