Contributing Analysts: Michael Cherry, Wes Miller, Rob Sanfilippo

Updates to several Microsoft platform products could arrive in the second half of 2013 and the first half of 2014, including Windows 8.1, Windows RT 8.1, Windows Server 2012 R2, System Center 2012 R2, SQL Server 2014, and updated services in Windows Intune. Major performance improvements will appear with SQL Server 2014, and Visual Studio 2013 and Windows Azure will have added features to make Azure a more attractive development platform. Announced at TechEd North America in June 2013, previews of each updated product (except Windows Intune) became available in June 2013.

Windows 8.1, Windows Server 2012 R2

Improvements to Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Server 2012 are coming as part of the new faster cadence of Windows OS releases previously code-named Blue. The changes will improve management of Windows- and Windows RT-based devices, particularly when an organization neither owns nor controls the user's device. (See "Windows 8.1 to Address Management, Mobility, and Security".)

Although much of the discussion of changes to Windows 8.1 and Windows RT 8.1 has focused on the Modern UI and whether users will be able to boot into the Windows desktop, some of the more interesting features address the management of mobile devices, such as Workplace Join, which allows a user-owned device to be associated with a user in the organization's Active Directory. The changes to Windows Server 2012 R2 continue to advance key features for hosting multitenancy workloads in on-premises and hosted situations, including improvements to Hyper-V and storage, such as the ability to manage Hyper-V replication from a Microsoft Azure hosted control application.

System Center 2012 R2 and Windows Intune

The System Center suite of management products will be updated to support Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2, especially the new features in Windows Server 2012 R2, such as changes to live migration, dynamic resizing of virtual disks, and management of storage spaces. In addition, System Center 2012 R2 will extend software defined networking with provisioning and management tools for multitenant VPN gateways.

System Center 2012 R2, in conjunction with Windows Intune (Microsoft's online device management service), will address "consumerization of IT" issues raised when employees use non-organization owned or managed devices or applications to perform company work. Administrators will be able to configure many more device settings, for example, requiring screen lock after a period of inactivity or disallowing use of the device's camera. Using an Intune self-service portal, users will be able to install corporate apps and administrators can remotely wipe corporate apps and data off the device if it is lost or the employee leaves the company, while leaving the user's personal apps and data intact. Devices supported by System Center 2012 R2 and Windows Intune will include Windows clients (PCs, tablets, and Windows phones), and iOS and Android devices.

The next Windows Server and System Center releases will be synchronized, which is an improvement over previous releases, which were out of sync, considering the need for the two to work together.

Windows Azure

Windows Azure, Microsoft's cloud application hosting platform, received several updates in June 2013. Billing policies have been updated to use per-minute charging on Azure Virtual Machines, Web roles, and worker roles. Charges are no longer rounded up to full hours, which could cut costs when using Azure in development or test scenarios where frequent, short-term deployments to Azure are performed. Azure Virtual Machines deployments are no longer billed when a virtual machine (VM) is in a stopped state, so VMs don't have to be removed to stop charges (storage charges still apply). Azure benefits for Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers have been revised to provide a credit of up to US$150 per month (depending on the subscription level) that can be used toward any Azure services. (Previously, MSDN subscribers received limited free time and space allocations that varied across Azure services.) Further, MSDN subscribers are only charged at the base rate for running Windows Server on Azure Virtual Machines, even when additional Microsoft software such as SQL Server, BizTalk Server, or any MSDN supplied software is run on the VMs. The MSDN software is restricted to development and test and may not be used in production. The Windows Azure Pack, a set of Azure functionality that runs on on-premises Windows Server installations, was announced. Azure Pack includes features such as Web Sites, Virtual Machines, Service Bus, and an Azure-like management portal.

Visual Studio 2013

Previews of Visual Studio (VS) 2013 and Team Foundation Server (TFS) 2013 became available in June 2013, and the final versions will be released by the end of 2013. VS 2012 was released in Oct. 2012 and three updates (which include features and patches) have since been released for that version. The new VS and TFS releases include improvements to Agile planning tools; a team chat collaboration feature; the ability to maintain environment settings when moving to different machines; information on tests and work items that appears inline with associated code in the editor; and support for the Git open source decentralized version control system in TFS. The Microsoft-hosted Team Foundation Service has already been updated with some of the 2013 features, and the service now offers a cloud-based load testing capability for Web applications.

SQL Server 2014

SQL Server 2014, the next major version after SQL Server 2012, became available as a preview in June 2013 and will be available in final form during early 2014. SQL Server 2014 is expected to deliver major upgrades to enterprise database, high-availability, and data warehousing capabilities. The AlwaysOn high-availability feature doubles in capacity to include up to eight failover nodes, and nodes will be able to run on Windows Azure Virtual Machines.

SQL Server 2014 also will add three enhancements initially delivered in SQL Server 2012 Parallel Data Warehouse earlier in 2013. A new in-memory database technology is expected to enhance database transaction processing performance substantially. A new data processing engine called PolyBase will enable SQL Server to directly query unstructured data stored in Hadoop, a widely used open source "big data" processing platform. Using PolyBase, data can be queried where it is, without needing to transform and import it into SQL. SQL Server 2014 will also include an updated version of the xVelocity ColumnStore feature, which can dramatically improve query performance across certain types of data, which should enable data warehouses to be updated more frequently.

Additional improvements will build upon scaling improvements introduced with Windows Server 2012, adding support for up to 640 logical processors and 4TB of RAM, improving performance when used with SSD storage, and adding support for software-defined networking and storage virtualization features such as Storage Spaces.


The announcement of platform updates is at

Server product details and preview pages are available from links on the blog post at

Getting the Windows 8.1 preview is explained at

The Visual Studio 2013 preview is at

TechEd 2013 sessions are available for viewing or download at