Win Server 2008 R2 polishes up an already sleek server OS

PowerShell, cmdlets, increased security, and hot-swappable Hyper-V are all intriguing updates

I've been working with Windows Server 2008 since pre-release betas hit the TechNet download world. Initially, my focus was work-oriented, getting my job done. I had to deploy a few servers, and I found the overall structure to be the same as 2003, so I wasn't overly frustrated looking for new ways to do old things (like adding a simple user in Active Directory). Slowly, however, I became aware of some really nice enhancements within the latest Windows Server OS.

For example, there's Server Core. It has a command-line interface, a lighter footprint, and a smaller attack surface (making it a welcome security choice). It has read-only domain controllers, not unlike the NT 4.0 BDC (Backup Domain Controller) concept, but with a solid purpose of remote branch office domain controller deployment and without the security risk that a writable domain controller poses.

[ Dig into the nitty gritty of Windows Server Core. | Read the InfoWorld Test Center review of Windows Server 2008. ]

There's also RemoteApp Terminal Services. Why "TS" the whole desktop when an application is all your user needs? Yes, these features have me singing Windows Server 2008's praises.

And the forthcoming R2 (release 2) offers more. R2, as its name suggests, is filled with minor changes, but some are really interesting ones in the cosmic scope of things. For starters, R2 is being developed in tandem with Windows 7, so the two will work better together. In fact, certain Windows 7 features like Branch Cache and Direct Access will require R2 functionality. Group Policy settings for Windows 7 will be enhanced with R2 as well.

One of the nice new features involves Server Core, which lets you install a subset of the .Net Framework (2.0, 3.0, and 3.5) and thus install PowerShell as well. In addition, ASP.Net will be allowed in Server Core (again, thanks to the .Net Framework subset).

There are some Server Manager changes, such as the ability to perform remote management with Server Manager (which seems like that should have always been the case, like the Computer Management MMC, but it wasn't). There is also a great new server management tool called the Best Practices Analyzer, which Exchange folks will recognize as a great tool for scanning servers and reporting best practice violations back to the administrator. There are going to be a host of new cmdlets for PowerShell too, especially in relation to Server Manager to perform tasks at the command line (although the ServerManagerCmd.exe tool works well).

Internet Information Services 7.0 is being upgraded to 7.5 with support for PowerShell, the addition of out-of-band IIS extensions to the core product (so you don't need to download them manually), and integrated (and secured) FTP and WebDAV features. In fact, there is an entire new FTP server services for R2. Building on the application pool isolation that was available with IIS 7.0, which provided increased security and reliability, every IIS 7.5 application pool now runs with a unique, less-privileged identity. This will help to harden the security of applications and services running on IIS 7.5.

One of the cool new features to Active Directory is the Recycle Bin, where ActiveDirectory objects can be undeleted if they were accidentally deleted. Again, you can see PowerShell features enhanced with R2 as more cmdlets are added for administration and management through the command line. A new ActiveDirectory Administrative Center is in the plans to pool together all tasks rather than having separate consoles for users, domains, and sites.

There are enhancements coming with Hyper-V that are sure to be intriguing. Live migration, which will let you move running virtual machines from one node of a failover cluster to another in the same cluster transparently, without a dropped network connection or downtime. Dynamic virtual machine storage will provide support for hot plug-in and hot removal of storage is also in the works.

These are just a few of the many new features to look for in R2 of Server 2008. In them, I see a trend revolving around a greater use of PowerShell for each and every aspect of Windows Server, the use of the Best Practices Analyzer to be a tattle-tale on your network, and an increased focus on consoles that provide greater functionality. Most important, the connection to the Windows 7 client is going to be a huge motivator for adoption.

Hard to know now is whether the many great features in Windows Server 2008 R2 will motivate more companies to upgrade to Windows 7, or if the already in-place desire to move to Windows 7 will motivate an increase in Windows Server 2008 R2 adoption, driven by the desire to have the two working in tandem.

Where do you stand? Are you using Windows Server 2008 already and ready to move forward to R2? Are you planning a full Windows 7/Server 2008 R2 combo upgrade for your 2010 budget?