Windows Server 2008: Much Talk, Little Action

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted Jun 23, 2008


When Microsoft's new back-end operating system launched earlier this year, a number of new features caught the eye, and it's fair to say that it was generally very well received. But now that the OS has been out for a while, is it all it was stacked up to be?

Despite a host of new features and glowing press, Windows Server 2008 has yet to take the enterprise by storm. Has the bleeding edge hemorrhaged?

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This, it turns out, is a harder question to answer than it looks. Finding organizations that have adopted the OS are noticeably thin on the ground. In part that's because the product is so new, but there appears to be more to it than just that.

The Search for Early Adopters

The problem seems to be that although Windows Server 2008 may be a great operating system, few people feel the need to actually use it right now. "The codebase of Server 2008 is the same as Vista, and no one wants Vista," said Roy Illsley, senior research analyst at Butler Group. "Equally, there is no compelling case to implement Server 2008 just yet," he added.

But it's not all gloom and doom, according to Illsley, "The good news for Microsoft is that people will eventually want to get their hands on Server 2008. That's because the company has listened to what people want and has put in some good features."

Add to that the fact that there is no compelling case to adopt it right now because Server 2003 is a very stable server OS. Since the five year-old operating system is still supported, most companies are quite happy to keep using it until they need to refresh their servers, he said.

Only enterprises that particularly want one of the new features are likely to upgrade sooner rather than later. After all, who wants to be the first to put 2008 in a production environment? Unless there is good reason to, it must be better to sit back and wait until other companies have implemented it and helped iron out the bugs that no doubt are waiting to be discovered.

Compelling New Features

The new feature attracting the most attention is the Hyper-V virtualization system. However, that will not be properly available until August. The Server Core installation option has also attracted a great deal of interest, and it's likely many companies will be trying it out in their test labs.

So are these the key features most likely to tempt organizations into early adoption?

That's certainly not the case with U.K.-based retailer John Lewis Partnership, which operates hundreds of supermarkets and department stores across the country. The company has been running a pilot with three Domain Controllers running on Server 2008 since the launch, and it plans to upgrade all of its core servers in due course. But there's a catch: It will not will not start the upgrade until more software supports Server 2008, according to Crispin Hobbs, the company's PC infrastructure and systems manager. "We are waiting for software like anti-virus and hardware management software to catch up before we go any further," he said.

What's the key attraction of Server 2008 to Hobbs. Surprisingly, the answer is not Hyper-V or Server Core. It's Read-Only Domain Controllers (RODCs), and the cost savings they can bring. At the moment each department store branch has its own Domain Controller. Running RODCs is a particularly appropriate solution at these sorts of branch sites because of the enhanced security they offer. More importantly, each store's Domain Controller currently runs on its own physical server.

Using Server 2008 will make it possible to run an RODC on the same physical machine as other applications. Most John Lewis branches have six physical servers, but using Server 2008 will make it possible to reduce this to just two servers per store, Hobbs predicted. "We want to get rid of servers at our branches — the fewer servers we have there the better as far as we are concerned The savings made by needing fewer licenses provides us with the business case for the upgrade, but by consolidation and using RODCs we can secure these environments better as well."

What about Hyper-V then? Is Hobbs interested in that Server 2008 feature at all? It turns out John Lewis is already in the process of virtualizing its data center, and has 200 VMware virtual machines already up and running.

"We started out on the path to virtualization a year ago, as it is green, and because we were running out of space in our data center," Hobbs explained. So will he be switching to Server 2008 boxes and Hyper-V? Or perhaps continue to use VMware but implement future virtual machines using the Microsoft hypervisor? Unlikely, Hobbs thinks.

"Hyper-V is free, which is a benefit, but it's the management tools which are really important. We looked at Microsoft's and VMware's management tools a little while ago and VMware's were vastly superior. We may review them again, but for the moment we will be using VMware."

And Server Core? Any interest in that? The good news for Microsoft is that the minimal installation option does seem to be attracting attention — in Hobbs' case at least. It's ironic in a way that of all the new features in Server 2008, the ability to run the server with as few features as possible seems to be a winner. "Windows really is big and heavy, but Server Core is much smaller and probably more secure. We'll definitely be interested in looking at Server Core for file serving," says Hobbs.

The other feature of Server 2008 he is interested in investigating in the future is the new clustering capabilities. Improvements in clustering, (available in the Enterprise and Datacenter editions) include reduced complexity, better stability and improved management tools, according to Microsoft. As yet, however, Hobbs hasn't had the time to look into it in any detail, he said.

Server 2008 is still young, and with so few companies actually using it it's hard to say for sure what the word on the street is. But what little evidence there is suggests that while there's no rush to adopt it, there's enough in the product to make many companies investigate it, and, eventually, many will take the plunge to benefit from its new features.

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