Windows Server 2008: What's new?

Windows Server 2008 is slated for release this coming February and recent reviews have given Microsoft's newest server gold stars. According to Mitch Tulloch, the author of "Introducing Windows Server 2008," the new features make Microsoft's newest server gives users more control over remote access, greater security, to greater manageability. This email interview with Tulloch could help you assess whether the upgrade is right for your customers.

Why would an SMB choose to upgrade or migrate to Windows Server 2008? I think there are several reasons SMBs will want to upgrade when Windows Server 2008 is released. For instance, businesses that need to support a mobile workforce typically use virtual private networking (VPN) today, but giving remote users full access to your internal network from over the Internet is not always an optimal solution. Using Terminal Services Gateway...

however, which is a new feature of Windows Server 2008, users can securely cross your perimeter firewall and access applications running on a Terminal server on your network. And with the new RemoteApp feature, users can now run individual applications remotely on a terminal server so that they look and feel just like local applications running on their desktops, which is a much better user experience than running a separate remote desktop.

Better security is another reason businesses will want to upgrade. For instance, with Windows Vista on your desktops and Windows Server 2008, protecting your internal network using IPSec is a snap -- much easier to do than on previous Windows platforms. And for businesses with branch offices, you'll be able to deploy Read-Only

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Domain Controllers (RODCs) that provide a number of important benefits: they're easy to deploy, their management can be delegated to users who are not administrators, they only store user and computer credentials you specify they should store, and they don't use as much replication bandwidth as regular domain controllers. So if you have a branch office where physical security is a concern and you don't have a full-time admin, RODCs are definitely the way to go.

What might make a business hesitate to upgrade?
I think with any upgrade there's a lot of complexity involved, and you shouldn't perform it without proper planning and testing. Basically, if a business can benefit from the new features and enhancements of Windows Server 2008, they should deploy the new platform. But if they don't see significant business benefit in these features and enhancements, they should probably wait. If their desktop refresh cycle is coming up and they're planning on moving to Vista however, then that's another good reason for considering Windows Server 2008 since the new server platform is designed to work best with Vista on the client side. How would a VAR or systems integrator assess whether the migration or upgrade would benefit a client?
They need to do a cost/benefit analysis based on the current and future needs of the business, and how the new features and enhancements of Windows Server 2008 can meet each need. Depending on the scope and size of the business, the migration could be done in phases, or it could be done all at once. Each organization is different and their business needs have to be the driver here. Microsoft's marketing copy promises more control over a server and network infrastructure – how does it give users "more control"?
I think there are two aspects here: security and manageability. Network Access Protection (NAP) is a new feature of Windows Server 2008 that ensures client computers that are trying to connect to your corporate network meet administrator-defined requirements for things like system health, patch level and so on as specified by your security policy. For example, by using NAP, a client computer that doesn't have the latest hotfixes installed or hasn't downloaded the most recent antivirus signature could be prevented from connecting to your network until these issues have been remediated. This can significantly reduce the risk of having an unhealthy client infect your network with malware, which means you have greater control over the security of your network.

Improved management tools like Windows PowerShell also provide you with greater control because they make it easier for you as an administrator to manage servers on your network. Windows PowerShell is a command shell and scripting language that is more powerful and easier to use than previous Windows scripting paradigms. For example, using PowerShell you can do a quick and dirty check on the service pack level or network configuration of each of your servers, and you can generate output as a CSV file that you could import into Microsoft Excel for reporting purposes. PowerShell rocks and it's definitely the way of the future for automating Windows administration tasks.

Microsoft also promises more flexibility for changing business needs – could you talk about what this means?
Sounds like marketing jargon to me. Seriously though, I guess they mean things like what happens when a business grows and opens branch offices, supports more users, provisions new applications, has new partners and so on. Lots of Windows Server 2008 features can provide benefit here, like using IIS 7.0 and the .Net Framework 3.0 when you need to build B2B or B2C solutions using the Application Server role and leveraging the industry-standard Web Services (WS-*) protocols, implementing Failover Clusters when you need to quickly and easily increase availability for your file or print server, using the new Storage Explorer console to easily manage all the components on an iSCSI SAN and so on. There are so many powerful new features and enhancements in Windows Server 2008 that most businesses will find benefits here in implementing the new platform. Do you see any business opportunities for VARs and SIs in any of the above areas?
If I was a VAR or SI then I'd be excited by what's coming in Windows Server 2008, and I'd be out there right now trying to communicate possible benefits to my clients. Can you talk about how the new server provides a structure, protects information and enables compliance?
I've already mentioned a few security benefits above, but one more worth mentioning is Active Directory Directory Services (AD DS) auditing enhancements. In Windows Server 2003 you can enable a global audit policy called Audit Directory Service Access to log events in the Security event log whenever certain operations are performed on objects stored in Active Directory. What's new in Windows Server 2008 however is that this audit policy has been enhanced to allow you to audit directory service changes in detail. For instance, using the Security event log and filtering for a particular User object, you can now track all the changes to the attributes of that object over the entire lifetime of the object, and being able to create audit trails like this can be a big help in ensuring regulatory compliance in certain industries. Can you talk about the virtualization capabilities that are built right into the system?
Virtualization is big in the enterprise today. Enterprises love it because of all the possible benefits it can bring like the cost-effectiveness of server consolidation, improved business continuity, easier testing and development, and ensuring application compatibility. Windows Server Virtualization will provide all these benefits and more, but unfortunately it won't be available at RTM. Instead, Windows Server Virtualization will be available as a download some time after Windows Server 2008 RTMs. Do you have suggestions about how a channel professional can start learning the essentials of this new server?
Buy my new book! Introducing Windows Server 2008 is Microsoft Press's first book about the new platform, and I wrote it with the help of almost a hundred individuals on the Windows Server team at Microsoft. So even though the book is based on a pre-release (Beta 3) version of the product, we've tried to make everything as accurate as possible — plus there are tons of tips and insights contributed by the team itself that you'll want to know about if your company is thinking of moving to Windows Server 2008. Go to my Web site and you'll find a sample chapter you can download, plus a link to the Microsoft eLearning Portal where you can browse a few more sample chapters — or better yet, order the book from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Just a little shameless self-promotion on my part! Is there anything that we haven't covered that you would like to add?
Nothing in particular, except that the more I work with Windows Server 2008 the more excited I get. For a general overview of the new platform, you can go to the Windows Server 2008 home page. For technical documentation and implementation details, check out the Windows Server 2008 Technical Library. But if you really want to learn dig down deep and learn about the product, buy my book — shameless, aren't I?

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk with you and to share my excitement about Windows Server 2008.

Email Mitch Tulloch at info@mtit.com with your Windows Server 2008 questions, or visit his Web site

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