Windows Server 2012 – Overview

Certifications

As is the case with many network engineers, I began my IT career, many moons ago, as a systems administrator. More specifically, I was a Microsoft Engineer. Over the years, I have worked on every Microsoft OS from the early MS-DOS days through to Windows Server 2008 R2. I was proud to attain the MCSE certification on the 2003 track and upgraded to the MCITP Server and Enterprise Administrator certifications on the 2008 track. I still hold the MCSE in higher regard than either of my MCITPs and I think that seems to be the general feeling in the industry.

Microsoft themselves seem to feel them same way too, as they’ve reverted their certification paths back to the classic MCSA\MCSE naming convention, although they now have slightly different meanings:

  • Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator is now Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate
  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer is now Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert

When Microsoft made this move, they were kind enough to also give me a free MCSA2008 certification based on my previous achievements on the 2008 track. Fair enough, although it didn’t make any difference until the new 2012 certification path became available. At that point, I was then able to do the 70-417 upgrade exam which covers topics from three other exams to become a MCSA2012.

I’m a full time network engineer now but after having put 10+ years of my career in to Microsoft, I think the investment of time to keep my MS certs up to date is well worth it. On top of that and perhaps more importantly, I am not a fan of working in silos and if I can complete a task without having to hand part of it off to another engineer, then all the better. Will I always update my Microsoft certifications? Probably not. I still feel I’m in a transition period from sysadmin to netadmin to some degree but once I feel my network experience has caught up to the level I was on as a sysadmin, I probably won’t have the desire so much to keep my MS certs up to date.

The new certifications offers both a server track and a desktop track. I’ve not done desktop support for many years (other than being the permanent personal helpdesk of my family and friends), so that track does not appeal to me one bit. Right, that’s enough of the certifications, let me quickly review the OS itself.

Operating System

When I first installed Server 2012 on bare metal, I was incredibly impressed with the speed it took to give me a desktop, approximately 15-20 minutes. What impressed me less was the desktop itself. Yes, I know I need to start embracing this at some point but I’m not a fan of the new desktop style that Server 2012 and Windows 8 has adopted. The good news is that in a production environment, I would opt for a core installation of 2012 wherever possible i.e. without a desktop GUI. I have also installed Server 2012 on my laptop in VMware Workstation 9 using an ISO on a network share (100Mb\s link) and it installed in under 45 minutes which is also impressive.

Below are some of the points that have attracted my attention:

  • NIC teaming is now built in to the OS. This allows for active\active or active\passive depending on your requirements. I’m looking forward to putting this in to action to see how stable it is and what the performance is like
  • DCPROMO is dead, long live Powershell. The promotion is all done by Powershell 3 now. As a massive Powershell fan (it saved me countless hours when working with Exchange 2007\2010), this is a welcome change. Powershell will only become more prevalent in future. If you work with Windows, you are doing yourself a huge disservice by not becoming proficient in Powershell. To be honest, DCPROMO is really only deprecated and can still be used to perform an installation using an answer file, but its on it’s last leg
  • There is an increasing emphasis on virtualisation as you would expect. One nice feature is that you can add or remove roles and features from an offline 2012 VHD file. Hyper-V has been improved considerably too with some nice features such as replicas, allowing you to provide business continuity. Deploying VM clones of domain controllers quickly without the mess of name\SID duplication looks like a nice touch too
  • Remote management has been taken to the next level. You can add or remove any roles\features on a remote server
  • No steps taken to remove legacy requirements e.g. NetBIOS\WINS, PDC emulator. Please, oh please sort this out. Let the dinosaurs die out
  • Small Business Server is dead but seems to have been replaced by the Essentials SKU. In a previous life, I used to work on SBS a fair amount and, in the right environment, it works very well. I’d be interested to know what improvements\differences that Essentials brings to the table
  • Data deduplication – oh yes! Storage may be cheaper than ever before but storage requirements by both users and applications have never been greater. This feature should help balance these two factors

Summary

There are loads of other new features and improvements for existing ones as well as many more things that have finally been deprecated but the list above is a quick review of those things that rang a bell with me. Overall, I’m impressed with the evolution that Windows Server 2012 has taken. It’s a lot more snapier, thanks to being leaner and smarter coding. It will only be a matter of time before I start looking at the pre-2012 GUIs and tutting, thinking how outdated they are!

So now all that remains is for me to keep delving deeper in to the OS, read up some more on the capabilities and do the CBTNugget videos that are available to date (just 10 from 20 as I type) and see if I can pass the exam in time for Xmas.

Till the next time…

Please let me know your thoughts!