The RTM of Windows Server 2012 took a little longer to become available than the RTM of Windows 8 but it was worth waiting for. This is a polished update of a definitive release of Windows Server that has improvements and new features for companies from small to large.
Some of the best features, take features that have been reserved for large companies with large budgets and large support teams and make them accessible to much smaller businesses; if you need continuous availability or thin-provisioned, de-duplicated storage, you can do it on budget hardware.
Standard and Datacenter editions
And you don't need to worry about which version of Windows Server you're getting; all the features are in both the Standard and Datacenter editions and the only difference is the number of virtual machines you can run.
You can run up to two VMs on two processors with Standard edition, which is about right for a production server and fits in with Server vice president Bill Laing's predictions that "people will buy many small machines not a few large machines" and manage them as if they were a single system.
Microsoft has described Windows Server 2012 as a cloud operating system, but don't be fooled into thinking there's nothing for on-premise servers. There are major improvements in key areas like virtualization and remote access, plus new tools for security; in fact there are many more improvements across the range of Windows Server features than we can cover in this review.
Yes, Windows Server has the Windows 8 Start screen but given that admins will be connecting remotely or spending their time in Server Manager, the new look shouldn't put you off this impressive upgrade.
If you're looking for a much simpler approach to a server, neither Windows Small Business Server nor Windows Home Server survive in the Server 2012 product line. Windows Server Essentials does, for up to 25 users, and it's much more approachable because you work with it through a Remote Web Access web browser, a Windows Phone app or the new Windows 8 companion app.
The Release Candidate of Server 2012 Essentials is available now and the final release should be out by the end of 2012 – although if you're looking for something that simple, you may want to wait until you can order it pre-installed on server hardware.