I know it is not as glamorous or flashy as Windows 8 with its Metro UI, and touchscreen magic, but Microsoft has some other tricks up its sleeve for this BUILD conference. The day 2 keynote focused on Windows Server 8 which is just as bold an evolution--if not moreso--than its desktop sibling.
While Microsoft seems to be focused on moving the familiar Windows desktop OS to a hybrid that straddles the line between desktop and tablet, the new Windows Server 8 is geared toward delivering a hybrid experience of its own--straddling the line between traditional data center and cloud computing.
Microsoft stresses that the latest and greatest version of its Windows Server OS will be both more reliable, and more manageable. Aside from being affordable and/or cost-effective, there isn't much more you can ask for from a server OS than one that is reliable and manageable.
That said, here is a quick look at a few of the highlights we know so far based on the BUILD keynote and demos:
GUI on the Fly. With Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 you have to decide up front whether you want to run the full Windows Server 2008 OS--GUI, Internet Explorer, and all--or just the stripped down server core. In Windows Server 8 you can run the leaner, meaner server core, bit still have the option to flip the GUI on when you need to work with the system.
Metro UI for Server Manager. This doesn't really do anything for reliability, but you could construe it as a benefit for manageability to have the same tiled Metro interface that is common across Windows Phone 7, and the upcoming Windows 8. The consistency of interface across all environments will make it that much more intuitive to work with Server Manager.
Simplified Direct Access. Direct Access is arguably one of the coolest features of Windows Server 2008...potentially. It is like VPN on steroids and lets remote, roaming PCs stay persistently, and virtually connected to the network through firewalls from just about anywhere with an Internet connection. Unfortunately, it has never really caught on and lived up to that potential--in part because it is too complicated for most organizations to properly configure and maintain. With Windows Server 8, Microsoft promises to make Direct Access as simple as flipping a switch.
There are tons more tweaks and changes coming in Windows Server 8. There are improvements to networking performance and management, improvements to Active Directory, improvements to data storage handling, improvements to virtualization, and more.
As Windows Server 8 moves from this early stage of development, through beta, to official release, we will explore the updates and new features in much more detail.