Windows 8 Server preview arrives for developers

Microsoft has released a pre-beta version of the forthcoming server update to give developers a look at its Metro interface, virtualisation tweaks and self-service tools
Written by Simon Bisson, Contributor

Microsoft has released a developer preview of its Windows 8 Server operating system, which aims to help businesses optimise their IT for the cloud.

Windows 8 Metro UI

Microsoft has released a pre-beta version of Windows 8 Server, providing developers with a look at the Metro interface also used in the desktop OS (pictured). Photo credit: Microsoft

The developer release, unveiled on Wednesday at Microsoft's Build conference in Los Angeles, is pre-beta software intended for developers and independent software vendors. The cloud-focused final release will help companies create a dynamic and scalable infrastructure with self-service tools, while tackling issues such as virtual machine sprawl, according to the software maker.

Windows 8 Server is Microsoft's response to "an interesting period of server innovation, where cloud is a tectonic shift reshaping technology and the industry", said Bill Laing, head of the company's server and cloud division.

Microsoft is targeting Windows 8 Server at businesses building private clouds, as well as using public hosted services. Laing suggested the company took lessons from its Azure public cloud services to improve the operating system, which follows on from Windows Server 2008 R2.

"If you don't run a public cloud, you won't deliver back into the products," he said.

Metro UI

In the updated OS, a new system management user interface (UI) takes cues from the Metro UI used on the Windows 8 touch desktop operating system and on Windows Phone handsets. Dashboard tiles use colour cues to quickly show server state, while also giving administrators tools to manage multiple servers at the same time, both locally and remote.

The interface harnesses "the power of many servers and the simplicity of one, enabling a modern work style, supporting a remote work force", Laing said.

One of the biggest changes in the update is the relegation of a graphical user interface to an optional extra, with the UI-less Server Core as the preferred installation. It also now has over 2,300 PowerShell commands, so that admins have command-line tools that can manage all of Windows 8 Server's features, whether they are working locally or over a remote connection.

It also provides a new version of Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualisation technology, along with support for virtualised storage and networking. The new hypervisor removes many of the limitations associated with previous versions, and is able to support very large servers with large amounts of memory, the company said.

New features

Tools for handling disaster recovery and server duplication and deployment are included, along with revamped storage tools that allow the use of low-cost commodity hardware to build pooled and managed storage fabrics. Other new features include dynamic access control tools designed to simplify the process of protecting data, by using document tags to automatically apply security policies.

According to Laing, the updated OS has "more than 300 new features for businesses of all sizes". While Microsoft has not laid out a release schedule, the general manager of Windows 8 Server, Mike Neil, discussed the company's thinking with ZDNet UK at a workshop in Redmond before the Build conference.

"I have no fixed RTM [release to manufacturing] date at this point in time," Neil said. "You can look back [at previous OS releases] and see that the time between beta and RTM has been pretty consistent. But we're also looking at things like ecosystem readiness, to see if the partners are ready for release.

"We have all these great features — I would trade any of them for a good, stable release," he added. "A lot we do is in common with the client [OS], and we are more tightly coupled. We don't have to ship on the same date, but there are advantages".

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