Longhorn busts loose

Windows Server 2008, more than five years in the making, finally hits the streets

Today in Los Angeles -- and in a “launch wave” of events across the globe -- Microsoft’s long-awaited unveiling of Windows Server 2008 (WS08) reaches its dizzying crescendo. At the same time, Microsoft celebrates two other milestones: the release of Visual Studio 2008, which arrived in November, and the forthcoming release of SQL Server 2008, which is due in Q3.

[ Dive into the hands-on evaluations of the Windows Server 2008 family in the InfoWorld Test Center special report. ]

The formal launch of “Longhorn” caps more than five years of development effort that has produced a server OS that offers both performance gains and greater flexibility compared to Windows Server 2003, according to Microsoft. Although the new OS has been a long time coming, and subject to several delays, it is crammed with important new features and enhancements.

In the words of InfoWorld Chief Technologist and Windows Server 2008 reviewer Tom Yager, “You couldn’t ask for more, or for less.” On the more side, Yager points to such additions as Network Access Protection; strong, flexible, and standards-compliant encryption and security; vastly improved Terminal Services; full support for enhanced features in Windows Vista; and the Hyper-V hypervisor and virtual machine management tools.

On the less side, Yager touts WS08’s fine-grained modularity, the capability to install only essential services for specific server roles, or even a GUI-less system core with a smaller footprint than Windows Vista. Server role options not only let you shrink the attack and maintenance surface for servers devoted to DNS, or file serving, or Web serving, but also makes WS08 a lighter-weight, friendlier guest on server virtualization hosts.

One way to describe these advances is to say that WS08 is more like Linux than its predecessor. Yager goes so far as to say that WS08 “all but slams the door shut on Linux in Windows shops.” Microsoft has listened to its customers, and delivered an operating system that Windows shops want.

Sean McCown, contributing editor to the InfoWorld Test Center and author of the Database Underground blog, cautions you to plan carefully before dropping WS08 into your environment; many of the changes can have a significant impact.

For example, the new clustering configuration may not support your current hardware. And while the Server Core install is kinder on system resources, it won’t run Windows PowerShell scripts or some third-party monitoring agents. McCown would also like to see server roles expanded to include installs tailored for SQL Server and Exchange, for example.

Overall, however, McCown too is high on the new release, and especially taken with transactional NTFS, read-only domain controllers, restartable Active Directory Domain Services, and the revamped TCP/IP stack. J. Peter Bruzzese, InfoWorld’s Enterprise Windows blogger, says the move to Windows Server 2008 is a must, thanks to Server Core, PowerShell, Hyper-V, the new TCP/IP stack, the enhancements to Active Directory, and the “absolutely awesome” architecture that WS08 shares with Vista.

Here at InfoWorld, the arrival of Windows Server 2008 is being met with widespread admiration. It’s also seen as the bellwether of 64-bit Windows computing, a view that is encouraged by Microsoft and echoed by industry analysts. In the server room at least, it appears to be time to leave 32-bit Windows behind.

Naturally, the full story on Windows Server 2008 is still to come. We’ll now begin hearing from the early adopters, and we’ll be getting additional detail from technical analysts as they dive deeper into the new features. One of those features, the Hyper-V virtualization platform (WS08 includes a beta version), won’t arrive in final form for another six months. And Microsoft’s new edition of WS08 for midsize businesses, Windows Essential Business Server (nee Centro), won’t arrive in public beta until midyear.

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