Friday, 19 September 2008

Windows Server 2008 - What is so different in it?

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Windows Server 2003 felt like a refresh of Windows Server 2000. There were few radical changes, and most of the improvements were fairly under the surface – typically like “old wine in new bottle”! However, Windows Server 2008, surprisingly, is a full-size helping of "new and improved." While the overall package is quite good, there are a few surprises, gotchas, and hidden delights you will want to know about before deciding if you will be moving to Windows Server 2008 any time soon.

Here are a few of the surprises that you may be greeted with by the Windows Server 2008:

  • There have been 64-bit editions of Windows Server for years now, and Microsoft has made it quite clear that it wants all of its customers to move to 64-bit operating systems. That does not mean that you can throw away your 32-bit Windows Server 2008 CD, though! Over the last few months, there have been a few pieces of Microsoft software that, shockingly, do not have 32-bit versions and also do not run under a 64-bit OS at all. It includes components like Team Foundation Server and ISA Server. If you are planning on moving to 64-bit Windows Server 2008, be prepared to have a 32-bit server or two around, whether it is on physical hardware or in a VM.
  • While the UI changes in Windows Server 2008 are not nearly as sweeping as the Aero interface in Windows Vista, it has undergone a dramatic rearrangement and renaming of the various applets around the system – the organization of these items, in fact, is much more sensible. Expect to be a bit frustrated in the Control Panel until you get used to it.
  • Hyper-V was one of the most anticipated features of Windows Server 2008, and it's surprisingly good, particularly for a version 1 release from Microsoft. It is stable, easy to install and configure, and does not seem to have any major problems. For those of us who have been beaten into the "wait until the third version" or "don’t install until SP1" mentality, this is a refreshing surprise. However it is of high quality, Hyper-V is seriously lacking features. It, sadly, does not seem to include any utilities for importing VMs for products other than Virtual PC and Virtual Server. Even those imports are not workaround-free. Another real surprise here is the lack of a physical-to-virtual conversion utility.
  • If you have been putting off the painful migration from your NT 4 domain until Windows Server 2008 was released, don’t keep waiting. The older version (3.0) Active Directory Migration Tool (ADMT) supports migrations from NT 4, but not Windows Server 2008. The latest version (3.1) supports migrations to Windows Server 2008, but not from NT 4. Either migrate from NT 4 before changing your domain to be a Windows 2008 domain or get your NT 4 domain upgraded first.
  • In prior versions of Windows Server, a lot of applications came installed by default. No one ever uninstalled them because they did not cause any harm, even if you didn't use them or installed an alternative. Now, even the "throwaway" applications, like Windows Backup, are not installed by default. After installation, you need to add "features" to get the full Windows Server suite of applications. This can be frustrating if you are in a hurry, but the reduced clutter and resource overhead are worth it.
  • Continuing a hallowed Microsoft tradition, trying to understand the licensing terms of Windows Server 2008 feels like hammering nails with your forehead. The Standard Edition makes sense, but when you get into the issues around virtualization in Enterprise and Datacenter Editions, things can be a bit confusing.
  • Maybe it's because Vista set expectations of pain, or that hardware has gotten so much cheaper, but Windows Server 2008 does not feel bloated or slow at all. Microsoft has done a pretty good job at minimizing the installed feature set to the bare minimum, and Server Core can take that even further. Depending upon your needs, it can be quite possible to upgrade even older equipment to Windows Server 2008 without needing to beef up the hardware.

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