A Close-up Look at Windows Server 2012 for Embedded Systems

Posted By Jeff Wettlaufer
Technical Program Manager

Hey everyone, if you have been following industry platform news over the past few weeks, you might have seen the news about Windows Server 2012 being released. This is a significant release for us here at Microsoft, and as many of you who read this blog know, there is also a version of Windows Server 2012 for embedded systems. My name is Jeff Wettlaufer, and I am excited to bring my blogging efforts over from the System Center group, joining the Windows Embedded Marketing team. I have recently returned to Microsoft from a year at RES Software, and in my new role with WEM as a Technical Program Manager I am primarily responsible for the technical product management of Windows Embedded Compact, but also Windows Server for Embedded Systems, SQL embedded, Windows Embedded Device Management and of course Windows Embedded demonstrations. You can expect to hear from me on these areas and more in the coming months as I get unpacked and settled into this amazing team.

We thought it might be worth a post to let you know a little more about what the server platform means to the Windows Embedded business, and provide you some highlights of the (huge) list of new capabilities. So, here goes……..

Many of us think of servers locked up in datacenters in the corporate world, or more recently in large deployments - servicing cloud offerings like Outlook.com, XBOX Live, Office 365, Dynamics and even Windows Azure. While all of these are true, and great examples of Windows Server 2012 deployments, from an embedded perspective, we have other applications. I want to provide you an overview of Windows Server 2012 for embedded systems using 3 simple buckets:

  • One Trusted Platform
  • Fits with your needs
  • Extends intelligence for increased business opportunity

Before we dive in, it might help to clarify the difference between ‘big windows server’ and Windows Server for Embedded Systems. These are bit for bit (binary) the same products. They are the same code base (right down to the binary level), same product, same support lifecycle etc. Everything you are getting to know about in Windows Server 2012 is available to you in the embedded version. What’s different? Server for embedded is designed for more specific scenarios, specific hardware (appliances), and purchase relationships (OEM channel).

Beginning with One Trusted Platform, Windows Server 2012 for embedded systems includes some great features many of you have heard about from big server OS levels. NIC teaming is now available, allowing multiple NICs to engage as 1 interface, getting you better load balance and fail over coverage. This can be configured right from within Server Manager, or even directly via PowerShell. Centralized file management capabilities are now added above what popped in W2K8, with ‘Claims-based’ file access being included. This brings perms to the file levels. You can now also lock down your appliances with centralized access and audit policies, providing simple centralized views of what matters. Events. Auto-encryption and file classification improvements allow your organization to create rules (policies) to data, and data locations. You can now add and classify documents in endless attributes to include priority, sensitivity, location, security clearance and more. We are really pleased to share that Windows Server 2012 for embedded systems delivers increased automation with PowerShell, so for those of you out there who want better PS support, your 2012 Server appliance will support this. The result is customers have greater confidence in your server appliances.

Along the lines of PS support, Remote Server Admin now provides you the ability to centrally manage numbers of either physical or virtual appliances. Less walking the racks, better reach, with stronger diagnostics at the target node. Windows Server 2012 for embedded systems is designed to fit your organizations fabric of Intelligent Systems. As a key team member in your distributed infrastructure, Server 2012 for embedded systems now supports capabilities focused on data deduplication (in box and developed over 2 years with MS Research). This is super important as you begin to think more and more about managing (increasing) data sets, and trying to get more performance out of your data across physical or virtual storage systems. CPU throttling and memory management are possible, so you can schedule de-dupe activities to operate outside of production hours. Healthier storage volumes, higher performing disks, less fragmented data sets, and more return on storage hardware investments are going to happen. Similar to how BranchCache has operated since W2K8, Data Deduplication shares the same techniques to optimize bandwidth and storage. It’s even recommended to deploy both features together. GUI and PowerShell management integration are available. In addition to performance improvements to the storage of data, Storage Virtualization is also now supported. Storage Spaces delivers storage virtualization capabilities within Windows Server 2012 (and Windows 8). The storage stack has been fundamentally enhanced to incorporate two new abstractions:

  • Storage pools are a collection of physical disks. Pools permit storage aggregation, flexible capacity expansion, and delegated administration.
  • Storage spaces are virtual disks with associated attributes such as a desired level of resiliency, thin or fixed provisioning, automatic or controlled allocation on heterogeneous storage media, and precise administrative control.

Storage Spaces are manageable through the Windows Storage Management API in Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) and Windows PowerShell, and through the File and Storage Services role in Server Manager.

In addition to Storage Spaces, Admins can now also take advantage of (when storage devices with SPC4 and SBC3 specs – link) ODX – Offloaded Data Transfer. ODX can be used in virtual machine deployment, massive data migration, and tiered storage device support, and can lower the cost of physical hardware deployment through the ODX and thin provisioning storage features. Storage Spaces protects data from partial and complete disk failures by maintaining copies on multiple disks (think software RAID). In addition, Resilient File System (ReFS) interfaces with Storage Spaces to automatically repair the corruption if/when it happens. ReFS carries an assumption that storage can be unreliable, and works to maintain reliability. ReFS looks to Storage Spaces to help bring this resiliency by spanning multiple disks, creating ‘no single point of failure’ in your data fabric. Finally, it still understands NTFS features, but steps in where NTFS has limits in the past. More info in the bottom of this post on ReFS.

For your Hyper-V rigs, NUMA is now supported, allowing separate memory for each proc to be utilized. This is going to get you better perf across your host processor investments.

Finally, Windows Server 2012 for embedded systems extends the intelligence of your business. First, Server Core is available for your embedded systems. Core is a version of the full OS that has been stripped down to bare essentials. For those of you that want to lock down your embedded system servers, core would be recommended (here is a link to more information on Core). Your servicing model will be smaller, Because Server Core for Windows Server 2012 installs only what is required for a manageable server, smaller footprint, less to patch, maintain and manage. From a security perspective, there is less running on the server, resulting in a smaller attack surface. Finally, Server Core requires less resource to run, aiding in lower spec rigs, less power consumption and other benefits.

In addition to these enhancements, some work has been done to assist in making client connectivity more efficient. For example, an improved RDP will service low bandwidth connections to embedded servers, and DirectAccess enables users to access internal network resources without the need for a VPN tunnel.

There is a lot ahead of us as we see Windows Server 2012 for embedded systems enter the market. This is an OS that has significant pedigree, benefitting from years of technology advancement in the largest datacenters in the world. I’m looking forward to talking to you more about these experiences in future posts.

Thanks for your time.

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