Windows Server 2008’s Enterprise Ambitions

Microsoft WinHEC

LOS ANGELES — After devoting the first day of this week’s Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) to the client, Windows 7, day two was centered around Windows Server 2008 R2.

It might seem remarkable that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has a second service pack in the works, considering the OS shipped only this year. But even though it’s talking up the release — and handing out beta copies to WinHEC attendees and those who attended last week’s Professional Developer Conference (PDC), R2 isn’t expected until 2010.

Still, the early talk of a release is part of a strategy first promised in 2003 by Bob Muglia, senior vice president of servers and tools at Microsoft. The idea is that every four years would see a new operating system, and there would be a significant overhaul at the halfway point to add new technologies and keep it reasonably fresh. So if R2 is on time, it will come two years after the release of Server 2008.

New features include support for up to 256 logical cores, enhanced power management, and direct access for laptops that splits the tunneling — one securely to back-end services and one that goes out to the Internet — Ward Ralston, group product manager in the Windows server and solutions division, told

Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 will share the same core and many features. That means Server 2008 R2 will have DeviceStage and Device Smart for easy hardware management, while Windows 7 will, at least in theory, support 256 logical cores.

“That’s a hell of a laptop,” Ralston joked.

The definition of a “logical core” comes down to the total number of threads. Intel’s most cutting-edge generation of Xeon handle one thread per core — as do the AMD (NYSE: AMD) Quad-Core Opteron processors. Intel’s (NASDAQ: INTC) i7 (née Nehalem) will handle two threads per core. That means R2 will support a server with 64 quad-core Xeons (64 processors with four cores each) or 32 quad-core i7 processors (32 processors, sporting four cores each, with two threads per core).

Server 2008 currently supports 64 logical cores, which means it maxes out at 16 quad-core processors.

The killer app for that operating system is “Kilimanjaro,” a future, highly scalable version of SQL Server. With R2 and Kilimanjaro, Microsoft thinks it can take on mainframe-class, mission-critical database jobs.

“There is nothing out there that has been written for greater than 64 [logical cores], so I think those two in combination are going to be a compelling offering,” Ralston said.

Power management and .NET improvements

Ralston said Server 2008 gained about 10 percent power efficiency from Server 2003 through aggressive hardware tuning, and with R2, it expects another 10 percent gain. Helping that along are features like Core Parking, which puts idle cores into a low-power standby mode, varying the voltage to each chip and deciding which devices to turn on or off.

There is also the new “powercfg” utility that works with the new PowerShell 2.0, Microsoft’s two-year-old command-line shell. The new powercfg cmdlet — a utility that runs on the command line — offers a detailed analysis of which devices are consuming power on a server and which may not be falling into proper sleep states.

From there, managers can create a power profile to shut down devices or machines when they are idle.

“We’re just starting to see the tip of the iceberg of power efficiency,” Ralston said.

R2 also is seeing a major change in another area. It will include a large chunk of the upcoming release of .NET Framework — but not all of it.

.NET 4.0 will be split into components, so selected portions can be brought into Server 2008. Currently, .NET is an all-or-nothing affair, and Server 2008 doesn’t need features like its presentation framework, since many servers run without even a GUI.

“That was one of the reasons we had to take it out entirely on 2008 was the .NET Framework had hooks into the GUI,” Ralston said. “Now, we’ve broken it down to bring the CLR [Common Language Runtime], workflow foundation and other features over, so we can run PowerShell on Server and ASP.NET on Server.”

He added “when you think of the Web you think of the LAMP [Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP] stack. Now that we have server core running GUI-less, given the ability to run both PHP and ASP.NET, I think we will have a pretty competitive LAMP offering going into the R2 timeframe.”

.NET 4.0 is currently in beta, but Ralston said it will be done in time for the R2 release.

Also in R2, PowerShell 2.0 will be getting 241 new cmdlets. However, these features won’t be back-ported to PowerShell 1.0 on Server 2008 R1 or Server 2003.

Among the new additions is Active Directory Administrative Center. The release taps PowerShell’s PowerScript scripting, enabling administrators to record their actions while working in the GUI tools. As a result, rather than repeat work over and over, they can then simply run a script that replays their every move.

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