Microsoft Windows Server 8 Preview: Review

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The preview of Windows Server 8 takes on VMware’s virtualisation, and boosts support for networks and management

The Microsoft Windows Server 8 developer preview, launched at this month’s Build event, has enough promising enhancements to virtual networking, storage and infrastructure management to warrant serious IT interest as a data centre platform.

While much is yet unknown about Windows Server 8, including when it will be released and licence costs, the pre-beta, developer preview reveals a broad landscape of improvements that — if successfully executed — warrant the strategic attention of IT managers at organisations of all sizes.

Catching up with VMware?

While VMware and the newly minted vSphere 5 remain the undisputed leader of the x86 server virtualization field, Microsoft Windows Server 8 clearly shows signs of offering a competitive challenge. eWEEK Labs’ work with the Windows Server 8 developer preview shows that the initial contours of Microsoft’s offering have the right ingredients to be a tempting challenger to VMware.

I installed WS8 on a variety of server and advanced workstation hardware at eWEEK Labs, including a Lenovo ThinkServer RD210, ThinkServer TS200v, Acer AR-380 and an HP Z800 workstation. All systems were running Intel Xeon processors and were equipped with between 4GB and 24 GB of RAM. Most of the systems had a single network interface card (NIC), but the Acer and the ThinkServer RD210 had multiple NICs.

Deploying the core

When it ships, Windows Server 8 will be the first edition of the operating system for which a core installation, rather than a full GUI installation, is recommended. I’ll come back to the significant changes in Server Manager, but for now, IT managers should factor in the core server installation in the following ways. Windows Server 8 will be significantly smaller, both in terms of memory size and security footprint.

Windows Server 8 core currently has a minimum requirement of 512MB RAM, the same as Windows Server 2008 R2. Unlike the previous version, Windows Server 8 core is designed for remote management. My tests also showed that Windows Server 8 core handles the addition and removal of server roles much better than the current shipping version of Windows Server. Although not tested, the Windows Server 8 Hyper-V role will be able to be delivered and run from a flash memory device.

Further, the core installation strips off the traditional Windows GUI and Explorer. At this RAM size, it is reasonable for IT managers to consider that Windows Server 8 core could be installed on an SD card or other solid state memory device in the server hardware, similar to how VMware’s vSphere ESXi can be installed today.

Microsoft’s move to recommending a core—as opposed to full GUI installation—carries a significant strategic impact for how IT should approach server management.

Server Management and Networking, page 2

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