Sunday, November 18, 2012

Windows Server 2012 impressions

I've been running Windows Server 2012 in my home "production" environment for a few days now and I'm extremely amazed with the performance and features of the server, however there are a few issues.

First the good:
Windows Server 2012 is extremely easy to administer, very modular and has outstanding performance. When I first installed the system and loaded Windows 7 MC on it, I was a bit skeptical about performance. I thought the Media Center experience would suffer on such an underpowered box as the HP N40L Micro Server, but I was wrong.

To my surprise, after a little tweaking of the host and guest OS it's handled everything without a hiccup. To add to that, since I'm still "playing" with the setup, I haven't disabled the GUI and turned it into a "Core" server to reduce the "attack surface," as Microsoft likes to refer to it.

The VM has absolutely no issues with streaming or recording four HD feeds all at once with power to spare. To add to that, last night I was abusing the disks by having three simultaneous copies of hundreds of gigs between various drives to my Storage Spaces volumes, which were taking up all the CPU. At the time I thought to go and try to watch TV, to determine what the effect of this may be. Although forwarding/rewinding was a little laggy it actually worked quite well. The system seems to prioritize both host and Hyper-V guests very well.

Overall, it feels like Windows 7 Media Center isn't even running in a VM.

Now, the bad:
It's no secret that I love Storage Spaces. It's the biggest reason I've gone through the pain to find a way to use Windows 8 or WS2012, while also having my whole-home Media Center experience. However, administrating Storage Spaces in Windows 8 is a lot easier and more intuitive than in Windows Server 2012. Partially it's because Storage Spaces is more powerful in WS2012 (it supports multiple pools), but also it's because the visual flow of the screen isn't as natural as it is in Windows 8. It takes a little playing to get used to it, and I feel like I "get it" now, but feel like it could have been even better. A small gripe, I know :).

Currently, I administer the server by connecting to the GUI via Remote Desktop. This works really well, but in the future I'd like to get rid of the GUI and run the server as Core (why waste resources?). I've been trying to get the Remote Server Administration tools for Windows 8 (RSAT) to work, but have been having issues. Haven't spent much time on it yet, but it seems like there's a requirement that the machine running RSAT be on the same domain as the server. I've found this great resource: Configuring Remote Management of Hyper-V Server - in a workgroup, and have used a few tips from there, but not quite there yet. When I have more time I may look into this further. The bottom line is that this part isn't as simple as I would imagine it should be.

I've experienced several crashes (BSOD's). A few of which I can recreate and a few of which I can't. The ones I can recreate have to do with the Hyper-V guest (Window 7) copying files from a local virtual drive to a share located on the host. I've since dedicated a spare 750Gb drive to the Windows 7 guest via pass-through in the VM, so copying, for my purposes, is no longer necessary. The crashes which I can't recreate were happening every 16-24 hours or so. I don't know what they were a result of, but I suspected power settings (since the HP N40L doesn't support S3 sleep). I've since changed the power settings to "High performance" and disabled turning off the display (which had been disconnected). So far this seems to have cured the problem. I'm cautiously optimistic and will continue monitoring the server.

Last, but not least, although there are no performance problems with the Windows 7 Hyper-V guest OS, when watching TV, at times I will see a stutter on the screen. For a couple of seconds, every once in a while, the image and audio freeze. When I rewind the recording it plays through the same section just fine, so I know it's not an issue with the recording. I suspect it may have something to do with the network configuration, but don't know the root cause just yet.


All in all, despite the few glitches, I'm very happy with the entire setup. Windows Server 2012 feels like a solid product, but I would certainly wait for a few more patches before running it in a business production environment. My stability issues may be due to the type of setup I'm running - no question it's not conventional - so I'll give Microsoft the benefit of a doubt, but would caution that anyone planning on running this new server software at least test it properly for their needs.

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