On day two of its annual Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC), Microsoft publicly disclosed Windows Server 8 for the first time. This is the server release of Windows that the company plans to ship alongside Windows 8 sometime in 2012.

Windows Server 8 wasn't the only server-oriented product touted at the show. The company also showed off some future System Center products, and the next version of SQL Server, and talked up progress with its Windows Azure cloud computing platforms.

The Windows Server 8 discussion was fairly limited and didn't include any mention of the expected Hyper-V 3.0 hypervisor, the next version of Microsoft's virtualization technology. But Microsoft noted that Windows Server 8 will target private cloud computing and did discuss a new feature called Hyper-V Replica that will provide Hyper-V with asynchronous virtual machine (VM) replication. It's one of more than 100 new features that Windows Server 8 will provide, according to Microsoft. But as with Windows 8, the company is asking fans to hold off until the BUILD conference in September for more details.

(In related news, virtualization market leader VMware coincidentally announced the next version of its vSphere virtualization and cloud computing infrastructure suite on the same day as Microsoft's WPC server announcements. VMware has enjoyed scalability and performance advantages over Microsoft's solutions, and vSphere 5 seeks to advance that trend.)

On the System Center front, Microsoft provided peeks at System Center Orchestrator 2012 and System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) 2012, its data-center workflow automation and IT infrastructure management solutions, respectively. Orchestrator allows IT pros to design workflows visually using technologies that the software giant acquired as part of its December 2009 purchase of Opalis Software.The new SCOM version will provide lower hardware and high-availability requirements and add pooled network device monitoring. Both are expected by the end of the year.

Microsoft this week released the third community technical preview (CTP3) of SQL Server "Denali," the next version of its relational database server. This release features dramatically better performance and a new data-visualization feature code-named Project Crescent. And via an AlwaysOn feature, SQL Server "Denali" will offer database replication and failover at the machine group level.

Microsoft also noted that HP would deliver Windows Azure appliances for private cloud computing by the end of calendar year 2011. Dell and Fujitsu are also expected to ship similar appliances this year. And although this isn't particularly related, the recently announced Windows Intune 2 cloud service seamlessly utilizes Windows Azure cloud storage on the back end, allowing customers to take advantage of that infrastructure's performance and scale at no additional cost.