Server 2008 R2 Update Review

The release of Server 2008 R2 was largely overshadowed by the more consumer friendly release of Microsoft’s next desktop operating system, Windows 7.

However, Windows Server 2008 R2 provides many new features and upgrades, including several that go hand in hand with new features found in Windows 7.

That means there are more new reasons to upgrade both the desktop operating system and the server operating system at many companies.

If that doesn’t sound like major undertaking, I don’t know what is.

Many businesses have been plugging along comfortably with older combinations of Windows XP and either Server 2003 or Windows Server 2000, and installing only those service packs and features designed to keep those systems running securely and stably.

Therefore, the question that has to be asked is what is an R2 release and exactly what does the R2 version of Sever 2008 have to offer?

Over the past several years, Microsoft has received a lot of feedback from users in the business community who wanted a more predictable release cycle for critical business platforms such as Microsoft’s server operating systems. For businesses that had driven the planning uncertainty out of other areas of operations, the seemingly random release schedule of Server upgrades and service pack releases prevented IT from adequately planning everything from hardware acquisition, to lease schedules, to software budgeting.

In addition, companies wanted to keep the critical security and performance updates to the operating systems separate from updates that added new features. Companies where extensive testing and planning make virtually any downtime unacceptable, didn’t like that in order to keep their systems secure and optimized they had to introduce new, untested, features and services into their environment, or deal with kludgey, file deleting, registry editing, hacks to remove those features from otherwise necessary Service Pack updates.

On the other hand, in the technology industry, five years is a lifetime and Microsoft worried that products would quickly become out of date, with its offerings lacking the latest features and innovations if new feature sets were released only twice a decade. If there was one thing Microsoft did not need, it was to bolster the view of the company as a slow moving dinosaur out of touch with the fast moving pace of business.

The compromise the company struck was that the company would focus on releasing new versions of core business software products approximately every five years. Like with Windows Server 2003 and then Windows Server 2008. Service packs would continue to be released whenever necessary in order to update critical security, stability, and performance issues.

However, Service Packs would not contain new features within them. Instead, Microsoft would update feature sets with an R2 release every 2 to 3 years.

This way, businesses that wanted to keep up to date with the latest security, stability, and performance enhancements, but did not want to introduce new features (and their potential stability and security problems) into the production environment could install Service Packs. And, those companies looking to incorporate the latest technologies and feature set could take advantage of the R2 releases.

Thus, Server 2008 R2 offers much more than just a Service Pack, but not quite as much a new full-scale release.

So, what exactly is in the latest release of Windows Server 2008 R2?

Many of the features and functionalities in Server 2008 were introduced in the original, or “R1″ release of Server 2008. However, for environments currently running Windows Server 2003, these features should also figure heavily in any decision whether to upgrade to Server 2008 R2 or not.

Obviously, migrating from Server 2003 to Server 2008 R2 is not a free update, unless the company is enrolled in certain licensing subscriptions.

For IT groups already running the original Server 2008 system, the question gets a little murkier. For businesses with Software Assurance, the question is merely one of value versus the time and effort to upgrade the server operating system.

For those without Software Assurance, or other business licensing that includes free upgrades, Windows Server 2008 R2 is not a free upgrade. In other words, for those running Server 2008 already, the evaluation involves not only the time and effort, but additional cost as well.

New Features in Server 2008 R2

As before, there are several Editions of Windows Server 2008 R2 available depending upon the needs of an organization. Some features are optional on certain editions or only available on specific editions. Thus, a straight list of all new features is a relatively complicated undertaking.

However, there are certain features that are the “deal-makers” in Server 2008 R2.

  •   Hyper-V and Virtualization

The centerpiece of Server 2008 was the addition of virtualization as a built-in function of the operating system. As is often the case, the company’s first effort was successful and usable if not as scalable or feature filled as competing offerings. However, for companies looking to start down the path toward virtualization or to roll out the new technology on a limited basis, Microsoft’s Hyper-V offered a great entry point without any additional cost.

One area that has received substantial attention for the R2 release of Windows Server is virtualization and Hyper-V.

Features like Live Migration, Hot Add/Remove Virtual Machine Storage, integration with desktop virtualization (VDI), and also presentation or application virtualization (formerly provided in some fashion by Terminal Services) have all been added.

In addition, services like clustering and failover have been improved and expanded. Also, included is the long awaited ability to boot from storage networks.

  •   64-bit Architecture and More

Of course, the R2 release contains upgraded support for more powerful hardware. Server 2008 R2 becomes the first version to be released only in 64-bit architecture, marking the official end of 32-bit computing for Server products.

R2 supports up to 256 logical processor cores and up to 64 logical cores for each host. New power management features allow processor cores to be parked when load is low and then automatically re-enabled when demand increases. In a large data center, the amount of savings just from lowered cooling requirements alone could make an upgrade to R2 worth it.

Other new features receiving a lot of attention are improvements in Remote Administration, as well as secure connections for remote employees without the need for third-party VPN software, updates to Active Directory management, including a recycle bin for AD objects, streamlined performance, improved storage management, and an update to PowerShell.

Add to all of this the fact that many of the high-end features of Windows 7 will only work with Server 2008 R2, or will work much better with it, and it starts to add up to a must upgrade scenario.

The only real question in these trying economic times is when and where the will and funds will meet the need for a much improved server operating system environment.


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