Microsoft Windows Server 2008 review

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Microsoft has released its latest and greatest version of its Windows Server operating system. The previous generation, Server 2000 and 2003, has done sterling work for many companies, both large and small, and it’s clear that the new release has to be very good indeed to get companies to move forward.

Fortunately for Microsoft, and in contrast to Vista, Server 2008 excels in just about every area. It doesn’t matter which pieces of the functionality you use, you’ll find it faster, easier to deploy, much more sensible in its defaults, and requires less work for more output.

However, there is a learning barrier that needs to be overcome – although most of the principles of the 2000/2003 world apply just as well to the 2008, it would be a pity to miss out on some of the new benefits.

For example, the NAP Network Access Protection system means that a computer can’t connect to the network unless an administrative set of tests and tasks have been approved.

it_photo_31679It might require that antivirus signatures are up to date, that all the OS updates have been done and that the firewall is enabled too. This means the network manager can be confident of the health of the client machine before it actually connects to the network.

If the rules fail, then the machine is electronically parked into a secure part of the network until it’s brought up to date, and no connection to line-of-business servers is possible.

it_photo_31676Clearly this is a powerful tool, because it also lets you determine the health and restrict the access of laptops brought into the organisation by visitors, for example. And it’s just as applicable to a ten-man company as to a 10,000-seat one.

Virtualisation is a very big deal within 2008, and for those companies still running NT4 this is a way to upgrade without horrendous disruption.

Virtualise the old servers using the supplied tools (click here for more on Hyper-V, Server 2008’s virtualisation tool), and continue to run them on top of a 2008 core.

Then start to make the plans to move forward to the 2007/2008 versions of the Microsoft products – there’s huge benefit to finally biting the bullet on Active Directory. Exchange Server 2007 is incomparably better than 5.5, too.

As you need more servers, don’t buy more hardware – use the virtualisation tools to bring up more instances of the Server platform, and get the best all-round use from the new hardware you bought for the first 2008 deployment.

You can take ten old servers and run them on one new shiny 1U rackmount costing a few thousand pounds. It will be much more reliable, lower power consumption and use less space too.

If you have the Enterprise Server licence, then you can install four virtual machines for free from the same licence. Go for the Datacenter edition, and the VM installation count is unlimited.

And when you need a new server or service platform, decide which size of server role you want – there’s now Server Core which lets you install a significantly cut-down version of Server. It has no real GUI, for example, and is ideal as an application server.

If you have branch offices, then the new read-only Active Directory capabilities in the branch server mode will be of interest – it ensures that everything is properly centralised.

it_photo_31670Finally, don’t forget that the Server 2008 platform is just the start – Microsoft has a galaxy of extra-cost server applications which run on top. Exchange Server provides robust email and groupware. SQL Server provides the database.

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