In the buzz of the next version of Microsoft’s desktop operating system, Windows 8, an important Microsoft release sits in its shadow – Windows Server 2012. Often taken for granted, Windows Server is the keystone to many offices. We’ve had a peek at the release candidate for this new version, which sees a lot of improvements in function and efficiency. On the surface, the most striking difference is the server management interface – but there are are powerful capabilities under the hood.

The desktop environment has been stripped bare. That took some getting used to. In previous versions, the desktop looked much like any other workstation with a few extra options. The new interface has been designed to improve workflow. All dashboard menus are now oriented toward administrative functions. Previously, you had to navigate through the workstation elements to get to the administrative options behind it. My experience with Server 2012 gave the feel of a uniquely tailored environment for servers rather than a workstation with server options shoe-horned in. The server manager has been re-designed to easily find and address problems from all servers within your business. The management dashboard includes the ability to add, authenticate, and manage roles on any number of servers. It displays errors and unstarted services for all servers in a central console, which is a welcome addition.

A larger reason we wanted to take a look at this release candidate is the improved ease of use and configuration of clustered services through Failover Clustering. Failover Clustering adds the ability to have multiple machines working in together to provide high availability for services. Each machine connects to a special storage point that can be viewed and managed from multiple locations. Once a server goes down, another server can pick up where the failed one left off to minimize downtime. Because they share the same storage, there is no syncing or data duplication, and no gap left by one server going offline.

It’s still early days. There were a few bugs we encountered, but that’s the point of release candidates. The wheels are already turning over how we can implement this for different high availability applications.  In the near future, we will deploy a proof-of-concept High-availability system in our datacenter to evaluate advanced features such as iSCSI target failover, Virtual machine fault tolerance, and high-availability file shares.