The Upper Canada District School Board put the preview version of the operating system through its paces and liked what it saw. Microsoft hopes others do, too

Ontario school board passes WinServer 2012

Public schools weren’t the only institutions that opened their doors Tuesday.

Microsoft Corp. officially released Windows Server 2012 for purchase, and among those cheering was an Eastern Ontario school board.

The Upper Canada District School Board, which spans a region from Ottawa to Kingston, tested the preview version of WinServer12 – particularly its updated hosted branch caching capability for improving Internet access — and gave it good grades.

For Internet access the board links its 89 schools over a wide area network from its Brockville, Ont., data centre. But according to David Myers, the board’s manager of IT systems when thousands of students are online at the same time, the links get saturated.
Using the BranchCache feature – which needs storage running WinSever – there was a considerable reduction in the waiting times for files, Myers said, even during a one-month test in production in June just before the summer break.

BranchCache is part of WinServer 2008, and Myers used it in peer-to-peer mode. But for the WinServer 2012 test, hosted cache mode was used.

“So some of our WAN savings came from using hosted cache mode,” he said, “and part of it came from the performance enhancements in Windows Server 2012.”

That’s the kind of report card Microsoft is counting on to persuade IT managers and CIOs that WinServer12 is worth upgrading to.

Michael Cherry, an industry analyst with Directions on Microsoft, says IT managers should definitely take a look at the new version for a number of reasons.

“This is coming out at the same time as Windows 8 (for desktops), and when you look at it, a lot of the changes look very dramatic. With Windows Server a lot of the changes are much more subtle, but they add up to be a much more powerful server operating system” than the previous version.

These include the changes to Hyper-V hypervisor for controlling virtualization, as well as “a lot of incremental improvements” that make WinServer 2012 a better server operating system than the previous version.

In addition to the technical changes, Microsoft [Nasdaq: MSFT] has also helped CIOs and IT managers by reducing the number of versions of WinServer to two: Standard and Data Center.

That may mean a price saving depending on the version bought, he said.

Windows Server 2012’s feature set is no surprise: It has had, of course, the usual pre-announcements and trial versions available.

Still, that didn’t stop Microsoft officials in a Webcast on Tuesday calling the it “perhaps the biggest release of our server product in our history,” and “our deepest and broadest release ever.”

And to make sure the c-word got in, WinServer 2012 has been dubbed “the cloud operating system,” suggesting it can run from the largest data centres to the smallest business.

Certainly on paper the improved features and capabilities look impressive:

–It can handle 320 logical processors and up to 4 TB of physical memory per server;

–The torqued Hyper-V can handle 8,000 virtual machines per cluster, support 64 virtual CPUs with 1 TB of memory per virtual machine;

–To help enable software-defined networking, WinServer 2012 makes it easier to move a virtual machine across networks, including from an in-house server to a hosted enviromment;

–There are 2,000 new PowerShell “command-lets” (or cmdlets) – up from 230 that shipped with WinServer 2008 — that allow administrators to automate networking, storage, clustering and a number of other functions.

–The Windows Workflow Foundation has been integrated into PowerShell to leverage its scripts to help automate complex operations.
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Upper Canada District School Board’s data centre currently runs WinServer 2008 on 25 physical and 175 VMware-enabled virtual machines.

Myers’ decision to test WinServer 2012 and its branch caching capability came in part through an education alliance agreement the board signed in February with Microsoft Canada. Under the pact – the first in this country — Microsoft provides the board with software and educational resources.

According to Microsoft, BranchCache divides files into small pieces and eliminates duplicates. When identical content exists in a file or files BranchCache stores only one instance. In addition, client computers at remote locations download only one instance of duplicate content, saving additional WAN bandwidth.

Myers said with the successful test of the preview version he’s decided to upgrade all of his servers to the new OS. However, he won’t be converting to Hyper-V. Instead, eventually his virtual machines will be hosted either by a service provider or Microsoft’s Azure service.

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