October 18th 2013 – A date to remember?

So it was announced late last week that the R2 wave Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012 products is to be RTM on October 18th 2013. In parallel to these releases Microsoft is also going live with the long awaited Windows 8.1. This is surely the biggest date in Microsoft’s calendar this year, the success of Windows 8.1 alone will have a big effect on the industry as a whole, I’m sure the likes of Apple and Google are waiting with baited breath to see how the re-vamped OS is received. Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 R2 should be a safer bet for the guys from Redmond, in my experience the pre-R2 releases of these products have been pretty well received by IT professionals.

I’m not a market analyst so I leave the predictions to those guys, I’m a technical bloke so let’s stick to the facts.
What can we expect in these new products? I’m sure you’ve read bits and pieces about new features and if you attended our WMUG event with Wally Mead recently then you’ll already be aware of the Configuration Manager changes. I’m not going to into every detail here, look out for future blog posts for that but here’s the summary of what to expect in the new wave of products courtesy of Microsoft…

Windows 8.1

New features of Windows 8.1 were discussed and demonstrated at TechEd NA and the other TechEd events that followed. If you attended or you’ve played with the preview then you may be familiar with some of these new features:

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Enhancements

Workplace Join

A Windows 8 PC was either domain joined or not.  If it was a member of the domain, the user could access corporate resources (if permissioned) and IT could control the PC through group policy and other mechanisms.  This feature allows a middle ground between all or nothing access, allowing a user to work on the device of their choice and still have access to corporate resources With Workplace Join, IT administrators now have the ability to offer finer-grained control to corporate resources.  If a user registers their device, IT can grant some access while still enforcing some governance parameters on the device.

Work Folders

Work Folders allows a user to sync data to their device from their user folder located in the corporation’s data center. Files created locally will sync back to the file server in the corporate environment. This syncing is natively integrated into the file system.  Note, this all happens outside the firewall client sync support. Previously, Windows 8 devices needed to be domain joined (or required domain credentials) for access to file shares.  Syncing could be done with third-party folder replication apps. With Work Folders, Users can keep local copies of their work files on their devices, with automatic synchronization to your data center, and for access from other devices. IT can enforce Dynamic Access Control policies on the Work Folder Sync Share (including automated Rights Management) and require Workplace Join to be in place.

Open MDM

While many organizations have investments with System Center and will continue to leverage these investments we also know that many organizations want to manage certain classes of devices, like tablets and BYOD devices, as mobile devices. With Windows 8.1, you can use an OMA-DM API agent to allow management of Windows 8.1 devices with mobile device management products, like Mobile Iron or Air Watch.

Mobile Device Management

When a user enrolls their device, they are joining the device to the Windows Intune management service.  They get access to the Company Portal which provides a consistent experience for access to their applications, data and to manage their own devices.  This allows a deeper management experience with existing tools like Windows Intune. IT administrators now have deeper policy management for Windows RT devices, and can manage Windows 8.1 PCs as mobile devices without having deploy a full management client.

Web Application Proxy

The Web Application Proxy is a new role service in the Windows Server Remote Access role. It provides the ability to publish access to corporate resources, and enforce multi-factor authentication as well as apply conditional access policies to verify both the user’s identity and the device they are using resources, and enforce multi-factor authentication as well as verify the device being used before access is granted.

RDS Enhancements

Enhanced Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) in Windows Server 2012 R2 with improvements in management, value, and user experience. Session Shadowing allows administrators to view and remotely control active user sessions in an RDSH server. Disk dedupe and storage tiering allow for lower cost storage options. User experience for RemoteApps, network connectivity and multiple displays has been improved. Administrators can now easily support users with session desktops to provide helpdesk style support. Administrators now have even more flexible storage options to support a VDI environment without expensive SAN investments. End users will find RemoteApp behavior is more like local apps, and the experience in low-bandwidth is better, with faster reconnects and improved compression, and support for multiple monitors.

NFC Tap-to-pair Printing

Tap your Windows 8.1 device against an enterprise NFC-enabled printer and you’re all set to print. No more hunting on your network for the correct printer and no need to buy a special printer to take advantage of this functionality. Simply attach an NFC tag to your existing printers to enable this functionality.

Wi-Fi Direct Printing

Connect to Wi-Fi Direct printers without adding additional drivers or software on your Windows 8.1 device, forming a peer-to-peer network between your device and the printer.

Native Miracast Wireless Display

Present your work wirelessly with no connection cords needed; just pair with a Miracast-enabled projector via NFC and Miracast will use Wi-Fi to let you project wire-free.

Mobility Enhancements


We have added support for a wider range of VPN clients in both Windows and Windows RT devices. We have also added the ability to have an app automatically trigger VPN connections.

Mobile Broadband

At Windows 8 launch, the devices had embedded radios that were separate components within the devices.  Windows 8.1 supports embedded wireless radio, which gives you increased power savings, longer battery life, also enables thinner form factors and lower cost devices.

Windows To Go

With Windows To Go in Windows 8.1, the Windows Store is enabled by default. Windows To Go users may roam to any number of machines and access the Windows Store and use Windows Store apps.

Broadband Tethering

Turn your Windows 8.1 mobile broadband-enabled PC or tablet into a personal Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing other devices to connect and access the internet.

Auto-triggered VPN

When you select an app or resource that needs access through the inbox VPN – like a company’s intranet site – Windows 8.1 will automatically prompt you to sign in with one click. This feature will be available with Microsoft and third-party inbox VPN clients.

Security Enhancements

Remote Business Data Removal

Corporations now have more control over corporate content which can be marked as corporate, encrypted, and then be wiped when the relationship between the corporation and user has ended. Corporate data can now be identified as corporate vs. user, encrypted, and wiped on command using EAS or EAS + OMA-DM protocol. This capability is requires implementation in the client application and in the server application (Mail + Exchange Server). The client application determines if the wipe simply makes the data inaccessible or actually deletes it.

Improved Biometrics

All SKUs will include end to end biometric capabilities that enable authenticating with your biometric identity anywhere in Windows (Windows sign-in, remote access, User Account Control, etc.). Windows 8.1 will also be optimized for fingerprint based biometrics and will include a common fingerprint enrollment experience that will work with a variety of readers (touch, swipe). Modern readers are touch based rather than swipe and include liveliness detection that prevents spoofing (e.g.: silicon emulated fingerprints). Access to Windows Store Apps, functions within them, and certificate release can be gated based on verification of a user’s biometric identity.

Pervasive Device Encryption

Device encryption previously found on Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 is now available in all editions of Windows. It is enabled out of the box and can be configured with additional BitLocker protection and management capability on the Pro and Enterprise SKUs. Consumer devices are automatically encrypted and protected when using a Microsoft account. Data on any Windows connected standby device is automatically protected (encrypted) with device encryption. Organizations that need to manage encryption can easily take add additional BitLocker protection options and manageability to these devices.

Improved Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer 11 improvements include faster page load times, side-by-side browsing of your sites, enhanced pinned site notifications, and app settings like favorites, tabs and settings sync across all your Windows 8.1 PCs. Internet Explorer 11 now includes capability that enables an antimalware solution to scan the input for a binary extension before it’s passed onto the extension for execution

Malware Resistance

Windows Defender, Microsoft’s free antivirus solution in Windows 8, will include network behavior monitoring to help detect and stop the execution of known and unknown malware. Internet Explorer will scan binary extensions (e.g. ActiveX) using the antimalware solution before potentially harmful code is executed.

Device Lockdown

With Assigned Access, a new feature offered in Windows 8.1 RT, Windows 8.1 Pro, and Windows 8.1 Enterprise, you can enable a single Windows Store application experience on the device. This can be things like a learning application for kids in an educational setting or a customer service application at a boutique, Assigned Access can ensure the device is delivering the intended experience. In our Windows Embedded 8.1 industry product, we deliver additional lockdown capabilities to meet the needs of industry devices like point of sale systems, ATMs, and digital signs.

Modern UI Experience

Variable, Continuous Size of Snap Views

You have more ways to see multiple apps on the screen at once. You can resize apps to nearly infinite sized windows, share the screen between two apps, or have up to three apps on each monitor.

Boot to Desktop

We have made configuration options available which will allow you to boot directly to the desktop in Windows 8.1.

Desktop and Start Screen

Improvements have been made to better support users who prefer a mouse and keyboard experience to access applications.
These are just some of the key features available in Windows 8.1 We encourage you to test out and try these features when you evaluate Windows 8.1 for use both in your work environment as well as at home in your personal life. Please note that Windows Server 2012 R2 may be required in order for some of these features to be available.


Windows Server 2012 R2

What’s New for iSCSI Target Server in Windows Server 2012 R2
This topic describes the new and changed functionality of iSCSI Target Server in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview.

What’s New for SMB in Windows Server 2012 R2
This topic introduces the new features and functionality for Server Message Block (SMB) in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview.

What’s New for Windows Deployment Services in Windows Server 2012 R2
A Windows Deployment Services (WDS) server running Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview can be managed using the Windows PowerShell cmdlets for WDS. Using Windows PowerShell cmdlets, you can add driver packages, add client images, enable and disable boot and install images, and do many other common WDS tasks. For a full reference, see Windows PowerShell Support for Windows Server.

What’s New in Active Directory in Windows Server 2012 R2
You can leverage new features in Active Directory to enable employees and partners to access protected corporate data from their personal devices and at the same time manage risk and govern the use of corporate resources.

What’s New in DFS Replication in Windows Server 2012 R2
This topic describes the features that were added to DFS Replication (DFSR or DFS-R) in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview.

What’s New in DHCP in Windows Server 2012 R2
Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview provides new features and capabilities over previous versions. This document describes new deployment, manageability, and capabilities added to the DHCP Server role in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview.

What’s New in DNS Server in Windows Server 2012 R2
This topic provides information about new and changed functionality in the DNS Server service in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview.

What’s New in Failover Clustering in Windows Server 2012 R2
This topic describes the Failover Clustering functionality that is new or changed in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview.

New and changed functionality in File and Storage Services
File and Storage Services provides a number of new management, scalability, and functionality improvements in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview.

What’s New in Group Policy in Windows Server 2012 R2
This topic describes the new and changed functionality of the Group Policy feature in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview.

What’s New in Hyper-V in Windows Server 2012 R2
This topic describes the new and changed functionality of the Hyper-V role in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview.

What’s New in IPAM in Windows Server 2012 R2
IP Address Management (IPAM) is a feature that was first introduced in Windows Server 2012 that provides highly customizable administrative and monitoring capabilities for the IP address infrastructure on a corporate network. IPAM in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview includes many enhancements.

What’s New in Networking in Windows Server 2012 R2
This topic describes the new and changed functionality of networking in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview.

What’s New in Remote Desktop Services in Windows Server 2012 R2
This topic describes the Remote Desktop Services functionality that is new or changed in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview.

New and changed functionality in security and protection in Windows Server 2012 R2
This topic describes the significant changes to security technologies in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview and Windows Server 2012 and how those changes impact Windows 8.1 Preview.

What’s New in Windows PowerShell
Windows PowerShell includes several significant features that extend its use, improve its usability, and allow you to control and manage Windows-based environments more easily and comprehensively.

What’s New in Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials
The content in this section describes what’s new and changed in Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials Preview. This content focuses on changes that will potentially have the greatest impact on your use of this release.


System Center 2012 R2

App Controller

Support for System Center 2012 R2 Virtual Machine Manager. System Center 2012 R2 App Controller can connect only to System Center 2012 R2 Virtual Machine Manager. Upgrade the version of Virtual Machine Manager first, and then upgrade App Controller.

Service Provider Foundation in System Center 2012 R2. System Center 2012 R2 App Controller can connect to the version of Service Provider Foundation that shipped with System Center 2012 SP1 and to the version that ships with System Center 2012 R2.

Configuration Manager

Too many to list here. See technet for full details – http://technet.microsoft.com/library/dn236351.aspx

Data Protection Manager

Windows Azure Backup—You can back up DPM data in System Center 2012 R2 to Windows Azure Backup. For more information, see Backing Up DPM using Windows Azure Backup.

SQL Server cluster support—DPM now supports the use of clustered SQL Server nodes. DPM in System Center 2012 and System Center 2012 SP1 can use a local instance of SQL Server, or a standalone remote SQL Server. System Center 2012 R2 Data Protection Manager removes the standalone limitation that existed in System Center 2012 and System Center 2012 SP1, allowing you to use a remote SQL Server cluster in addition to a standalone server. This provides the following:

  • Reliability—Support for a SQL Server cluster mitigates the single point of failure when a standalone SQL server is used.
  • Scalability—As your DPM deployment grows, for every DPM server a new SQL Server database needs to be created. Increasing workloads on a single SQL Server can potentially cause performance problems and a higher risk of failure.
  • Consistency—Support for a SQL Server cluster makes DPM consistent with other System Center 2012 components.

In addition, the DPM reporting server can be installed on the same standalone or clustered SQL Server that is used for the DPM database, or you can install it on a different SQL Server.

Virtualized deployment—System Center 2012 R2 Data Protection Manager can be deployed in a virtual environment. You can install DPM on a virtual machine, and configure storage using .vhd storage pool disks that are shared through the VMM library.

Linux virtual machine backup—System Center 2012 R2 Data Protection Manager provides support for the protection and backup of Linux virtual machines, in addition to the support already provided for Hyper-V virtual machines. Note that for Linux backups only file-consistent snapshots are supported. Application-consistent snapshots are not. In addition, protection of Linux virtual machines is not supported using Windows Azure Backup.

Operations Manager

Quite a few to list here too, see technet – http://technet.microsoft.com/library/dn249700.aspx


You can install the Service Management Automation web service and up to three runbook workers from System Center 2012 R2 Orchestrator Setup program. These can be used as part of the Windows Azure Pack for Windows Server configuration or to enable you to run runbooks and perform other automation tasks using Windows PowerShell cmdlets. For evaluation purposes, you should install a single runbook worker on the same computer as the web service.

Windows Server 2012 R2 is supported in this release.

Service Manager

Service Manager is supported on Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview and Windows 8.1 Preview.

Virtual Machine Manager


Site-to-site network connections using private IP address:

  • Simplified guest IP management: Support for setting guest IP address configuration through VMM and support for dynamic IP addresses, primarily to enable guest clusters.
  • Site-to-site NVGRE gateway: Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview delivers new functionality for site to site gateways for Hyper-V network virtualization. This enables hosters of virtualized networks to achieve higher capacity, better reliability and offer options for the tenants of these networks using all Microsoft software. System Center 2012 R2 provides this functionality by having inbox support for this site to site gateway solution and by expanding the current set of options for virtualized networks to take advantage of these new capabilities.
    Enhancements to connectivity options of virtual machines networks to enable most tenant scenarios. This includes multiple site-to-site tunnels, and direct internet access through a network address translation (NAT) firewall. These capabilities are available by using the inbox Windows and System Center components.

Cisco NVGRE (Network Virtualization using Generic Routing Encapsulation): This release allows the VMM provider API surface to be more flexible to address a variety of network services, and simplify the user experience at the same time. For example, network services such as load balancers are able to function as network virtualization gateways, and switch extensions have access to network virtualization policy to determine who owns the packets that are being sent.

IP Address Management (IPAM) integration

Top of rack switch integration

Forwarding extensions for Hyper-V extensible switch work with Hyper-V network virtualization (Cisco 1KV and NVGRE)

Virtual Machines and Cloud

Differencing disks: Optimized support for differencing disks (both .vhd and vhdx file formats) to improve the performance and reduce costs of virtual machine provisioning. Differencing disks also reduce storage requirements by allowing a large percentage of disk data to be shared among multiple virtual disks, optimizing both storage and migration costs. This can be critical in hosting scenarios in which large numbers of virtual machines are created from a small set of initial virtual disks.

Live Cloning of virtual machines: Support for a new Hyper-V feature in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview. With live cloning, virtual machines are exported without downtime, allowing users to avoid creating and configuring new virtual machines to match existing virtual machines.

Online VHDX resize: For Hyper-V hosts running Windows 2012 or Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview, support for online resizing of VHDx disks while the disks are in use. This supports the Online Resizing feature of Hyper-V.

Enhanced support for Windows Server 2012 Dynamic Memory Features: Dynamic memory settings can be changed and applied to on a running or paused virtual machine.

Grant permissions to users for each cloud: Administrators can easily customize the scope of permitted actions that users and user roles can perform on a per-cloud basis. This eliminates the need to create a new user role for every combination of action/user/cloud.

Support for file-based virtual machine customization process. Ability to inject a file into a specific path in the virtual machine drive or file path prior to the first boot. Also, arbitrary file retrieval, and symbol search and replace.

Leverage of the new Hyper_V file transfer API in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview to transfer files into guest operating systems. This is supported when both the host’s and the guest’s operating system is Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview, the guest is running virtualization guest services and is not connected to any networks which has access to VMM library servers. When a virtual machine is running on a Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview host and has no connection to a network with access to VMM library servers, file transfers during service servicing take advantage of these new hyper-v APIs.

Ability to create Windows and Linux-based virtual machines and multi-VM Services, from a gallery of templates.

Faster live migration, and support for migration of Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview operating system.


Virtual Fibre Channel support: Support management of Fibre Channel fabrics and the automated provisioning of virtual machines with connectivity to storage over Fibre Channels fabrics.

Management of zones

Support for Offloaded Data Transfer (ODX): Enhanced support for high availability scenarios, providing continuous availability of the VMM management server service during planned and unplanned downtime. This is critical in a hoster/service provider environment.

Shared VHDX support: Support for SQL failover clustering and high availability VMM with shared VHDX storage to provide a highly available SQL farm. This supports guest clustering by allowing users to deploy in-guest high availability applications.

Provision scale-out file server cluster from bare metal.

Integration of storage with differencing disks optimizations.

Storage spaces File: File server management encompasses the full lifecycle of a file server from provisioning to steady-state management which frees a cloud administrator from having to build or integrate different tools for storage management. Management of the file server supports the Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview integrated experience for storage, computing, and networking, from initial provisioning to on-going monitoring. This integrated experience incorporates management at scale across multiple racks and thousands of managed devices.


Services on Xen: Support for deploying VMM in System Center 2012 SP1 services to XenServer Hosts.

Allow the script that runs on the first deployed virtual machine to be different than the script that runs on the other virtual machines in the tier.


Allow for an auto-task to resume after virtual machine failover.

Expanded computer scope for VMM update management.

Management packs are updated with new metrics for chargeback purposes that are based both on allocation and utilization. This provides better integration with chargeback and reporting, and enables monitoring of tenant-based utilization of resources that allows chargeback and billing.

Additional Enhancements

Support for Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview and Windows 8.1 Preview, in various roles such as the VMM management server, the VMM library server and Hyper-V host.

Enhancements to replication and recovery: Added support for the new disk based replication technology in Windows Server 2012 R2 Preview. With this improvement, VMM is enhanced to provide the infrastructure that is required by SRS to enable cloud based replication.

In Setup, addition of direct links to missing pre-requisites.

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