Windows Server 2008 R2: Better For Virtualisation

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The new 64-bit-only Windows Server hosts a number of virtualisation improvements but migration may be problematic

eWEEK Labs recently took a first look at the release candidate of Windows Server 2008 R2, which was made available to MSDN and TechNet subscribers on 30 April, and found that the update offers major improvements, especially in the area of virtualisation.

But the first thing you might notice is that the 32-bit version of the operating system is gone; Windows Server 2008 R2 is only available as a 64-bit OS. This in itself isn’t a big deal, as nearly all CPUs from the last three to four years are 64-bit based. Also, 32-bit applications can run on 64-bit Windows.

In addition, for company IT, where virtualisation and large servers rule the day, Windows Server 2008 R2’s 64-bit architecture makes sense because virtualisation is constrained more by memory than by CPU. At organisations where file and print servers are still predominant, Windows Server 2008 R2 may be overkill.

The update’s biggest draw is improvement to Hyper-V, Microsoft’s virtualisation platform.

For example, Live Migration is a big improvement over Quick Migration, which has a reputation of not being as nimble as its name implies.

While Quick Migration uses Windows Server clustering to maintain application availability when the physical host server goes down, Live Migration can transparently move running guest systems from one node to another inside a failover (fail-safe) cluster without a dropping the network connection. (Failover clustering requires shared storage using either iSCSI or Fibre Channel SANs.)

Virtual machines also can now support hot plug in and hot removal of both virtual and physical storage without rebooting the physical host system, and Hyper-V can now offload some processing to the physical host, including TCP/IP operations.

AMD and Intel both make hardware that is specially designed to assist virtualisation technologies, including those found in Hyper-V. The latest example of this is the Intel Xeon 5500, or “Nahelem,” processors. I’ll be looking at how current-generation AMD and Intel server systems help boost the performance and capacity of virtualisation tools as I work through a series of hardware reviews in the coming months. I’m not allowed to talk about some of the other improvements made in Hyper-V just yet, but expect to see extensive testing of these features soon.

Another compelling feature is AppLocker, which is also featured in Windows 7 and replaces the operating systems’ Software Restriction Policies feature. (See eWEEK Labs’ first look at Windows 7 RC here.) At first glance, AppLocker appears to increase administrator control over how users can access and use executable files, scripts and Windows Installer files. With AppLocker, administrators define rules based on file attributes such as product name, file name and file version.

Tough migration

There’s no doubt that Windows Server 2008 R2 offers major improvements, but moving existing Windows installations to this most current release may be a drag.

Migrating from a 32-bit version of Windows Server 2008 or 2003 basically requires a number of migration tools followed by installation of Windows Server 2008 R2.

Microsoft makes a Solution Accelerator available to help the migration, but in my experience, where Solution Accelerators go, complexity and planning are sure to follow. This almost certainly means that IT managers should plan on seeing Windows Sever 2008 R2 arrive on new equipment instead of attempting field upgrades of deployed production systems.

Cameron Sturdevant is technical director at eWEEK.