Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials – What’s New

In this R2 wave of Windows Server products, Microsoft is taking the time to update its “first server” version, Windows Server 2012 Essentials.

The Essentials SKU historically has been intended to be the entry level server for a small or midsize business. With Essentials R2, Microsoft is extending this feature set into the enterprise. Because the Essentials feature set is now an available role in the Standard and Datacenter editions of Windows Server 2012 R2, companies with more than 25 users can backup their PCs, seamless integrate with cloud services or on-premise Exchange servers, and provide remote access to company data.

Besides the Essentials features now being available as a role, there are number of additional new features.

  • Full PC Restore over the network is now supported
  • Mobile Devices can be managed in the dashboard using Exchange ActiveSync
  • Quotas can be set on shared folders in the dashboard
  • The client connector can trigger a VPN connection so clients can always be connected to the network
  • Now supported as a member server in a domain
  • Health monitoring and reporting is now built-in
  • Remote Web Access theme now follows in the style of SkyDrive

What I like about this release is that its the small things that really make it all come together. There is now an option in configuring the remote access website to allow direct RDP access to the server or only access to the dashboard. PXE boot restores of client computers is awesome and is something I’ve been asking for since the Windows Home Server days. The dashboard now lets customers integrate with Office 365, Windows Intune, and Windows Azure Backup. BranchCache is now supported as well. If a company has multiple servers, the connector will now let users switch between them.

These are just a few of the many examples of what Microsoft has brought to the R2 release of Windows Server 2012 Essentials. Over the next few days and weeks I’ll be posting some tours of the new functionality.

Windows Server and System Center: Designed with You in Mind

If you’ve been keeping up with Microsoft related news, you’ve probably heard that Microsoft announced new features in Windows Azure, announced Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2, and SQL Server 2014. For many of these products, they are here less than a year after their predecessors. This is a huge accomplishment for Microsoft.

According to a blog post published by Brad Anderson, Corporate Vice President for Windows Server and System Center, Microsoft is able to do this because they are building for the cloud first.

By building for the cloud first, Microsoft says that they are able to do couple things:

  • Battle harden what is built. By deploying in Windows Azure first, Microsoft can ensure that they are delivering a solid product both in the cloud and on-premise.
  • Unify the planning and delivery across multiple products. With this wave of releases, Microsoft has brought together Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2, Windows Azure, and Windows Intune.

What this means for you as a Microsoft customer is that scenarios are being designed for better integration end-to-end, using real world feedback from people like you and I, and validated in the Windows Azure cloud.

It’s an exciting and interesting time for both Microsoft and its customers. I’m encouraged by the products I’m seeing and the scenarios that are being unlocked.

Hands-On Labs at TechEd 2011 | How does it all work?

This week at TechEd 2011, an attendee favorite are the Hands-On Labs. I met with the good guys from XB Velocity to get a behind the scenes look at how everything works.

At the highest level, the labs are stored in an on-site private cloud and then accessed through Internet Explorer on each PC in the lab. Lets dive in and look at things at a deeper level.

What’s the hardware involved?

What’s in each blade?

  • 2 physical processors each with 6 cores (Intel Xeon X5670, 2.93 GHz, with Hyper-Threading)
  • 128GB of RAM
  • 2 146GB hard drives
  • 1 320 GB HP IO Accelerator Card, powered by Fusion IO (provides 150,000 IOPS, Read speed 750MB/s | Write speed 550MB/s)
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter SP1 w/ HyperV

How’s the infrastructure managed?

  • System Center Configuration Manager 2007 R2 – Used for reporting and deploying updates to lab clients
  • System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2 – Used to monitor all servers involved
  • System Center Service Manager 2010 – Used to run help desk and provide incident routing during the show
  • System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012 Beta – Used for monitoring lab VMs and managing  / monitoring infrastructure VMs

The Nitty Gritty:

The hands on labs this year are all running on a private cloud setup using the aforementioned hardware and software. This private cloud serves 350 users located in the lab area. All of the base lab VHDs (Virtual Hard Disks) are stored on the SAN, and differencing disks that point to these base VHDs are stored on each blade’s IO Accelerator card. When someone wants to start a lab, a copy of the virtual machine (already in a saved state for quick starts) is made, pointed to a differencing disk on the IO Accelerator, and the VM is then turned on and available to the end user.  By doing it the this way, the labs are able to be run at optimal speed and there is little risk of any damage to the Base VHDs stored on the SAN. For better memory management within the VMs, Dynamic Memory is enabled to allow the VMs to take more RAM if they need it, and to give up RAM they don’t need.

End-User Experience:

When the user sits down in front of a lab station they are presented with a list of categories and labs to choose from. When they find the lab they click the Take Lab Now button and that begins the backend VM creation and startup process. Once the VMs have launched, another window opens on the second screen with the lab manual. If there are multiple VMs involved, there is tabbed navigation between each of the lab’s VMs. After the user finishes the labs, the VMs are shut down and then destroyed, or if a user leaves without ending their session, the system will automatically destroy the VMs after 40 minutes of inactivity. I’ve included some screenshots and photos of the setup below.

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The Serverquarium at TechEd 2011                          Lab menu on left, lab manual appears on right

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Running lab at TechEd 2011                        Screenshot of the Lab selection menu

 

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Screenshot of running lab showing multiple VMs                          Hands-on Lab Private Cloud

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Inside of one of the blades                                       320GB HP IO Accelerator Card

Blade Enclosure SCVMM2012(beta)

SCOM diagram of BladeCenter enclosure              Hyper-V performance metrics

HP IO card perfmon mosaic

HP IO Accelerator Card Performance                  Mosaic showing all running VMs in HOL area

Windows Intune–What is it and why should you care?

One of the major focuses this week at TechEd and for Microsoft in general is cloud computing and cloud based services. One of the services getting some real love this week is Windows Intune. In this post I’ll be introducing the Intune service and explaining how it can benefit you.

Windows Intune is a service that provides security and management capabilities through the cloud and a web-based management console. With Intune, you get malware protection, policy management, system health alerting and more.

Key Features:

  • Centrally manage deployment of Microsoft updates
  • Malware protection using the same engine as Forefront Endpoint Protection
  • Provide Remote Assistance to your users from anywhere
  • Track PCs and track software license usage
  • Centrally manage firewall and malware settings for PCs connected to the service

I’ve just started using the service today, but what I like I about it is the usability. Unlike deploying Windows Server Update Services, Forefront Endpoint Protection and System Center Operations Manager locally to achieve the same integration, managing Windows Intune is a breeze. Most of the hard stuff is done for you, freeing you up to take care of what matters the most.

Installation of the Intune client is a breeze. One click to download a ZIP file that has the executable and necessary files to associate the client, and then installation takes place seamlessly and silently.

Windows Intune supports Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate SKUs and is reasonably priced at $11 per device per month.

TechEd North America 2011–What’s been announced on Day 1?

Here’s the no frills quick and dirty run down on some of what was announced today at TechEd 2011.

Windows Azure:

  • New May CTP of Windows Azure AppFabric with new messaging capabilities for publication and subscription. Available today.
  • Coming in June, a CTP of AppFabric Application Manager and Developer Tools with enhancements to Visual Studio, new runtime capabilities for automatic deployment and application monitoring, and a new AppFabric Composition Model. Expected availability in June.
  • Coming later this summer to SQL Azure, an enhancements to the web based management portal, better schema management, new service to manage SQL Azure databases through OData, and the integration of import and export features in the management portal. Features coming in a service update later this summer.

System Center:

  • Demoed System Center ‘Concero’ during keynote for managing private cloud resources and public cloud resources.
  • System Center Orchestrator 2012 (Formerly Opalis) an IT process automation platform for orchestrating workflows across systems. Expected availability – Beta in June 2011
  • Demoed System Center Connector for Visual Studio to quickly escalate issues to engineering teams for review and fixes if necessary. In beta today, final release date not yet known.

Forefront:

  • Forefront Endpoint Protection 2012 announced today, built on System Center Configuration Manager, and designed to allow IT to use existing infrastructure to deploy and manage endpoints in their networks. In beta today, final release date not yet known.

Windows Phone 7:

  • Lync 2010 for Windows Phone was shown off and will be available on the Windows Phone Marketplace around the time Mango is released.
  • Out of box support in Mango for Office 365
  • Conversation view, information rights management, pinnable email folders, complex password support and server side search for Outlook Mobile.
  • All features coming with Windows Phone “Mango” around Holiday 2011

Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010:

  • Service Pack 1 for both Office and Sharepoint 2010 will be released in June, with improved Internet Explorer 9 functionality, improvements to Office Web Apps, support for Google Chrome, and updates for other products in the Office 2010 family. Service Pack 1 will be released June 2011.

Tech-Ed North America 2011: Day 0 – Recap

After following the very poor directions given to me about finding the shuttle to bring me to the hotel, and being lied to and ripped off for 20 bucks (yes, I’m bitter.), I made it to my hotel, the Marriott Marquis in Downtown Atlanta. Check in was fairly effortless, and I’ve got a very nice room on an upper floor of the hotel with a great view of the city. For the week, Microsoft has invested in custom room keys, sponsored by Windows Intune, with an attached map of the downtown area.

After getting settled in my room, I met up with Randy Guthrie, Academic Developer Evangelist and some Imagine Cup USA Finals winners as well as other invited students, and had a quick bite to eat while waiting for everyone to arrive. Once everyone arrived, we made the 15 minute walk over to the Georgia World Congress Center, and along the way passed by CNN Center, World of Coca-Cola, and the Phillips Arena. While at the GWCC, took a quick walking tour of where keynote would be, the exhibit hall, bloggers lounge, etc. After the tour was over, we went out to dinner and then made final arrangements for the morning.

On Day 1 we’ll see announcements from Jason Zander and Robert Wahbe and from what I’m hearing these announcements will be interesting.

Here are some photos from Day 0: