Windows Server 2012 – The New Features MSPs Should Know About

Scott Calonico

windows screenWindows Server 2012 was formally released in September 2012. As an MSP, you’re no doubt aware of its existence, but have you actually used it yet?

Do you know what to expect? If not, this post should help you.


Server 2012 incorporates some notable changes compared to its predecessor, Server 2008, and introduces some significant new functionality.

This article lists five key issues you should be aware of as you begin to discuss and implement the new server operating system.

User Interface

It may be depressing news to you, but Server 2012 does use a Windows 8-style tiled start screen, and various admin tools now sport Metro “dashboards” in place of their older interfaces.

This means that the new OS has an inevitable learning curve. At the very least, it’s wise to spend some time with the new GUI before you need to configure it “for real.” However, if you follow Microsoft’s advice, your time with the graphical interface may be limited…

Server Core

Server Core mode was introduced in Windows Server 2008, but Microsoft clearly want to encourage its extensive use in Server 2012.

Server Core mode strips away all of the Windows graphical environment and runs the operating system in simple, command line format. This is Windows running UNIX-style - lean and, in theory at least, far more secure.

Server Core doesn’t mean you have to do everything with the command line – you can interface with the server via Server Management or MMCs on other networked PCs. Also, unlike Server 2008’s Server Core mode, it’s possible to switch a server between this mode and the usual GUI-based environment without reinstalling.

New Editions

As ever, Microsoft have changed the licensing model with the launch of a new server OS. There is now an “Essentials” version for up to 25 users that Microsoft expects will, in some cases, replace the discontinued Small Business Server. There is also an OEM-only Foundation edition, as well as the Standard and Datacenter versions. It’s time to become familiar with these editions and their licensing models.


The enhancements to Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization platform are significant in Server 2012. The new version of Hyper-V includes cloud backup, multi-tenancy and the ability to access a far greater level of system resources – up to 64 virtual processers and 64 terabytes of virtual disc space.


ReFS (Resilient File System) is the long awaited successor to NTFS, and supports many new features including automatic on-the-fly error checking that negates the need for tools such as CHKDSK.

Some functionality from NTFS is missing, however, and as Windows 8 is required to access ReFS volumes, it’s likely to be some time until its use is widespread.

Windows Server 2012 has received largely positive reviews, but most reviewers agree that the learning curve is significant. This is definitely an OS to try out on a test bed – to protect from intimidating differences when you face it in production for the first time.