Windows Server 8–Installation and First Impressions

The long awaited (at least by this IT guy) public beta for Microsoft’s next generation server operating system, Windows Server “8” was released on Leap Day.  A previous development release was available to MSDN subscribers in September 2011, but this will be the first opportunity for a lot of IT professionals to jump in and take a look.

Downloading

The Windows Server “8” beta can be downloaded from Microsoft’s TechNet site in ISO and VHD format.  A Live ID is required to access the beta downloads.  Like Windows Server 2008 R2, it only comes in a 64-bit edition, so you will need access to 64-bit hardware to try it out.

Installing

Windows Server “8,” like the Windows 8 consumer preview, will run on VMware’s ESXi.  However, before you can install it in ESXi 5, you will need to install patch ESXi500-201112001 from the VMware patch repository.  (You can install the patch by following these directions.)
Once you have the patch installed, you will need to choose either a Windows 7 or a Server 2008 R2 as the operating system type when setting up the VM in ESXi.
If you’ve installed Windows Server or Windows 7 before, you won’t see any major changes or surprises in this installation program.  The same basic graphical installer is used from previous versions of Windows.

User InterfacE

The first thing you’ll notice about Windows Server 8 is that the Server Manager from previous versions of Windows Server has evolved and replaced the old Server Manager console with a new Server Manager dashboard.  This new interface can act as a single pane of glass for managing the local server as well as any remote servers (although older versions of Windows will need to install the Management WTR tool in order to be managed).

The Server Manager Dashboard in Windows Server 8. (Click to enlarge)
The Start Menu on Windows Server 8 uses the Metro Interface that is found on consumer Windows 8 operating system.  While this is a significant change, I find it to be an improvement.  I like it because it allows access to all of the tools for applications on the server without having to dig through various menus to find them.

The Metro-style Start Menu in Windows Server 8.  (Click to Enlarge)
The color scheme on the UI looks to be a pleasant light-blue color.

New Features

According to Microsoft, there are hundreds of new features in Windows Server 8.  Some of these features are listed on the Windows Server 8 Technet page.  A brief summary of some of the more popular features that are found on the Technet page or in the technology press are:

  • Built-in NIC Teaming:  No need to use 3rd-party tools to team network cards.
  • Significant Improvements to Hyper-V:  Storage VMotion Live Migration, multiple migrations at one, using SMB shares for VM storage, and the ability to do live migrations without having to setup a failover cluster.
  • PowerShell 3.0 and PowerShell Intellisense
  • Virtualization-Safe Domain Controllers:  When on supported hypervisors, Domain Controllers will be able to better detect and heal USN Rollback as well as supporting Domain Controller cloning.
  • File Storage Deduplication
  • IP Address Management:  IPAM is now a feature that one can install on Windows Server.
  • AD Recycle Bin GUI:  There is now a graphical interface for the AD Recycle Bin, which makes recovering accidentally deleted objects easier.
  • Server Core GUI:  Server Core is now the default install mode for Windows Server, and it includes an optional GUI that can be toggled off and on as needed.

Conclusion

A few years ago, Server 2008 was a huge (and arguably disruptive) change for Windows Administrators.  Server 8 looks to be a continuation and refinement of those changes while adding several new features to the Windows Server arsenal.

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