10 surprising things about Windows Server 2008

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. Windows Server 2008, on the
other hand, 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.

#1: The 64-bit revolution is not complete

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, I have been shocked on more than one occasion by the pieces of
Microsoft software that not only do not have 64-bit versions, but will
not run under a 64-bit OS at all. This list includes 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 be on physical hardware or in a VM.

#2: Who moved my cheese?

While the UI changes in Windows Server 2008 are not nearly as
sweeping as the Aero interface in Vista, it has undergone a dramatic
rearrangement and renaming of the various applets around the system. In
retrospect, the organization of these items is much more sensible, but
that hardly matters when you have years of experience going to a
particular area to find something, only to have it suddenly change.
Expect to be a bit frustrated in the Control Panel until you get used
to it.

#3: Windows Workstation 2008 might catch on

In an odd turn of events, Microsoft has provided the ability to
bring the “Vista Desktop Experience” into Windows Server 2008. I doubt
that many server administrators were asking for this, but the unusual
result is that a number of people are modifying Windows Server 2008 to
be as close to a desktop OS as possible. There have always been a few
people who use the server edition of Windows as a desktop, but this
makes it much easier and friendlier. These home-brewed efforts are
generally called “Windows Workstation 2008,” in case you’re interested
in trying it out on your own.

#4: Hyper-V is good, but…

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.

#5: …Hyper-V is limited

Hyper-V, while of high quality, is sorely lacking features.
Considering that it was billed as a real alternative to VMWare and
other existing solutions, it is a disappointment (to say the least)
that it does not seem to include any utilities for importing VMs from
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. Hyper-V may be a good system,
but make sure that you fully try it out before you commit to using it.

#6: NT 4 domain migration — it’s not happening

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 to Windows Server 2008. The latest
version (3.1) support 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.

#7: The ashtrays are now optional

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.

#8: Licensing is bewildering

Continuing a hallowed Microsoft tradition, trying to understand the
licensing terms of Windows Server 2008 feels like hammering nails with
your forehead. So
maybe this isn’t so much a surprise as a gotcha. 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.
Depending upon your need for virtual machines and the number of
physical CPUs (not CPU cores, thankfully) in your server, Enterprise
Edition may be cheaper — or it may be more expensive than Datacenter
Edition. One thing to keep in mind is that once you start using virtual
machines, you start to like them a lot more that you thought you would.
It’s easy to find yourself using a lot more of them than originally

#9: There’s no bloat

Maybe it’s because Vista set expectations of pain, or because
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.

#10: Quality beats expectations

Microsoft customers have developed low expectations of quality over
the years, unfortunately, with good reason. While its track record for
initial releases, in terms of security holes and bug counts, seems to
be improving customers are still howling about Vista. As a result, it
has come as a real surprise that the overall reaction to Windows Server
2008 has been muted, to say the least. The horror stories just are not
flying around like they were with Vista. Maybe it’s the extra year they
spent working on it, or different expectations of the people who work
with servers, but Windows Server 2008 has had a pretty warm reception
so far. And that speaks a lot to its quality. There is nothing
particularly flashy or standout about it. But at the same time, it is a
solid, high quality product. And that is exactly what system
administrators need.

Justin James
is an employee of Levit & James, Inc. in a multi-disciplinary role
that combines programming, network management, and systems
administration. He has been blogging at TechRepublic since 2005.


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