Microsoft has once again delivered a solid server offering with Windows Server 2012.
Requested features such as a GUI for the Active Directory Recycle Bin are now included, alongside an IP Address Management (IPAM) tool that's built-in to the product, reducing or eliminating the need to purchase a third-party product. On the surface, this might not seem important, but IT Pros need to make every penny count in today's world and with the growing usage of IPv6, managing IP addressing via Excel spreadsheet won't be a viable option any longer. I tested the IPAM tool while at TechEd this year and found it comprehensive and easy to use.
I also spent some time playing with the new additions to Hyper-V. With Windows Server 2012, Microsoft has included many of the features that existed in the gap between them and competitor VMware. With Windows Server 2012, I was able to perform a live migration of a running Hyper-V virtual machine to another Hyper-V host machine without shutting down the running VM and without relying on Failover Clustering. This is a huge benefit to making your VMs highly available while reducing the complexity of the Hyper-V host infrastructure.
Despite all this under the hood goodness, I was most impressed with the changes to the in Windows Server 2012 regarding the Server Core installation option. Previously, Server Core was something that I always wanted to use but never did. Often there was an application that needed a feature that wasn't available in a Server Core installation, but more commonly the total lack of any on-server management tools was a deal breaker, especially in an emergency situation where you're physical sitting at the server console and panicked that you closed your last Command Prompt window, unable to remember the hotkey combination to launch Task Manager.
Fortunately, in Windows Server 2012, Microsoft has given us a middle ground between Server Core and a full install: the minimal server interface. The minimal server interface includes not only a Command Prompt window as in Server Core, but also Server Manager, access to Microsoft Management Console, and even some Control Panel applets. As before, what's not included are things you likely don't need, such as Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer. Furthermore, you can now remove binaries that aren't used by your chosen installation option, saving on disk space and reducing the server's attack surface even further.
I actually haven't had a chance to fully explore all of the new Windows Server 2012 features, including the new Resilient File System (ReFS). While the reaction to Windows 8 on the desktop has been polarizing, Windows Server 20120 is a quality release with something for every IT Pro to like.