Microsoft Readies R2 Update For Windows Server 2012
June 17, 2013 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Version changes between operating systems have been getting stretched out across all platforms for the past several years because most of the major OSes have reach a certain level of maturity and customers are loathe to go through qualification processors at a rapid pace for very little change in functionality. And so the industry has split the difference, doing more frequent updates that add functionality without messing with runtimes and therefore application compatibility.
And so it is with Microsoft‘s Windows Server 2012, which had a Release 2 (R2) preview down in New Orleans in early June, showing off some new gizmos to help make the lives of small and midrange businesses easier and also allow them to connect more easily to Big Bill’s Windows Azure public cloud.
Why should IBM i shops care about what Microsoft is doing with Windows Server 2012? Well, for one thing, the latest developments in R2 point to the kind of features that Big Blue should be thinking of adding to IBM i. And moreover, most IBM i shops have one or two Power Systems machines, and anywhere from a half dozen to two dozen X86 servers, and by and large those X86 machines are running Windows.
Windows Server 2012, arguably the best version of Windows that Microsoft has ever put into the field, was only put out last September, so an R2 update coming so fast on its heels for shipment in beta (a tech preview in the Microsoft lingo) by the end of June and for production use before the end of the year, is something new for Microsoft. It is akin to the shift to Technology Refreshes that IBM has cleverly instituted with IBM i 7.1 in the last two years, allowing for support for new hardware and other features to be rolled into IBM i faster and with less disruption than with prior releases or modifications (those are technical terms) to the venerable operating system for the AS/400 and its progeny.
With Windows Server 2012 R2, most of the tweaks are all about making the server OS more like and integrate better with the Windows Azure platform and infrastructure cloud. This includes some pretty big changes in the Hyper-V 3.0 server virtualization hypervisor and a set of tools that make an internal Windows-based private cloud look and feel like the administrative screens that users have when they set up virtual servers on the Windows Azure cloud.
The neat feature in Hyper-V 3.0 R2 is what Microsoft is calling Generation 2 virtual machines, which takes a lot of the hardware that is emulated in the hypervisor (as all hypervisors do) and removes it from the hypervisor and its virtual machines. Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 are both coded to be virtualized and run atop Hyper-V and indeed other hypervisors, and Microsoft is stripping out all of the emulated network, storage, and other devices inside the VM container and letting the 64-bit versions of Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 plug directly into the hypervisor. These Gen2 VMs boot off network adapter cards or virtual SCSI drives and uses the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) that is a new and improved variant of the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) on a server or PC. Basically, the VM talks directly to the BIOS to see what hardware is there, works with the hypervisor to see it, and Windows knows how to talk through these devices through the hypervisor. Windows Server 2008 and 2012, HP-UX, OpenVMS, and MacOS X all know how to speak UEFI. Microsoft has not said what the performance and administration benefits will be for using these Gen2 VMs, but presumably there are some big benefits.
The updated Windows Server 2012 will also sport a freebie option called Windows Azure Pack, which includes the same self-service portal that Azure subscribers have, The pack also includes high-density web serving mechanisms that Microsoft created to put a lot of Web sites onto its Azure cloud atop Windows Server. (Incidentally, all of the Azure cloud is running atop the first release of Windows Server 2012, so Microsoft is eating its own dog food as usual. The Microsofties I talked to down at TechEd didn’t know when Azure would move to Windows Server 2012 R2.) The Windows Azure Pack also has more sophisticated tools for provisioning of hypervisors and virtual machines than is available with the kosher Systems Center 2012 management tool Microsoft has created to manage Windows systems.
Although Microsoft did not confirm this, it is also very likely that Windows Server 2012 R2 also has support for the latest processors coming out of Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. The Opteron X series were just announced a few weeks ago by AMD, and Xeon E5 v3 and Xeon E7 v3 are coming from Intel this summer and fall. Windows Server 2012 does not support Itanium chips, and Windows has not supported MIPS chips in forever; it does run on ARM-based servers, but that could change some day if ARM takes off in the data center as it has in tablets and smartphones.
Neither Microsoft nor IBM talk much about the integration of Windows and IBM i. It seems like a topic of worthy discussion, and I will do a little research and see if there is anything that is being done to better integrate these two platforms with the 2012 and 7.1 cycles.