Upgrading to Windows Server 2008

Upgrading to Windows Server 2008 will require hardware refreshes at many customer sites. Even with hardware that's already capable of running Server 2008, configuration and testing are on the list of chores. Service providers can ease the burden on customers by bundling hardware upgrades and system testing into a support package built around Windows Server 2008.

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Service provider takeaway: Windows Server 2008 creates opportunities for service providers to offer customers a package of services and products for hardware upgrades and implementation.

Despite end users' lukewarm reaction to Vista, many IT administrators are eager to upgrade their servers to Windows Server 2008. The server operating system (OS) delivers significant functional improvements for administrators -- and an important opportunity for the channel. This tip discusses the benefits of upgrading to Windows Server 2008, hardware requirements, the software upgrade process and how channel pros can help.

Benefits of upgrading
Windows Server 2008 is in many ways a brand-new Windows server OS with an improved architecture and a variety of significant new features. The architecture has been redesigned around the Server Core, which allows the base OS to be loaded with only the code needed for a particular server, without a lot of extraneous code; this minimizes the surface area, improves performance and reduces security exposures.

Windows Server 2008 also enables the new virtualization hypervisor layer, Hyper-V, which will be a major upgrade driver for many users when it ships later this year. Hyper-V can run as a standalone module or in conjunction with the full Windows Server 2008. The operating system is also available in both 32-bit and 64-bit editions, which many users have anticipated, to help address memory issues.

More on Windows Server 2008
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Windows Server 2008: To migrate or not to migrate

What impact will Windows Server 2008 have on VMware?

Terminal Services has also been greatly improved and supports Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) 6.0. Windows Server 2008's Terminal Services supports multiple applications per RDP session and the ability to use a RemoteApp window rather than share an entire remote desktop. Clustering is improved with newly named Failover Clustering. This feature enables geoclustering failover, simplifies cluster startup and eliminates the need for a SAN.

One of the other major reasons to upgrade to WinServer 2008 will be the new IIS7 platform for developing and hosting Web server applications. IIS7 features include integration with .NET; simpler management; and performance, isolation and security improvements that deliver a much better Web server.

Other miscellaneous reasons to upgrade to Windows Server 2008 include the new PowerShell scripting and automation capabilities; BitLocker and other security enhancements; and networking improvements.

Hardware requirements
Hardware and memory requirements for Windows Server 2008 increased from previous versions, as have the maximum configurations supported. The minimum processor speed is 1 GHz, but 2 GHz or faster is recommended. Minimum memory for Windows Server 2008 is officially 512 MB RAM, with at least 2 GB or greater recommended. Maximum memory has increased to 4 GB (Standard) or 64 GB (Enterprise and Datacenter) for 32-bit systems. For 64-bit systems, 32 GB (Standard) or a whopping 2 TB (Enterprise and Datacenter) are the maximum configurations. For basic server functions, 2 GB RAM should be a good starting point. But servers that will run Hyper-V, SQL or Exchange or that will function as domain controllers should add more RAM depending on the specific requirements -- by application and by number of users.

The decision on whether to use the 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows Server 2008 should be considered carefully before final hardware choices are made. A 64-bit system will certainly help address memory issues but also can introduce application compatibility problems. Available disk space required for 64-bit systems is 10 GB minimum, with 40 GB or greater recommended.

In some cases, the requisite hardware upgrades will be done as part of a standard tech refresh cycle. Some customers have already planned for new hardware requirements and purchased these upgrades in preparation for migrating to Windows 2008 sometime this year. Other customers are waiting for the next cycle. These hardware upgrades represent an opportunity for service providers but should also be viewed as part of a larger set of services surrounding software upgrades, installation and education.

Upgrade process
The move to Windows Server 2008 will likely start with a single test installation on a new high-end server. Testing on a single server allows users to gain experience with the new Server Core and the various installation roles which will be defined for all the different servers in each customer's environment. Customers should use this time to explore and test the new functions of Windows Server 2008 and then to install and test whatever other application upgrades are being planned. This will allow all components to be upgraded in one fell swoop. For example, deployment of new hardware and installation of Windows Server 2008 and Exchange 2007 can be handled as a single upgrade process. (Actually, Exchange 2007 requires a new install with a migration of mailboxes, so it's natural to combine the move to Exchange 2007 with installation and testing of Windows Server 2008).

Once the first server is tested and put into production, subsequent Windows Server 2008 server implementations can either be done as part of a hardware refresh cycle using new servers, or installed using "swing" servers on existing hardware. This is a process whereby the first new (upgraded) server goes into production, replacing an existing server that is taken out of production, to be upgraded. At this point, the removed server receives a makeover: Any required hardware upgrade is performed, the previous server OS is wiped out and the new Server Core is installed. After these upgrades are complete, the server is inserted into whatever role it will play, and the process continues with the next server.

Service opportunities
In addition to the hardware upgrades themselves, the Windows Server 2008 upgrade process holds other opportunities for the channel. If your business involves providing technical help to customers, make sure that your Windows experts have experience with Windows Server 2008 and its nuances; such expertise will help drive additional business and ensure successful upgrade projects.

When taking on Windows Server 2008 upgrade projects, the first round of work involves evaluating the current environment, latent demands and existing problems to determine where Windows 2008 initially can help the most. Then, service providers should assess what hardware upgrades will be needed to allow the appropriate servers to run Windows Server 2008 effectively for each of the anticipated server roles. After that, service providers can either create or validate the overall project plan, depending on the level of expertise within the organization. And finally, of course, make Microsoft Windows Server 2008 specialists available to be on site to help with the first few servers and save customers time, pain and money by avoiding common pitfalls.

Windows Server 2008 will start moving into customer environments soon -- much faster than Vista. When Hyper-V ships later this year, customers will have another reason to upgrade to Windows Server 2008. The upgrade process will require both hardware upgrades and expert assistance from service providers. Those with early hands-on experience will have much to offer their customers.

About the author
Barb Goldworm is president and chief analyst of Focus Consulting, a research, analyst and consulting firm focused on systems, software and storage. Barb has spent 30 years in various technical, marketing, senior management and industry analyst positions with IBM, Novell, StorageTek, Enterprise Management Associates and multiple successful startups. A frequent speaker, columnist and author of numerous white papers and research studies, she recently released the book Blade Servers and Virtualization: Transforming Enterprise Computing While Cutting Costs, published by Wiley. Barb chaired the 2007 Server Blade Summit on Blades and Virtualization, is the chair for Virtualization Insight at the 2008 Blade Systems Insight, and has been the keynote speaker at numerous events on both virtualization and blades. She previously created and chaired the network storage track of Interop, and has been one of the top three ranked analyst/knowledge expert speakers at Storage Networking World. Barb can be reached at barbgoldworm@focusonsystems.com.


This was first published in January 2008

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