Windows Server 2008 Overview

Windows Server 2008 OverviewOverview Windows Server 2008

Windows Server 2008 is the operating system which will replace W2K3 (Server 2003).  My aim on this page is to give you a look and feel of this new server.  If you are more interested in an itemised list than an overview, then here are the new features.

Remember that Windows 2008 is a Microsoft server, thus you are going to recognise features from W2K3.  You may also see tiny bits of NT 3.5, NT 4.0 and Windows Server 2000.  You may also recall that when each of those old servers was new it had a front-end make-over; so it is with Windows Server 2008, it has the latest Vista GUI.

Although Windows Server 2008 reports to be Version 6.0 (Windows Server 2003 R2 is 5.2), the progression seems more like the evolution from W2K to W2K3, than the revolution from NT 4.0 to W2K.  In addition to the headline new features such as Hyper-V, what we get is lots of small changes, each is relatively insignificant in itself, but together these little improvements add up to make Windows Server 2008 an impressive product.

It is also true to say that 2008/9 is make or break time for Microsoft.  Either Windows Server and Vista will work together to fuel future networks, or else Microsoft will crash and burn.

Beware the ‘Horseless Carriage Syndrome’Windows Server 2008 Horseless carriage syndrome

If I could digress for minute, I would like to take you back a hundred years to a time when the stagecoach was being replaced by the motor car.  At first, the car driver was seated outside the chassis.  This was simply because, on the old stagecoach, that is where he had always been positioned.  Indeed, an obvious nickname for the new invention was, ‘The Horseless Carriage’.

Then, one bright developer and said, ‘Why don’t we put the driver inside with the passengers?’   From this inspired novel feature, the horseless carriage was transformed into the car.

However, die-hard stagecoach men refused to drive from the inside and the horseless carriage syndrome was born.  Every new computer product creates fresh victims who are affected by this syndrome.  Now that I have altered you to the ‘horseless carriage’ condition, everywhere you look you will see people who just want to carry on with the old ways, instead of adapting to the latest technology.

Examples of the Horseless Carriage Syndrome in Windows Server 2008

  • People who insist on re-instating the ‘Run’ command instead of using the new ‘Search’ dialog box.
  • Those who turn off the new security feature – UAC (User account control).
  • Microsoft even pander to those won’t embrace change by having ‘Classic View’ link in the control panel. And I know 80% of people will click that link it!
  • The most extreme case is my friend ‘Mad’ Mick who still uses Edlin as his text editor.


Windows Server 2008 Overview

Every new system always says the same thing: ‘The latest operating system will reduce costs, improve management and make life easier for the users’.  One pertinent question is, ‘Was W2K3 better than 2000?’ or ‘Was Server 2000 better than NT?’  If the answer is ‘Yes’, then you may take it on trust that Server 2008 will be better than W2K3.  All that differs from one operating system generation to the next is the detail, well here below are the highlights of improvements that Windows Server 2008 brings.

Windows Server 2008 is More Secure: Guy’s Translation

You will soon meet the UAC (User Access Control).  This nagging dialog box asks you to confirm that you want to alter the system’s configuration.  The latest principle is ‘Windows Service Hardening’, whereby each operating system service only has the rights necessary to perform its own job.  One side effect is that even if you log on as the administrator, you don’t automatically have complete control; however, you can gain absolute command if you click ‘Continue’ when the UAC dialog box appears.

NAP (Network Access Protection) – Make sure that your network allows access only to ‘healthy’ machines.  Computers without the latest patches should be directed to your remediation subnet.

Core Server enables you to install only the essential files and services, thus a smaller area for attack and an easier area to defend with patches.

RODC (Read-only Domain Controller) allows users at branch offices to have fast logons, but if the server is stolen there are no passwords or compromising security information on that RODC server.

Improved Management: What does this means?

The Server Manager centralizes server management, especially when you need to add a roles and add another feature to your operating system.  Incidentally, when you first install you are directed to the ICT (Initial Configuration Tasks) in the Server Manager.

PowerShell – The idea is to use a command shell instead of a GUI.  A horrific idea for those wedded to the mouse.  However, in the true spirit of overcoming the horseless carriage syndrome, – give PowerShell a try.  You will be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to learn skills to ‘drive’ your server.

Group Policy has been around since NT4.  The new keyword is ‘Preferences’.  You set recommended values, but unlike the traditional Group Policies, preference means that the uses can change the settings.  Preferences aren’t going to take over from the old policies, more provide an alternative for those settings which you don’t need to enforce, and where you don’t want to alienate the intelligent users with petty-fogging rules.

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SolarWinds’ Network Performance Monitor will help you discover what’s happening on your network.  This utility will also guide you through troubleshooting; the dashboard will indicate whether the root cause is a broken link, faulty equipment or resource overload.

Perhaps the NPM’s best feature is the way it suggests solutions to network problems.  Its second best feature is the ability to monitor the health of individual VMware virtual machines.  If you are interested in troubleshooting, and creating network maps, then I recommend that you give this Network Performance Monitor a try.

Download your free trial of SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor.

Reduced Costs: How can it do that?

The pendulum is shifting away from lots of medium powered servers, to fewer servers with more processors and memory.  Enter Windows Server 2008’s new Hyper-V role.  What this virtualization does is save on hardware when you need a second or third server.  My understanding is that it also saves on server licences if you buy the Enterprise Edition of Server 2008 for the host, and then install up to four child virtual servers, all on the one licence.

Better Terminal Services.  Windows Server 2008  has an improved version of the Remote Desktop Connection (6.1) that caters for mobile devices.  Naturally, it has the Vista GUI, and as a result of a smarter operating system, Terminal Services 2008 can support 25% more concurrent users than W2K3.

Windows System Resource Manager (WSRM) 2008.  When CPU usage reaches 70%, WSRM kicks in and makes sure the server shares memory and CPU between users equally.  This is particularly useful for Terminal Server.  As an example, WSRM can dynamically adjusting the CPU priority for a process.

WDS. Windows Deployment Services has evolved from Windows 200x’s RIS (Remote Installation Service). Windows Server 2008 additional feature is that it supports Windows Imaging format (WIM).

Faster and Smarter: How So?

Because most servers are now multi-core, the kernel in Windows Server 2008 is optimized for multi-processor systems.  Memory, disk and network subsystems all transfer data in fewer bigger blocks.  Other small disk advantages include the ability to resize NTFS-based volumes, better self-heal properties for damaged disk sectors.

Microsoft built a new protocol stack in Windows Server 2008, it’s the same stack as Vista.  The redesigned protocol stack enables greater throughput, it achieves this by allowing bigger packets, with less fragmenting and fewer acknowledgement.  In addition there is native support for a parallel IPv6 stack, to loop back to security, IPv6 also insists on IPSec.

Windows Server 2008 brings better support for Federated Active Directory.  Talking of big network structures, clustering has got bigger, better and faster.

There are also numerous other small improvements such as a Restart Manager, BDC (Boot Configuration Data), a Driver Verifier, and my favourite, built-in diagnostics.

An Outline of Windows Server 2008 with Vista

As both Vista and Windows Server 2008 were part of the Longhorn project it is not surprising that they share a common look and feel.  Actually, Windows Server 2008 and Vista have more in common than a GUI, but it is only when you deploy both that you reap the extra benefits. 

With the following pairs, the sum is greater than each half, lock and key, bread and butter, so it is with Windows Server 2008 and Vista.  New features that work particularly well together are NAP (Network Access Protocol), Group Policy Preferences, WDS (Windows Deployment Services) and Next Generation IP Stack (IPv6).

Thus, while Windows Server 2008 operates perfectly OK with XP, to get all the advantages you really need to upgrade to the Vista client.

Windows Server 2008’s Pedigree

Insiders say that the Windows 2008 operating system has been built by a team of server experts; people with experience of both the successes and the failures of earlier Microsoft server projects.  Vista on the other hand, has probably attracted more wiz-kid techies.  Some of these Vista developers are undoubtedly brilliant, however the old saying of ‘genius is next to madness’ springs to mind, especially when you compare the haste of releasing Vista RTM in 2007 with the patience of waiting until 2008 for the Server version of ‘Longhorn’.

It seems to me as though the server team have incorporated the best ideas of the Vista developers, while rejecting anything that would compromise the integrity of their beloved server.

Vista’s twin aims were to make the world’s most secure client, and to impress users with the Aero graphics.  Whereas, the server’s brief was more mundane, namely to polish every rough edge found on Windows Server 2003.  Naturally the server team / product will use the Longhorn security features built into Vista.  The Aero graphics on the other hand, whilst appealing on the eye, are never going to be a high priority for a server.  My point is you can turn off the Aero graphics without compromising the ability to run or configure your server.  In fact the server may run 0.1% faster if you switch from Aero to the Basic scheme.

Summary of Windows Server 2008 Overview

Windows 2008 (Code name Longhorn) is a Microsoft server operating system, thus it shares many feature with W2K3.  However, many of those features have been improved, for example, Terminal Services and Group Policy Preferences, also Microsoft has added new technologies such as Hyper-V and NAP.  Another area of change has been the incorporation of Vista features, naturally the novel Aero GUI, but also Search, Resource Monitor, BitLocker and of course, the UAC.

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Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Topics:

Server 2008 Home   • Overview   • What’s New?   • Server Manager   • Install

Hyper-V   • Windows LDP.exe download   • Group Policy   • Remote restart Windows server

Network Performance Monitor   • Windows Server 2012   • SP1 Review   • IPAM 3 Review