Test Center preview: Windows Server 2008 R2
A better, stronger Hyper-V isn't the only reason to look closely at this wide-ranging Windows Server update
Viva la Server Core
One of the best features of Windows Server 2008 is Server Core. Server Core allows you to install a trimmed-down version of Windows that hosts only the features you need. These would be services like DNS or Active Directory with little else on the box. By installing Server Core for these types of key functions, you greatly reduce the surface area for attack and improve performance of those services. In R2, Server Core now supports .Net and IIS. The latter plugs a huge hole in the Server Core offering; if anything can benefit from a reduced attack surface, it's a Web server. Server Core allows you to run IIS without ASP.Net, which becomes an optional install. Supporting .Net on Server Core also opens up management by PowerShell, which is another leap forward. Now you can not only have your cake, but you can manage it too.
In addition to running on Server Core, IIS gets an upgrade with R2. IIS 7.5 is a point release that probably could have been pushed via some other means, but it has some nice new features nonetheless. For instance, Microsoft has created a number of PowerShell cmdlets for the automation of everyday Web server admin tasks, as well as some security management tools. Every IIS administrator will appreciate the ability to automate backups of IIS metadata and content. But for large hosting services, automating the creation and management of sites, applications, and security settings will resonate the loudest. Now they won't have to allocate human resources to set up new customers or risk the inevitable human error when deploying Web applications across multiple servers.
FTP not only lives, but receives a makeover in R2. Although it's a little disappointing to find that FTP is still so prevalent, it's clearly not going the way of the floppy. The good news is you can now configure IIS to support several FTP sites on the same IP address. This allows you to easily set up different FTP sites from your domain, each with its own security defined. FTP has also been extended to support IPv6 and SSL.
The domain in Spain
When asking whether R2 is merely a service release, consider that it introduces a new functional level for the domain. And to take advantage of some of the new enhancements to Active Directory, your domain has to be running at this new functional level. Among these new enhancements, my favorites are those for joining a domain. You no longer have to manually join a domain during deployment; instead, you can create an answer file that setup will use to put the server on the domain. In fact, the computer doesn't even need to be physically connected to the network to join a domain. It can be joined during deployment and then become a configured member of the domain when booted. This functionality is essential for remote deployments, which are fast becoming the norm as companies continue to decentralize.
Another exciting enhancement is the new Active Directory recycle bin. I'm probably a little bit more excited about this than I should be, but it's very cool. When you delete Active Directory objects, they go into a recycle bin, where you can recover them later if needed.