Review: Windows Server 2008 R2 Prepares for Windows 7

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It improves the OS’s virtualisation support and readies it to be a good partner for Windows 7 – with some features that require the new client operating system

Windows Server 2008 R2 is a modest upgrade, but it’s one that’s worth paying attention to for organisations tracking Microsoft’s foray into server virtualisation – Hyper-V – as well as for companies looking to deploy Windows 7 in the short term.

With this R2 release, Hyper-V gains the capacity for shifting virtual machines from one host to another without interruption, a feature Microsoft calls Live Migration. Live Migration is an important addition, but Hyper-V has plenty of catching up to do with the better-established virtualisation lineup from VMware (read our review of VMware’s Vsphere 4), which has included support for migrating running VMs since 2003.

In particular, I find VMware’s ESX Server simpler to configure and use than Hyper-V, both when manipulating a lone virtualisation host and when controlling clusters of hosts. However, in the latter case, I’ve yet to try Microsoft’s forthcoming Virtual Machine Manager product (but Jason Brooks has reviewed System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008), which should smooth multi-host management.

Better with Windows 7?

Shipping in tandem with Windows 7, Server 2008 R2 is the first Windows server release to hit the market alongside a new Windows client in nearly ten years. Microsoft has outfitted R2 with a handful of so called “better together” features intended to grease the upgrade skids for the pair of OSes.

These new capabilities include a means for providing Windows 7 clients with secure, VPN-less access to company networks via DirectAccess; with faster connections to file shares through BranchCache; and with enhancements to Terminal Services (now called Remote Desktop Services) sessions. eWEEK Labs will examine the Server 2008 R2/Windows 7 combo more closely in the near future.

Beyond the Hyper-V and Windows 7-related changes, R2 includes an assortment of smaller enhancements centred around managing remote systems, scripting administrative tasks via PowerShell, and reducing power consumption on physical and virtual machines running the OS.

Microsoft has not yet announced pricing details for Windows Server 2008 R2, but I expect that pricing will be similar to Windows Server 2008, which is available in five versions in the US: a $999 Standard edition that comes with five CALs (client access licenses); a $3,999, 25-CAL Enterprise Edition; a $2,999-per-processor Datacenter Edition; a $2,999-per-processor version for Itanium-based systems; and a $469 Web server edition.

In the UK, pricing is less obvious, with no obvious listings on the Microsoft site, but on third party sites the standard 5-CAL version is listed at around £500, and the 25-CAL version for around £2000.

The changes that Microsoft has announced include the removal of all Windows Server 2008 SKUs shipping without Hyper-V, along with a CAL change in which Windows Server instances running only the Hyper-V role will not require Server 2008-specific CALs. What’s more, Microsoft will be selling a new, Foundation Server SKU that will be bundled with OEM servers and is intended for small businesses with fewer than 15 users.