Integrators take immediate shine to Longhorn

Channel representatives are hailing the launch of Microsoft Windows Server 2008 as a major stepping stone in the adoption of virtualisation technology and application-based server computing. The long-awaited operating system, code-named Longhorn, was launched across the globe last week. New features include support for Microsoft's virtualization hypervisor, Hyper-V, as well as the ability to run specific application-based server roles.

The software giant is also offering the IIS 7.0 Web server, improved security tools such as network access protection (NAP), a new TCP/IP stack, Unix-based applications support, and Rights Management Services.

Dimension Data general manager of Microsoft solutions, David Hanrahan, said the integrator had several clients with Windows Server 2008 in production. "It's been really exciting and we've had no issues moving people from rapid deployment into production," he said.

One of the most anticipated features of the operating system is its componentised server core. This gives Server 2008 a smaller footprint and allows organisations to assign application-specific roles upfront.

"With these different server cores the operating system becomes easier to provision," managing director of hosting company Emantra, Ross Dewar, said. Emantra has been involved in Windows Server 2008 testing for the past six months.

"It will only install the features required for that assigned server use, rather than installing everything and forcing administrators to then offload the bits they don't need."

Hanrahan said most of DiData's proof of concept work to date had focused on the new server core. "In highly distributed environments, we are getting a lot of interest around that aspect of Windows Server 2008 because of its thin install," he said. "The removal of the GUI and the encryption piece has also been well received.

"We're moving to zero-touch server deployments and treating servers more like desktops: you get them scripted and deploy the features you want." IMC Communications' Microsoft systems engineer, Danny German, is also predicting customizable servers will prove a big hit with customers.

The Sydney-based networking integrator is now rolling out Windows Server 2008 to ANZ Stadium.

"One of the reasons we wanted to put [server] 2008 into ANZ Stadium was the server core feature.

They have a number of different servers and we can also use that in their disaster recovery site," he said. "The stadium is also planning to roll Vista out at the end of the year. File and print services through Server 2008 connected to the Vista client will be much faster than if they were using Vista with Server 2003."

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German said read-only domain controllers and remote management also gives organisations a more secure way to deploy server computing to branch offices.

Another major driver for Windows Server 2008 take-up is the introduction of embedded virtualisation support, which integrators say will be a catalyst for mainstream virtualisation adoption. "The virtualisation technology will make it easy to deploy servers and allow applications to be virtualised," Evolve IT technical services manager, Jason Cuolahan, said. "We see this as a real positive and something we can definitely put to our customers." "We have crossed that acceptance field in the server virtualisation space. Now we're talking about virtualising services and applications and what should be virtualised, not if," DiData's Hanrahan said.

The new Systems Center add-on also offered administrators better tools to manage physical and virtual servers through one console, he said. On the security side, the introduction of network access protection is another string to Microsoft's bow and demonstrated a maturity in how devices connect to the network, integrators agreed. "I think we're seeing a coming of age of perimeter security. In the past, this has been managed by the network side of the business, while the servers and clients have been managed by someone else," Hanrahan said. "With [Server] 2008, these are now coming together and you have centralised management capabilities around user rights."

Emantra's Dewar and Evolve IT's Cuolahan also highlighted seamless terminal services to the desktop as a strong selling point.

For Technical Architecture Solutions practice manager, Damian Murdoch, a raft of productivity improvements will make life easier for system administrators. As an example, he pointed to Powershell, which allows back-end code access for the automation of any task that can be done in the operating system.

While there weren't many obvious downsides to Server 2008, DiData's Hanrahan said administrators could find the removal of the GUI and Microsoft's back-flip on default applications installations challenging. Portal management processes and patching servers will also require a new approach.

"We are now talking about application- specific deployments. As integrators, we need to be aware of what is sandwiched out and what's there and put the focus on management processes," Hanrahan said.

Another area of potential concern could be licensing, Total Network Support solutions consultant, Mark Ryan, said. The integrator has many SMB customers who have opted against taking Software Assurance and will have to revisit licensing options. This could add thousands of dollars to their software bill, he said.

Take-up of the year-old Vista desktop operating system could also accelerate as a result of the Server 2008 release, several integrators claimed. But Di-Data's Hanrahan said attitudes towards Vista has already improved following the release of Service Pack 1.