By Yuval Shavit, Features Writer
Microsoft Windows Server 2008, the latest server operating system (OS) from Redmond, is already getting a more positive response than its desktop equivalent, Vista. Although it was only released in late February, several consultants and systems integrators (SIs) said their customers have already started testing Windows Server 2008. Unlike Vista, many of Windows Server 2008's improvements are relatively incremental and shouldn't cause major compatibility issues, but the OS does have some significant improvements you should be aware of. The first installment of our Hot Spot Tutorial on Windows Server 2008 details those improvements and explains where your customers are likely to need help.
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For value-added resellers (VARs) and SIs, Windows Server 2008 presents consulting opportunities, since clients may not know all of the new system's features or whether they should make the upgrade. If your clients do decide to upgrade, you can earn additional revenue in deployment, testing and training services.
While many companies are dragging their feet with Vista, upgrades should be much quicker on the server side, consultants and analysts said. While few companies have Server 2008 in production yet, consultants said companies are already testing it and preparing for the upgrade.
Whereas Microsoft's changes from Windows XP to Vista left many programs and devices incompatible, Windows Server 2008 is a more incremental upgrade from its predecessor, Server 2003, said Michael Cherry, senior analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a Kirkland, Wash., analysis firm focusing on Microsoft. Server-side applications are also written differently from desktop programs in that they separate the front-end and management tools from the program's core functionality, Cherry said. That makes it easier to upgrade the underlying OS without having to retool the whole application. Then there's the numbers game: Companies have fewer servers to upgrade than desktops, and servers are under IT's direct control, so managing the upgrade itself is easier.
One of Windows Server 2008's new features is Server Core, a stripped-down configuration of the OS that can be used to run as a lean infrastructure server for functions like DHCP, Active Directory, file and printer services or DNS. Server Core contains only the bare essentials of the OS and does not even have a GUI, so IT staff will have to handle all management through the command line interface (CLI) console. Server Core doesn't include .NET, or other components that applications use, so you won't be able to use it as an application server or to host dynamic Web pages. If your client's IT staff isn't very comfortable with the CLI, it may be a good idea to schedule extra tutorial sessions for them.
The trade-off for giving up GUI management tools is increased security and speed. Fewer services and components means hackers have fewer targets and fewer components to patch. Network speeds can increase as much as six-fold using Windows Server 2008 for the IT infrastructure stack, said Alan "Skip" Gould, president and CEO of BrightPlanIT, an IT consultancy in Buffalo, N.Y.
Your clients may also see performance improvements by using the 64-bit edition of Windows Server 2008. While Server 2003 also had 64-bit versions, migrating to Windows Server 2008 presents a new opportunity to explore 64-bit processing, Gould said. 64-bit computing lets the server handle more data per cycle at the OS level, which can speed up large databases and computationally intensive operations such as encryption. Hyper-V, the built-in virtualization hypervisor Microsoft is developing to compete with VMware and Citrix Xen, will require a 64-bit installation of Windows Server 2008.
Not all of Server 2008's improvements focus on tweaking configurations to get the most power out of your customer's servers. Microsoft also improved several features in its Web server, Internet Information Services (IIS). The latest IIS, version 7.0, is easier to manage, Cherry said, and includes support for dynamic content not based on .NET. That means companies can use IIS to host pages created by PHP or other non-Microsoft programming languages. IIS 7 is also more modular and includes improvements to security and management.
If you do custom development for your clients, combining Windows Server 2008 with SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008 will give you tighter integration and better management, said John Powers, president and CEO of Digipede Technologies, an Oakland, Calif.-based developer of Windows-based distributed computing software. SQL Server 2008 is slated to ship later this year, and Visual Studio 2008 was released with Windows Server 2008.
But one of the biggest new features of Windows Server 2008 is its built-in virtualization capabilities using the Hyper-V hypervisor. With Hyper-V, Microsoft is taking a direct shot at VMware's ESX Server virtualization software, and several SIs said it looks like Microsoft is giving the incumbent VMware a run for its money. In the next installment of our Hot Spot Tutorial on Windows Server 2008, we'll take a closer look at Hyper-V.