The Bottom Line: If you business needs or wants to launch itself into Virtualized environment, Windows Server 2008, R2 x64 Enterprise Edition should be given serious consideration.
Qualifications: I am the manager (Network Administrator) of a medium-sized server farm at a financial institute that consists of some 250 Dell PowerEdge servers of various models and design and they run Windows 2003 Standard Edition (x32 & x64-bit R2) or Windows Enterprise Edition (x32 & 64-bit R2).
Disclaimer: This review is intended for those with intermediate or software knowledge, or those individuals seeking in-depth information on Enterprise caliber software server installations. Few if any of the terms used throughout the review are expounded upon.
In the spring of 2008 Microsoft finally released the long awaited successor to its highly stable, well-respected, but aging Network Operating System (NOS), Windows 2003. The new NOS, long referred to as Longhorn, is officially tagged by Microsoft as Windows 2008, and shares an OS kernel with the much maligned Windows Vista and is a NOS that wears two dresses.
What do I mean? Well an administrator can install Windows 2008 with or without the well-worn Windows GUI, and that is a radical departure from what came before. In its stripped down Server Core version, Windows 2008utilizes the Microsoft Powershell command-line interface (think Exchange 2007) to manage all aspects of the NOS. Yes folks this is MS-DOS on steroids and in color.
Windows 2008-all editions-was released in two (kernel) versions; i.e. 32-Bit and 64-Bit. Following quickly on the heels of the initial release of the NOS Microsoft offered up Release 2 (R2) of Windows 2008 in 64-Bit version only. A review Windows 2008 R2 64-Bit Enterprise Edition follows below.
64-Bit Computing, the Future of computing
Windows 2008 can be installed on 32-bit or 64-bit hardware underpinning. One of the biggest reasons to choose 64-bit computing over 32-bit is memory; how much can be utilized by the process and in what configuration. Your typical computer with one or more 32-bit processors can address up to 4 Gigabytes (GB) of RAM-depending on motherboard-which is split between the Operating System (OS) and any applications; e.g. 2 GB for OS and 2 GB for applications.
With 64-bit processors (both Intel and AMD offer them) one of the most striking features is the amount of memory the system can support. Intel and AMD 64-bit architecture will allow system motherboard architecture (chipset, bus(s) etc.) to address up to one terabyte (TB); that is 1000GB, of memory. This ability becomes important when we discuss virtual and cloud computing, both of which are touted as the wave of the Data Center future. Virtual computing eats RAM, and cloud computing count in large part on virtual computing to achieve economy of scale.
Also consider that databases, also known for their particular affinity for lots of RAM are multiplying like spots on a Dalmatian; even medium sized companies like mine store vast amounts of information on databases. Consider as well that the year-old Microsoft Exchange 2007 was released on 64-bit architecture only primarily to take advantage of the more robust RAM usage; i.e. the program will consume as much RAM as you can throw at it.
This is one of the reasons why an increasing numbers of business and organizations are moving to 64-but computing. They typically need to access increasing amounts of data and need servers that can support a greater number of larger files and can efficiently load large enterprise-class databases into RAM. The result is faster overall network throughput, data searches and records/data retrieval.
What's New in R2?
Windows 2008 R2 64-Bit Enterprise Edition (WS2008R2 64-BIT Enterprise Ed.) is still Windows 2008, but at a different (elevated) Service Pack (SP) level. According to Microsoft, "Windows Server 2008 R2 delivers valuable new functionality and powerful improvements to the core Windows Server operating system to help organizations of all sizes increase control, availability, and flexibility for their changing business needs. New Web tools, virtualization technologies, scalability enhancements, and management utilities help save time, reduce costs, and provide a solid foundation for your information technology (IT) infrastructure. Windows Server 2008 R2 has five core pillars which provide updates to existing functionality and new features." In a nutshell WS2008R2 64-BIT Ent.is a major uplift of the NOS and some say is the server release of Windows 7. The look and feel of the interface and underpinning of the GUI would certainly lead one to believe so. Bolstering this is the introduction of the Windows 7 taskbar and other GUI pieces and parts they make WS2008R2 64-BIT Enterprise Ed.more user friendly and easier to administer. The most important change is the WS2008R2 64-BIT Enterprise Ed. exists only for 64-bit platforms; x86 is not supported. This makes the NOS ideal for applications like Microsoft Exchange 2010 (64-bit only), Microsoft SharePoint 2010 (64-bit only) and Microsoft SQL Server 2008. The 64-bit kernel of WS2008R2 64-BIT Enterprise Ed. also makes the NOS ideal for and virtualization environment, allowing the Virtual Host to address up to 2TB of RAM.
Speaking of virtualization, R2 brings major changes to the functionality first released under Windows 2008 core in the form of Hype-V. The following changes were brought to the virtual table in WS2008R2 64-BIT Enterprise Ed.: o Live Migration o Dynamic virtual machine storage o Enhanced Processor support o Enhanced Network Support
We (the business I work for) currently has a major server virtualization initiative underway so Live Migration is essential part of our virtualization strategy. Live migration allows an administrator to transparently move running virtual machines from one node of the failover cluster to another node in the same cluster without worrying about dropped network connections.
Live migration requires the failover clustering role to be added and configured on the servers running Hyper-V, and a file-share witness configured. In addition, failover clustering requires shared storage (SAN, NAS, Fiber-Channel storage, etc.) for the cluster nodes. All virtual machines (VM) are stored in the shared storage area, and the running virtual machine state is managed by one of the nodes.
Microsoft recommends using the new Cluster Shared Volumes (CSV) feature of Failover Clustering in Windows Server 2008 R2 with live migration, which we do. CSV provides increased reliability when used with live migration and virtual machines, and also provides a single, consistent file namespace so that all servers running Windows Server 2008 R2 see the same storage.
Because our virtualization strategy calls for geo-clustering WS2008R2 64-BIT Enterprise Ed.'s Live Migrationfunctionality is exactly with we needed to tie together our virtualization strategy that will eventually bring co-processing to bear in the business. Installation
If you have a server running the 32-bit of Windows 2008, surprise, you cannot upgrade to WS2008R2 64-BIT Enterprise Ed., you will have to start fresh. Again, there is not 32-bit version of Windows 2008 R2.
GUI or Server Core; this decision cannot be made lightly because one cannot simply switch between the two server instances/installation types. If you decide to install the command-line Server Core version and later you decide you want the GUI after all, you will have to completely reinstall the NOS. The reverse is also true. So decision should be made well ahead of the install as to what function the NOS will ultimately perform and what applications it will host if any.
The Product activation process is accomplished after the NOS is installed; you will have 3 days in activate the software after you install it. The installation routine requires a product key.
Lastly a Word About Server Core
So what's the point of Server Core? Server Core functionality is more than a nod to UNIX and Linux administrators; it is an attempt by Microsoft to make Windows 2008 more powerful, less cumbersome, and less hardware intensive. And oh yes, Server Core is designed to reduce the surface area of the NOS, thus limiting security threats.
Unlike previous version of Windows all ancillary applications such as DNS, DHCP, AD, WINS, IIS, Cluster Services, etc. are installed as needed. Windows Server Standard 2008Server Core supports just nine roles, including AD, AD LDS, DHCP, DNS, File, Print, Virtualization (Hyper-V), Web Server, and WMS, compared to 18 roles in the full server with GUI.
Because Windows Server Standard 2008 Server Core is still Windows Server, all of the familiar GUI-based management tools will still work fine utilizing RDP with server; these include anything that uses Microsoft Management Console (MMC). What will not work is anything that requires a true GUI or .NET Framework, since Server Core is installed sans these advanced GUI underpinnings. Unfortunately some key Windows Server Standard 2008 functionality will not work remotely, including Internet Information Service 7.0 (IIS 7.0) ASP.NET, and some of the new Windows management interfaces that require .NET Framework.
For this reason I recommend using Server Core only for Windows Server Standard 2008 servers that will be used for ADS, DNS, WINS, DHCP, Virtualization, or some other simple one function service.
The downside of Server Core? Well for any Windows Administrator used to the ease of the GUI, Sever Core will present a steep learning curve, so be prepared. Type one letter wrong in a 100 character command string and be prepared to well, curse aloud for you'll have to find out where the mistake is; good luck with that!
This review can only begin to touch on the broad spectrum of enhancements Microsoft has brought to bear with WS2008R2 64-BIT Enterprise Ed. The server product family launches the NOS firmly into the x64-bit only arena and acknowledges the coming virtualization revolution with vast improvements to Hyper-V that I use every day.
I have to say that Hype-V Live Migration works as advertised, and over time this feature can save a business big money on hardware. Before WS2008R2 64-BIT Enterprise Ed. the business spent a lot of money on hardware; e.g. each major application rollout required two servers (one for the primary Data Center and on for the Disaster recovery site); Hype-V with Live Migration alleviate this need because each virtual server host can house any number of server guests VM's. How many guest VM's a given host can hold will depend on the individual gust VM application requirements and the hardware loud-out of the host, so...
Easy to install and configure, especially with Server Core, WS2008R2 64-BIT Enterprise Ed. brings so much more functionality and so many changes that serious consideration will have to be given as to how best to deploy it. A firm understanding of the NOS is needed in order to optimize what amounts to a very impressive release, bringing on-line a raft of new security features, Powershell-based scripting and administration, x64-bit computing, enhanced disaster recovery functionality, virtualization, and a whole lot more.
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