While Windows 7 is getting all the attention, especially here at ITExpertVoice, Microsoft has a few other irons in the fire. The company has been hard at work updating its rather extensive server line. Some of the new technologies in its latest desktop OS are slowly finding their way into its Windows Servers series of products. In this article, I give you a roadmap to show what is new in the Windows server side of things, how they all fit together, and how the server versions make use of Windows 7.
Microsoft provides five dizzying ways that you can take a closer look at their servers. Many of these products have free trial versions that you can download, some for 30, 120, or even 180 days before you have to purchase a real license. Other products are set up on Microsoft-hosted websites, so you can experiment using your Web browser. And some have Virtual Hard Disk images (VHDs) that you can download and then run on a HyperV server to set up your own test network of virtual machines. Also, a series of “Virtual Labs” lets you watch videos and be guided through the product on MSDN. No membership is required, but you need Internet Explorer and Windows XP to run the lab software. Finally, Microsoft is also beginning to make Amazon Machine images available on Amazon’s cloud-based services so you can set up your own test networks there.
Microsoft splits its server line into six broad pieces, as shown in the summary table below. These are somewhat arbitrary, and inconsistently applied across their various websites. The table is packed with URL links that take you to the trial software, or in some cases to the real McCoy, which you can download or experiment with.
Microsoft Server Roadmap
|Core infrastructure/ packaging|
|Windows Server 2008 R2||Trial|
|Windows Server 2008 Small Business Server||Features||Exchange, SharePoint, Forefront, SQL Server, OfficeLive|
|Essential Business Server 2008||Virtual Lab||MSC Essentials, Exchange, Forefront and SQL Server|
|Storage Server||OEM partners|
|HPC (Cluster) Server 2008||Trial|
|SQL Server 2008 R2||Trial R2|
|BizTalk Server 2009||Trial|
|Visual Studio 2010||Trial||Support for Windows 7 multi-touch and ribbon UI components|
|IIS 7.5 (in 2008 R2)||Web Platform Installer|
|.Net Framework v4 RC||Download|
|System Center Family||Downloads||See note on 2008 Server R2 below.|
|Forefront family||Virtual Labs||See note on 2008 Server R2 below.|
|Office Communications Server 2007 R2||Hosted demo||Unified voice, instant messaging/chat, conferencing, apps foundation|
|Groove Server 2007||Features|
|Sharepoint 2010 Beta||Beta||See 64-bit note below.|
|HyperV Server 2008 R2||Download||Standalone server, included in Server 2008 R2 as well; see 64-bit note|
|App-V 4.6||Features||Windows 7 support|
|Online Services||Trial online versions of Exchange, Sharepoint, others|
|Office LiveMeeting 2007||Trial and features|
As you can see, this is a huge landscape. Many of these servers are several years old, while others are being constantly updated, such as the online versions.
On the line in our chart for Internet Information Server (IIS), Microsoft’s Web server is a link to Web Platform Installer (WPI). This is a noteworthy update to something that has long bothered me when I try to install various Windows servers. With the WPI, Microsoft is doing its best to consolidate the installation of a Web services delivery platform in one easy place. If you haven’t upgraded your .Net framework or Visual Web Developer, for example, this little app will help you gather and connect to the right updates and make sure all the bits are delivered to your server so you can support Web-based apps.
A Note about 32- or 64-Bit Versions
For several years now, Microsoft has packaged both 32- and 64-bit versions of its desktop and server operating systems. We are beginning to see the tide turn towards 64-bit, and if you are serious about trying many of these products, you probably want to install the 64-bit version Windows Server 2008 and its companions. (Read this article about moving to 64-bit OSs here on ITEV for more perspective, too.) For example, any real exploration of SharePoint requires numerous 64-bit servers to showcase its newest features. And HyperV requires a 64-bit Windows Server 2008 version to run at all.
This Technet link on SharePoint, by the way, is also a great one-stop shopping place to download the latest tools and other bits and pieces that you need.
A Note about Windows Server 2008 R2
Now, what does this all have to do with Windows 7? The first step is upgrading to Windows Server 2008 R2. R2 came out last fall and contains updates for major security, virtualization, Web and applications. If you expect to deploy anything involving Microsoft’s Network Access Protection on your Windows 7 endpoints, you will need this upgrade, along with upgrades to Microsoft’s Forefront Unified Access Gateway 2010 (part of its Forefront family of security products).
R2 has some significant improvements in security policies. Earlier Server 2008 versions were more difficult to validate how healthy (meaning virus-free) any particular endpoint was, requiring separate health policy servers for different health validation configurations. Now a single server can specify multiple configurations to match particular circumstances. For instance, you can set PCs on your LAN so that they must match criteria [that are different for users connecting via remote access compared to occasional laptops that consultants bring in. Health checks can test to see if the firewall is enabled, look for current anti-virus and anti-spyware signatures, and determine whether automatic updates are enabled.
Windows Server 2008 R2 also has a better built-in firewall. Earlier Windows Server versions could only have a single firewall policy active at any given time. If you had a server with multiple network adapters installed, this made for awkward configurations. In R2, you can have a different firewall policy mapped to each adapter.
Plus, R2 looks a like lot Windows 7 user interface, with similar taskbars and menu styles. Consistent interfaces are good.
Speaking of looking a lot like Windows 7 interfaces: You’ll want to upgrade your Visual Studio software to the latest 2010 version if you want to create the new Windows 7 ribbons and icons and make use of multi-touch keypads in your apps.
Another place where Windows 7 is being seen is with Microsoft’s App-V services, which is its line of applications virtualization tools that it bought from Softricity several years ago. If you ever wanted to run two different versions of Office, or IE 7 and IE 8 browsers on the same desktop, then these tools will enable this and protect one application from running into another. Version 4.6 adds support for running on Windows 7. This is an area that is seeing a lot of innovation; Symantec and VMware are other major players in this space.
Finally, there are some other noteworthy servers to mention. These include Microsoft’s Storage Server, which forms the basis of a storage network with the right combination of hardware. You can’t buy it directly, but it does form the core of numerous OEM storage products. And no surprise, Dell is one of the OEMs with its PowerVault NX3000 NAS storage system. And we have already written about Microsoft’s free cloud-based storage system called Skydrive here. While these don’t have anything to do specifically with Windows 7, they are pretty cool things to keep in mind.
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