Microsoft announces Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2 and Windows Azure Pack

During its annual TechEd North America conference held in New Orleans this week Microsoft announced the next versions of Windows Server and System Center until now codenamed "Blue". Both products will have the R2 label. Microsoft also announced SQL Server 2014 and the next version of Windows 8, which will be called Windows 8.1 and that with the release of these products also a new version of Windows Intune can be expected.

Windows Server 2012 R2 provides the following new features, coming from the Windows Server 2012 R2 product overview white paper:

  • Server Virtualization
    • Support for up to 320 logical processors
    • 4TB of physical memory
    • 1,024 VM per host
    • Support for 64-node clusters with 8,000 VMs per cluster
    • Support for 64 TB virtual disk
    • Ability to grow or shrink a VHDX virtual disk while running
    • Live Migration Compression providing compression of the VHD/VHDX file
    • Live Migration with Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) hardware offloading, supporting transfers of up to 56 GB/s
    • Shared VHDX files, either hosted on a scale-out file server cluster or on Cluster-shared Volumes (CSV)
    • Variable replication frequencies and multiple nodes for Hyper-V Replica
    • Full dynamic memory support for Linux guests
    • Announced support for Microsoft Linux Integration Services (LIS) by RHEL, SUSE, CentOS and Ubuntu
  • Storage
    • Storage tiering, allowing low cost, high capacity spinning disks to be used to store less frequently used data, while high-speed solid state disks are reserved to store frequently used data.
    • Ability to store server application data on file shares
    • SMB sessions can now also be managed per share (not just per file server)
    • SMB Scale-out offering finer-grained load distribution by distributing workloads from a single client across many nodes of a scale-out file server.
    • Windows Azure Hyper-V Recovery Manager, enabling the combination of Windows Azure, System Center Virtual Machine Manager, and Hyper-V Replica to deliver planned and cost-effective business continuity of workloads.
    • Storage QoS, allowing for restriction of disk throughput for overactive or disruptive virtual machines and can be configured dynamically while the virtual machine is running.
    • Set of storage management APIs and provider interfaces
  • Networking
    • Automatic rerouting around storage, server, and network failures
    • Multi-tenant VPN gateway, providing a seamless connection over a site-to-site VPN link between multiple external organizations and the resources that those organizations own in a hosted cloud.
    • Standards-based switch configuration, a device management abstraction layer that further reduces the complexity of heterogeneous device management with the goal that devices can be easily managed and configured using standards technologies.
    • NIC Teaming improvements, the load-balancing algorithms have been further enhanced with the goal to better utilize all NICs in the team, significantly improving performance.
    • Support for virtual IP address space management in IP Address Management (IPAM)
    • Resource pools, logical containers that collect the resources of the virtual machines that belong to one client, permitting single-point querying of the client’s overall resource use.
  • Server Management and Automation
    • Provision servers and offline virtual hard disks from your desktop without requiring either physical access to the system or Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) connections to each server.
    • PowerShell 4.0, delivering over 3,000 cmdlets
    • Desired state configuration, providing the ability to help standardize deployments by enabling you to ensure that the components of your datacenter have the correct configuration
  • Web and Application Platform
    • IIS CPU throttling can be used to set the maximum CPU consumption allowed per application pool.
    • Centralized SSL certificate store
    • Support for multiple languages such as .NET, PHP, Node.js and Python
    • Enhanced support for PHP and MySQL, available through Internet Information Services extensions
  • Access and Information Protection
    • Workplace Join where users can register their BYO devices for single sign-on and access to corporate data. A certificate is installed on the device, and a new device object is created in Active Directory.
    • Work Folders, allowing users to synchronize files, originating from corporate file servers to their devices anywhere through a synchronization service.
    • Ability for applications to trigger a VPN connection on the user’s behalf as they are launched.
  • Virtual Desktop Infrastructure
    • RDS support for various lower cost storage options, such as SMB based file shares, or Direct Attached Storage (DAS), in addition to SAN.
    • Storage de-duplication for VDI, supporting live VHDs
    • RemoteFX over WAN, enabling automatic choice of TCP or security-enhanced UDP transport, and it detects and tunes graphics output to network capabilities dynamically and automatically.
    • RemoteFX Adaptive Graphics
    • CPU-based graphics accelerator
    • Support for touch-enabled devices and applications in a VDI environment


System Center 2012 will be able to manage the feature set of Windows Server 2012 R2 as they all will be released around the same time. System Center 2012 R2 provides the following new options, as described in the System Center 201 R2 Preview, product overview white paper:

  • Infrastructure provisioning
    • VMM can support up to 1,000 hosts and up to 25,000 VMs
    • VMM can enable Dynamic Memory changes as well as snapshots of running VMs without downtime
    • VMM component now has a cross-version migration capability that enables Hyper-V Live Migration of workloads from Windows Server 2012 hosts to Windows Server 2012 R2 hosts.
    • Microsoft will provide service templates and runbooks for multiple components such as Service Manager, Data Protection Manager, and Operations Manager.
    • Provisioning of multitenant edge gateways to bridge physical and virtual datacenters
  • Infrastructure monitoring
    • New dashboard views bringing together availability and performance metrics across storage, network, and compute
  • Automation and self-service
  • Application performance monitoring
  • Support for Java Tomcat application servers and multiple Java web services frameworks in Windows as Unified management for the Cloud OS with System Center 2012 R2 well as RHEL/SUSE Linux environments.
  • A unified monitoring agent between System Center and Visual Studio
  • IT Service management
    • SharePoint 2013 support for the service catalog portal


System Center 2012 Configuration Manager R2 provides the following new features:

  • Deploy and manage the features of Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2
  • Configure and deploy WiFi profiles, VPN Configurations and certificates
  • Maintenance windows exclusively for updates
  • Optimized content distribution
  • Creation, modification and offline servicing of VHDs and the uploading of VHDs to System Center 2012 R2 Virtual Machine Manager.

Microsoft also announced the Windows Azure Pack, for which more information can be found in the Overview Windows Azure Pack for Windows Server paper. The Windows Azure Pack for Windows Server provides a solution for both enterprises looking to act as service providers and service providers keen to attract enterprise workloads. It runs on top of Windows Server and System Center and delivers Windows Azure technologies into your datacenter, enabling you to offer a rich, self-service, multi-tenant cloud with Windows Azure consistent experiences and services.


The Windows Azure Pack provides a Management Portal, a Web Sites Service, a Virtual Machines Service and a Azure Services – Service Bus. More information about Windows Azure Pack can be found in this article on ZDNet by Mary Jo Foley.

Both Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 will be available in a preview later this month, with an expected release for the end of this year.