Microsoft's 'Blue' servers: What's coming when

New versions of Microsoft's Windows Server, SQL Server, System Center, Visual Studio and Windows Intune are all on tap, arriving largely by the end of calendar 2013.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft finally peeled back the covers on the server-side products coming as part of the "Blue" wave on the opening day of the annual Microsoft TechEd North America conference.


Microsoft officials went public with details about Windows Server Blue, which is officially christened "Windows Server 2012 R2"; System Center "Blue," which will be called "System Center 2012 R2"; SQL Server Blue, a k a "SQL Server 2014"; and Visual Studio Blue, or "Visual Studio 2013," on June 3 at its show for IT pros and developers in New Orleans. Company officials also said to expect the next version of Microsoft's Windows Intune device management/security service, to roll out concurrently with the rest of the Blue servers.

Microsoft officials said they plan to release public preview versions of all of these products (except for the next release of Windows Intune) around the time of the Build 2013 conference, which is at the end of June 2013. That's the same time that Microsoft also will be releasing the public preview of Windows client Blue, officially known as Windows 8.1.

The final versions of Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2 and Visual Studio 2013 will be out by the end of calendar 2013, officials confirmed today. SQL Server 2014 will be out shortly after these two products, officials said. If Microsoft syncs up the arrival of its Blue servers with Windows Blue, which is highly likely, many of these products could be released to manufacturing by late summer or early fall 2013.

As previous leaks about Windows Server Blue indicated, the next version of Microsoft's Windows Server product will include featues that improve interoperability and integration with Windows Azure, Microsoft's public cloud platform.

Among the new features that will be part of Windows Server 2012 are Windows Azure Active Directory integration; richer Office 365 support for mobile device management and SharePoint Online; some of the features Microsoft delivered for hosters as part of its "Katal" services for Windows Server; and built-in Windows Azure Online backup integration. (The Katal/Windows Azure Services for Windows Server components are being renamed Windows Azure Pack with the coming Windows Server Blue release.)

On the Visual Studio front, Microsoft officials are saying the public preview of Visual Studio 2013 will definitely be released at Build. Meanwhile, many of the new hybrid application lifecycle management (ALM) capabilities that will be incorporated into Visual Studio 2013 will be released to testers today, June 2, via Team Foundation Service.

The specific new TFS features releasing today include:

  • Agile Portfolio Management (enterprise agile project management)
  • Team Room (improved team collaboration)
  • Cloud Load Testing (ensuring quality, performance and scalability of applications)
  • Code Commenting (accelerating team members’ ability to understand and interpret code, find and resolve faults, integrate)
  • Enhanced Web Test Case Management features

In terms of what's new in SQL Server 2014, Microsoft will be building its in-memory database technology, codenamed Hekaton, into the coming release, as company officials disclosed last year. Microsoft also is adding more high-availability "Always On" functionality on top of what it already provided in SQL Server 2012, plus new and additional cloud-backup support to SQL Server 2014.

With the coming releases of  System Center and Intune, Microsoft is working to more tightly integrate Configuration Manager 2012 R2 and Windows Intune so that Intune administration can be done entirely from inside Configuration Manager, officials said. Microsoft already took some steps along this path with the "Wave D" release of Windows Intune, which provided a way for admins to manage devices running Microsoft- and non-Microsoft-developed operating systems.

Update: Microsoft officials have not yet gone public with pricing plans for any of these next-generation releases. I'd assume that users with Software Assurance contracts will get the next releases for free. But it will be interesting to see how and if Microsoft creates new subscription plans, since it is rolling out new versions of its Server products on an approximately annual basis, going forward.

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