Windows Server 2008 goes modular

Microsoft previewed a new, more modular server operating system architecture at its workshop for developers in Redmond, Wash., earlier this week.

Microsoft characterizes the next version of Windows Server 2008, due to roll out Feb. 27, as their most 'customer-focused' release to date. Feedback from participants in their Technology Adoption Program helped to shape many of the significant features that are in the final release. Other inputs were gathered from a wide variety of sources in an attempt to identify the most common items needing attention.

One way Microsoft hopes to answer customer requests comes from an effort to make it easier to configure Windows Server 2008 for specific roles. Eighteen roles are options when you install a new copy of the OS.

Modularity makes it possible for an information technology administrator to pick and choose only those functions required for a specific role or roles using a wizard-based configuration and management tool. At the bottom of this building-block approach is what Microsoft calls 'Server Core.' Server Core provides a minimalistic approach to addressing both performance and security issues as it reduces the overall size of the OS to include only the parts absolutely necessary.

Other potential benefits from the modular approach include reduced maintenance costs associated with patching and updating to address vulnerabilities that in many cases don't even apply. Microsoft has also included a number of key improvements on the management front to make it easier to both monitor and manage multiple servers from a single console.

Internet Information Server 7 (IIS7) is another benefactor of the modular approach. Microsoft has made IIS7 configurable in much the same way as the OS. The small-footprint, streamlined server includes a minimal amount of functionality and will run on a Server Core machine. IIS7 also supports the FastCGI architecture as a plug-in module to run Web applications written with popular open-source tools including PHP.

Virtualization is a significant part of the Windows Server 2008 strategy, but it won't make it into the initial release. Microsoft has promised to deliver beta versions around the product launch with a final version 180 days after that. The functionality resembles VMware's ESX server in that it uses a hypervisor approach to virtualizing multiple instances of essentially any OS on the same physical hardware. This includes Novell's SUSE Enterprise Linux Server through their cross-licensing agreement reached earlier this year.

While size may not seem like a big issue in today's world of terabyte disk drives, it starts to add up when you have large numbers of servers and OS images to maintain. Server Core represents a significant reduction over previous versions in terms of what's required for a typical installation. This becomes even more significant when you start looking at virtual machines and keeping track of them.

Windows Server 2008 represents Microsoft's concerted efforts to listen to customers and deliver a product worth upgrading to. All that's left is to get it out the door.

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