New features in Windows Server 2012 R2

by

File Services and Storage
Clustering
Hyper-V

Windows PowerShell
WDS
Directory Services & Security and much more

Microsoft released Windows Server 2012 R2 on us and it is a very exciting release…

Let’s recap for a second here…

Windows Server 2012 has been released at 4 September 2012. This version has brought a whole new Operating System with many new features, enhancements and more. In fact, the changes are so large that many IT Pros are still struggling with learning all those new items within Windows Server.

Enter 18 October 2013. Microsoft releases Windows Server 2012 R2. That’s only a bit over a year later. But instead of being some sort of Service Pack or bug fixes with some a few new features it turns out to be a major upgrade with many new (and requested features) and lots of enhancements to existing features.

The fact that they have released so quickly after the previous version is something new for Microsoft. While it normally took years before a new version is released, Microsoft is now working on a more frequent schedule. We should expect (but this is never confirmed) a new release every 12 to 18 months.

I’m leaving in the middle whether this is workable for many organizations to upgrade that quickly. I’m assuming that many organizations will skip a version from time to time and there is nothing wrong with that. But in the end, organizations will be forced to upgrade faster or they will risk staying behind, being less productive and losing business.

Windows Server 2012 R2 brings a lot of new capabilities to the infrastructure in many different areas. There are new features and enhancements in File Services, Storage, Networking, Clustering, Hyper-V, PowerShell, Windows Deployment Services, Directory Services and Security.

The next part is a high level summary of different features and enhancements. If you want to have more detail, then download the eBook “What's new in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview” .

 

File Services and Storage

Work Folders

One of the newest features is called Work Folders. This technology allows you to make corporate data available to users. Because the device that the user is working on doesn’t have to be domain joined he or she will be able to sync their data to ANY device allowing them to work with whatever device they want. That should stop the Dropbox, SkyDrive, email kind of solutions that end users are using today to get their information on their devices.

SMB

SMB 3.0 was released with Windows Server 2012, in R2 they improved it even more. Better performance of SMB direct, automatic rebalancing of Scale-Out File Server clients, multiple SMB instances on a Scale-Out File Server and more are amongst the improvements. Another great improvement (or better yet, removal) is the fact that you now can uninstall or remove SMB 1.0. So if you don’t have any legacy clients left (XP, Windows Server 2003) then you can remove it so you need less patching.

DFS Namespace and DFS Replication

This is one of these features where many IT administrators have a hate/love relationship with. Luckily, in R2 a huge amount of improvements have been implemented to make our life much easier.

Recovery for database corruption, database cloning for initial synchronization, unexpected shutdown database recovery are among those improvements that are welcomed a lot. And there are quite some more.

One of the new features that I personally like is that you now have the possibility to recover files that are in the hidden DFSR private folders (ConflictAndDeleted andPreExisting folders) by using the Get-DfsPreservedFiles and Restore-DfsrPreservedFiles cmdlets.

iSCSI Target Server

iSCSI Target Server allows Windows Server to host block storage remotely. The cool thing about this is that it leverages the Ethernet network and doesn’t require additional or specialized hardware. A few of the improvements are that it now supports SMI-S which means Virtual Machine Manager Administrators will be able to leverage this. The most important improvement however is that iSCSI Target data persistence layer is redesigned and is now based on the VHDX format.

Storage Spaces

Storage Spaces is one of these technologies that allow smaller shops to have shared storage without the need of purchasing an expensive Storage Area Network. In fact, with the right hardware you can even have the same or better performance with Storage Spaces. In R2, Storage Spaces has been extended with some features to make it feature-par with high-end Storage Area Networks (SANs). Features like Tiered Storage spaces, write-back caching and Flexible resiliency options are now introduced and improve this great feature even further

Data Deduplication

Data Deduplication is now a supported solution for your VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) environments.

This means that it is now supported on CSVs (Cluster Shared Volumes) and that it works on open files. There is also a great improvement on optimization performance and read/write performance. And last but not least; due to the way the data deduplication cache works you will notice a HUGE performance improvement by using data deduplication so it is a win-win situation.

 

Networking

DHCP

A few changes to the DHCP stack such as DNS registration enhancements (through extended DHCP policies) and the possibility to register resource records of DHCP clients with the DNS server to avoid failures from PTR (Pointer) resource records when there is not a reverse lookup zone.

DNS

In Windows Server 2012 there are already statistics available when you use the Get-DnsServerStatistics cmdlets. In R2 this is enhanced with ZoneQueryStatistics, Zonestransferstatistics, ZoneUpdateStatistics. The DNSSEC (Domain Name System Security Extensions) support is also improved to ensure that DNS responses are authentic.

IPAM

IPAM (IP Address Management) has been significantly improved, as it is a popular feature in Windows Server 2012 but not easy to install and configure. Those items have been addressed and now you can place your data in a SQL server database, you can define security with role based access control and you can manage virtual address spaces now.

Hyper-V Virtual Switch

With the introduction of the Hyper-V Virtual Switch in Windows Server 2012, Microsoft made an important step towards better networking in private, hybrid and cloud environments. The R2 version includes new features for manageability, security, isolation, visibility and scalability such as the possibility to specify port numbers for creating rules, third-party forwarding extensions working together with NVGRE, vRSS (Virtual Receive Side Scaling) and better network tracing.

Windows Server Gateway

The Windows Server Gateway is a Virtual Machine software router (template) that allows network traffic routing between virtual and physical networks, including the internet. Something very handy in your efforts to build private and hybrid clouds.

Clustering

Quite some changes on the Clustering front. Automatic Virtual Machine drain on shutdown even if you are forgotten to place the node in maintenance mode. Lots of CSV improvements such as the possibility to allocate more cache, data deduplication and ReFS support and more. There is also new health detection mechanisms including the virtual machine network health detection. A lot of improvements to the quorum and last but not least there is a cluster dashboard now that will help you managing your clusters better.

Hyper-V

Hyper-V version 3 is a huge improvement compared to the previous versions. But Windows Server 2012 R2 brings a lot more new functionality and improvements to the table. The possibility to share a virtual disk (VHDX) between multiple virtual machines so that you can build a Hyper-V guest failover cluster is one of those.

You can now also resize virtual disks without shutting down the Virtual Machine. This has some prerequisites such as connected to a SCSI controller and the format must be VHDX. Storage Quality of Service (Storage QoS) is a feature that allows you to put a maximum IOPS on a virtual disk. This should give you more flexibility in right-sizing your environment.

Another new feature is a generation 2 virtual machine. This is a virtual machine where most of the emulated devices are gone and where you have a UEFI firmware instead of BIOS based firmware. There are also enhancements to Hyper-R replica (extended replication, different frequency), better Linux support (including dynamic memory for supported Linux distro’s) and much more.

Remote Desktop Services

In Windows Server 2012 R2 there are a lot of new things in Remote Desktop Services. Session shadowing is now included. RemoteApp client behavior is much more the same then a local installed application. Transparency support, live thumbnails and seamless application moves are now part of that client.

There is now Quick Reconnect included in Remote Desktop clients and a huge amount of effort is placed in improving compression and bandwidth usage so that end-users have more fluent applications. Dynamic display handling, automatic recognition of an added monitor or project and support for DX11.1 are also included.

PowerShell

With Windows Server 2012 R2 comes PowerShell 4.0. Besides the usual bug fixes, new cmdlets and so on there are some other major enhancements also.

One of the new features is called Desired State Configuration (DSC) which is a management system that enables the deployment and management of configuration data or software services and the environment in which these services run.

Another new features is called the Save-Help cmdlets which allows you to download the PowerShell cmdlets from a remote computer with internet access (even if the remote computer does not have the specific modules installed) and then copy those help files to the server or workstation that doesn’t have internet connection. Debugging has also enhanced and now you are allowed to debug a remote PowerShell workflow or script and even when the remote session disconnects and you reconnect then the debugging session will be preserved.

Probably this Whitepaper: “Managing Hyper-V with Windows PowerShell” might be useful to read and learn.

Windows Deployment Services

There hasn’t changed anything to the Windows Deployment Services except that it is now fully PowerShell supported. This is great if you want to build more automation in your deployments.

Directory Services & Security

Single Sign-On (SSO) is nothing new for domain-joined computers, in Windows Server 2012 R2 this technique has been brought to workplace joined devices also.

But there is much more. Today we can use techniques such as VPN, Direct Access, Remote Desktop Gateways and more to allow our users to connect to their data and applications. In R2 a new technology called Web Application Proxy role service is introduced to allow you to publish Line-of-Business web applications so that they can be accessed from outside of the corporate network.

And there is a lot more. Multi-Factor authentication is easier to implement and now supports a plug-in model. You can now use Multi-Factor access control policies based on various (and multiple) criteria. And there a lot of enhancements and improvements to BitLocker, TPM, TLS/SSL and more. Maybe the last one, from now on, when you install Windows Server 2012 R2 in core mode, Windows Defender will be automatically available and enabled.

Conclusion

I only touched a few of the enhancements / improvements in Windows Server 2012 R2 but it should give you an idea of what a major release this actually is.

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About the author
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Mike Resseler is a Product Strategy Specialist for Veeam. Mike is focused on technologies around Hyper-V and System Center. With years of experience in the field he presents on many occasions on large events such as MMS, TechEd and TechDays. Mike has been an awarded the MVP for System Center Cloud and Datacenter Management since 2010. His major hobby is discussing and developing solid Disaster Recovery scenarios. Additionally, he has enterprise-class experience in Private Cloud architecture, deployment with marked focus on protection from the bottom to the top. He holds certifications in many Microsoft Technologies such as MCITP.
Follow Mike on @MikeResseler or @Veeam and on Google+.