A stunning array of new end-to-end capabilities, across the board
Last week, about 35 journalists (including my colleagues Paul Thurrott, Jeff James, and Mike Otey) trooped into a conference room in Building 43 on the Microsoft campus, signed NDAs, and were reminded forcefully of the consequences of any leaks. We then spent the next two days being stunned by the new capabilities of Windows Server 8 as architect after general manager after program manager showed off a mere fraction of the more than 300 new features that are forthcoming in this new OS version.
And the new features they showed us in this pre-beta version aren’t just small features, either. Windows Server 8 architect Jeffrey Snover introduced PowerShell version 3, which has exploded from 300 cmdlets to more than 2,300 and is one of the core management engines of the OS. Jeff Woolsey, Principal Program Manager Lead for Windows Virtualization, spent two full hours at breakneck speed, having his team demo just the most significant new Hyper-V capabilities. Sandeep Singhal, general manager of the Windows Networking group, had his team members demonstrate new feature after new feature until we were feature-numb. There was literally a line of product managers, all wearing sky-blue Reviewer's Workshop polos, on deck in the back of the room, who would come up to the podium, demo, then exit out a side door by the podium.
There are several prevalent themes to Windows Server 8. The most significant theme, in my opinion, is that it’s a "cloud-enabled OS." What Microsoft means by this is that the OS needs to scale up, out and in (e.g,. consolidation) to an unprecedented degree. The OS has to “just work” – by supporting standards and having some degree of self-repair. (A great quote from Jeffrey: “You’re the computer; YOU figure it out.”) Continuous availability is critical, leading to advances in fault tolerance so that very few issues must be attacked immediately. Management of a cloud-enabled OS must be able to view and correct multiple technologies across multiple machines with a single dashboard, and Server Manager has been considerably enhanced to handle this task. Another result of this is a great increase in the abstraction of physical resources. Everything that still had a direct association with the real world – disk and network in particular - can now be abstracted away from users and applications within the OS itself. For example, the new Storage Spaces takes commodity SATA, SAS, and JBOD arrays and puts them into resilient storage pools that can be allocated as thinly-provisioned (i.e., don’t consume actual blocks until needed) disks to the rest of the OS.
I think we were all most impressed with the advances made for Hyper-V, particularly for VM mobility. Ben Armstrong demonstrated SNO (Shared Nothing) Live Migration of a VM between two unclustered Hyper-V hosts with only direct-attached storage using only a crossover cable - no expensive shared storage required. Live Migration can now migrate as many VMs simultaneously as your hardware can support - no limitations. Hyper-V now has Live Storage Migration to move VHDs - no interruption in service. It has Hyper-V Replica, a simple yet powerful replication of VMs between local or remote Hyper-V hosts, which Woolsey described as "disaster recovery for everyone." How about Fibre Channel support for VMs? Done. How about removal of essentially all practical Hyper-V maximums, with Windows Server 8 Hyper-V hosts supporting up to 21TB of RAM and up to 160 logical processors and VMs supporting up to 32 virtual processors and 512GB of memory? Done. Bitlocker-encrypted clusters. Offloaded data transfer (ODX) to reduce VM migration between cluster nodes to seconds. Woolsey ran out of time before he ran out of features.