Windows Server 2012 R2 is a comprehensive refresh of Microsoft's server platform, with advances in storage, networking, Hyper-V and across the board, according to the firm.
However, some features stand out as "game changing", according to Jeff Woolsey, principal programme manager for Windows Server Virtualisation. These include storage tiering in software, and a multi-tenant gateway to support software defined networking (SDN) in cloud deployments.
Storage tiering is an update to the Storage Spaces feature of Windows Server 2012. It creates a pool of storage from a bunch of disks directly attached to the server, with thin provisioning and resiliency provided by the file system.
In the upcoming R2 release, customers can now tier that storage using a combination of SSD and spinning disks, delivering a dramatic boost in I/O performance.
"We're taking mainstream SSDs, applying them to hard disks, and giving you phenomenal performance," Woolsey told V3.
In a demo at the TechEd conference, Woolsey showed how server with just spinning disks achieved 7400 input/output operations per second (IOPS). The same task with four SSDs added for tiering delivered 124,000 IOPs – a 16x performance improvement.
"Now you can set up a scale-out file server with JBOD storage and JBOD SSD, and deliver the same performance, resilience and fault-tolerance as a SAN at a fraction of the cost," Woolsey said.
R2 also supports deduplication for active virtual machines, which will enable customers to slash the costs of storage to support virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) deployments.
"This has been one of the blockers to VDI – when customers actually see the cost of the storage to implement it, it just doesn't make business sense," said Woolsey.
While the dedupe is processed in software, it does not significantly affect performance, he said, as "servers are never compute bound, as most of the time they are waiting around for I/O and storage."
Meanwhile, the multi-tenant gateway extends the network virtualisation features introduced in Window Server 2012 to allow service providers to better support multiple customers in their cloud infrastructure.
"Customers want to be able to bring their network to that cloud, and to do that you need a gateway. Today, there some hardware gateways, but you have to buy the right one, and so we just provide that in software under R2," Woolsey said.
System Center is the control plane to create and manage network virtualisation and the data plane lives in Windows Server, he explained. The R2 release also extends Microsoft's PowerShell automation framework, turning it into a "fundamental building block for operating the cloud", according to Woolsey.
"If you are an IT pro, you have to have PowerShell on your resume today. You have to," he said.
Windows Server 2012 R2 will be available as a preview release later this month and set to ship commercially later this year.
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