Overview of Server 2008 R2 — The Half Version Upgrade

While the world (Ok, the technology blog and trade publications world) was abuzz over Microsoft’s release of a developer’s look version of Windows 7 at the Professional Developers Conference, something more interesting to systems administrators occurred with a little less media coverage.

Microsoft also provided its first look at what will become Windows Server 2008 R2.

For those of you who just wait until software starts shipping and don’t pay much attention to things like software release strategy, here is a quick primer.

Microsoft has long been a player in the corporate and desktop software and applications space. Just a decade ago, there were only a few competitors in that space, and they all played by the same rules when it came to upgrades.

Basically, a company built its best software product possible based on the needs and possibilities of the day and then released it to be sold to the public. After doing so, the company would begin the process of adding in new features, or optimizing the code, or supporting more systems.

The paradigm was such that this process should be completed over a period of a certain number of years depending upon what kind of software it was. For Microsoft, releasing operating systems spanned a several year gap.

Part of the reason for this was that deploying new operating systems was a particularly large undertaking and companies were not interested in having to do it very often.

Thus, Microsoft brought out new Windows Sever products every 5 or so years. (They claimed to have a 4 year goal, but they always ended up late.) These days, that doesn’t cut it.

Thanks to advancements (some of them Microsoft’s own) in deployment methods, as well as the "new features now" and methodology brought on by many Internet vendors — a five year gap in upgrades is just too long.

However, Microsoft doesn’t want to have the pressure of having a "big enough to be almost new" upgrade every 2 years. So, they have proclaimed that they plan to release their Windows Server operating system and then approximately two years later release a mini-upgrade, or a "release two" version of the software.

This strategy allows for the addition of new features that come about after the release of the main upgrade, without having to start over from scratch.

The Windows Server 2008 main release was, not surprisingly, in 2008, so Microsoft plans a Release Two sometime around 2010.

The developers at the PDC were given a sneak peak version of R2 along with the Windows 7 desktop code which was more heavily noticed. The biggest news is that Windows Server 2008 R2 is actually called Windows 7 internally.

No, nobody is asleep at the wheel. Microsoft is, for the first time since Windows 2000, developing both systems in tandem.

This coupled with the news that Windows 7 desktop is based entirely off of Vista shows that Windows Server 2008 R2 will end up being very tightly integrated with Windows 7 (or Vista 2, if you will) when it is released.

Unless a company likes the idea of turning over both the desktop OS and server OS at the same time, this puts a huge damper on the idea of skipping Vista.

What Features Are In Windows Server 2008 R2

Obviously, at this point, everything must be considered conjecture, but we do have a pretty good idea of what Microsoft is working on for its mid-release upgrade.

First, is the confirmation that Windows Server 2008 R2 will come in x64 flavors only. Although becoming more of a moot point by the day, it does affect some operations, particularly those where "tiny servers" that perform only a single simple process are housed on older machines.

The second piece of big news is that PowerShell development is rushing forward full speed. PowerShell is available, and very useful in the current Windows Server, but they are adding hundreds of new commands across almost all the roles, so some of the things that are beyond PowerShell’s reach today will be well within grasp in R2.

Other news includes the bump in server cores support from 64 to 256, adding support for .NET to the Server Core, significant improvements to IIS, and (yea!) the ability to access other servers from Server Manager.


Perhaps the most visible feature of Windows Server 2008 from an administrator point of view was virtualization. Hyper-V is available on Server 2008 as a role today, but in the future will be integrated into the OS (you won’t have to wait for R2, it is in SP2.)

The biggest deal here is the ability to migrate virtual machines to another server without downtime. VMware already can do this, so it will be nice to have the same feature available in R2.

Ah, the dream of every sys admin, the ability to perform hardware maintenance and upgrades without having to come in at 3:00AM after pre-announcing the downtime three to five weeks in advance after a thorough change control process.

Also, in the works is the ability to "hot add" virtual hard disks without rebooting the virtual machine.

All in all, it seems like R2 will be a very worthy release for most environments. Of course, that means that it will be even more useful to nail down some of those Windows Server 2008 features that have been left on the back burner so that when R2 shows up, there won’t be any catch up needed.