Product review: Windows Server 2008 is the host with the most, and the perfect guest
Microsoft's slimmer and stronger server OS, bolstered by virtualization, networking, and security advances, is an upgrade that IT can't refuse, a 200-pound gorilla that eats commercial Linux
One road you won't need to take to slenderize Windows Server 2008 is to run it as a 32-bit (x86) OS instead of 64-bit (x64). You've heard hype that the overhead of going to 64 bit, especially for virtual guests, is substantial enough to blow x64 off unless you know you need access to a 64-bit virtual address space (as if that knowledge were easy to come by). Dismiss this as noise. The 32-bit server OS is the HD DVD of IT, even for virtual guests. It's time to step into the future.
To put a fine point on the virtues of Windows Server 2008's trimmer physique, consider that I ran the x64 Windows Server 2008 Standard on an Apple MacBook Pro, running as a 64-bit virtual guest under VMware Fusion software virtualization for OS X. Of MacBook Pro's 2GB of RAM, I reserved 512MB for Windows Server 2008. I made just one allowance for Windows Server 2008: I installed it on an off-board 18GB FireWire-powered hard drive. To be honest, that was for me. I wanted a blinky light that showed me how hard Windows Server 2008 was hitting the drive.
Seen from one perspective, Microsoft wants to reach out to and play nice with Linux. Subsystem for Unix Applications (SUA) is bundled with Windows Server 2008 Standard, Enterprise, and Datacenter, and all Windows Server 2008 SKUs can compile and run many open source and commercial x86/x64 operating systems, OS X being a notable exception. Microsoft's decision, albeit one made under legal duress, to publish its proprietary APIs and protocols should make Linux developers and users of freeware Linux distributions ecstatic.
Seen another way, Microsoft has executed Windows Server 2008 in a way that makes commercial Linux far less appealing. In those places where Linux might be seen as a good fit for its performance and small footprint, any Windows Server 2008 SKU, including the painlessly priced Windows Server 2008 Web and the Windows Server Core license that rides along with all Windows Server 2008 SKUs, all but slams the door shut on Linux in a Windows shop; Linux is just an impossible sell in Windows shops. That's not because Microsoft has exerted some evil monopolistic power over the enterprise OS market, but because Microsoft made the IT-friendly technical, licensing, and packaging decisions that leave very few gaps, if any, left to fill.
Many children at your service
The Hyper-V hypervisor (currently beta, due Q3) and virtual machine management tools baked into Windows Server 2008 Standard will go a long way toward taking Microsoft server virtualization beyond a poor man's alternative to VMware. Windows Server 2008 casts off a cumbersome, high-overhead, heavyweight virtual machine manager model in favor of a wafer-thin, host-optimized hypervisor. This does not take away the substantial value that VMware, Virtual Iron, Citrix/XenSource, and other serious virtualization players add to large-scale enterprise operations that might have thousands of virtual instances running at once. But Microsoft's virtualization has three unique advantages: It costs nothing, its administration is integrated into Microsoft's other server management tools, and Windows Server 2008 is the only host OS it needs to support. In that last case, Windows shops derive a serious performance and scalability kick from the fact that Microsoft's virtualization is proprietary.