Windows Server and System Center 'Blue': What's inside?

The next versions of Windows Server and System Center, due out later this year, include a number of new features. Here's a look at some of them.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is starting to disclose publicly this week at its TechEd North America conference features that it will be adding to the next versions of its Windows Server and System Center products.


Codenamed "Blue," just like their Windows client and Windows Phone counterparts, the next Windows Server and System Center releases are due to be released before the end of calendar 2013. And like Windows 8.1 "Blue," the next-generation Server and System Center releases include quite a number of new features, giving weight to Microsoft's claims that these are not just service packs.

In the Blue version of Server -- known officially as Windows Server 2012 R2 -- Microsoft is doing a lot of work around its Hyper-V hypervisor, officials said. The updated Hyper-V 2012 R2 will compress virtual machines during live migrations; enable live migration with remote direct memory access (RDMA); support shared VHDX files; automatically rallocate memory between virtual machines running Linux as a guest on Hyper-V hosts; and allow for virtual machine live cloning for troubleshooting.

On the storage front, Windows Server 2012 R2 is going to support storage tiering, which will allow users to pool combinations of SSDs and traditional spinning disks into a single virtual disk. The next server release also will allow for online VHDX resizing, and storage quality of service (QoS) to restrict disk throughput for overactive or disruptive virtual machines (VMs).

Microsoft also is making available a number of new features in the networking arena, many of which the company is positioning as enhancements to its software-defined networking platform and story.

In Microsoft's view, SDN allows admins to take advantage of networking as part of pooled, automated infrastructure. It's basically the networking complement to server virtualization. Microsoft officials began talking up its SDN capabilites when the company introduced Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 Service Pack (SP) 1.

Server 2012 R2 will add support for multitenant, site-to-site VPN gateways; standards-based switch management and forwarding gateway support. It also adds more network-switch management capabilities.

The coming release also will include the 4.0 version of Powershell, which includes a number of new cmdlets that will provide automation for nearly every Windows Server feature. Data deduplication will be able to be performed on open VHD/VHDX files on remote VDI storage. And Workplace Join -- also a new capability in Windows 8.1, which allows users to register their devices for single sign-on and access to corporate data --is part of Server 2012 R2.

Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Aidan Finn has a good write up of many of the key new features coming in Windows Server 2012 R2.

System Center 2012 R2 also adds support for a number of new features, according to Microsoft officials. The coming version supports Dynamic VHDX resizing in System Center Virtual Machine Manager; greater VM density per host with Linux Dynamic Memory support; support for automated Hyper-V cluster upgrades without downtime using live migration; various storage-management updates; expanded on-premises cloud infrastructure health visualization support with Virtual Machine Manager and more.


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