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Review: Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Beta CTP -- A Major Move Forward

The server OS heralds a new age in Windows computing, one that will finally see a massive move to virtualization as well as major improvements in automation.

It's official: Windows Server 2008 (WS08) will be launched Feb. 27, 2008, along with new versions of Visual Studio and SQL Server. Microsoft's flagship server operating system will probably be Bill Gates' last product launch before he retires later in 2008. Is Bill Gates going out with a bang? We examined the Windows Server 2008 Beta Community Technology Preview (CTP), which was released in June, 2007, to see what it promises for the upcoming OS.

Microsoft has been working on WS08 for several years now, ever since the launch of Windows Server 2003 (WS03) on April 24, 2003. Release 2 (R2) of Server 2003 came two years after the launch, and while R2 wasn't a revolutionary change in the OS, it was definitely evolutionary. It brought many new manageability features, such as Microsoft Management Console version 3, File Server Resource Management, Simple SAN, vastly improved Distributed File System features, Active Directory Federated Services, and the integration of all of the additional options to the setup of Windows Server 2003 R2, making R2 a must-have for any shop running Windows servers.

Surprisingly, some IT organizations still lobotomize their new Windows servers by wiping out the pre-installed R2 version to re-install the original build of WS03. Well, if these organizations have a problem with R2, they will have a major problem with WS08, which brings revolutionary changes to the Windows Server OS. What's so revolutionary? There are several new features, but the most important are automation and virtualization.

Introducing Server Manager
WS08's installation is so bare-bones that even Windows Backup is a feature you must add on to the system. Additional components can be added on through "roles" (groups of features that support a given group of server tasks) or through "features" (specific components that support a single task). In the current CTP, there are 17 different roles you can assign to WS08, and some 35 features that can be installed.

Server Manager provides a single interface for most management tasks.

(Click image to enlarge.)

To help manage all this, Windows Server 2008 sports a brand new interface: Server Manager. Though it cannot be used to remotely manage another computer, Server Manager provides one main access point to each of the interfaces or consoles that let you manage server roles and features.

The wizards launched through Server Manager to add roles or features are intelligent, expanding the list of tasks based on your selection of components to install and properly identifying dependencies when you select components that require the installation of additional features in order to run properly.

The Add Role Wizard expands tasks lists as you add components to install.

(Click image to enlarge.)

But the best feature of Server Manager is automation. Following in Exchange 2007's footsteps, Microsoft has decided to integrate Server Manager into PowerShell, its new scripting command language. In Exchange, each time you use Server Manager's graphical interface to perform an activity, a PowerShell script is generated -- and it is this script that actually performs the task. What makes this so great is that you can capture this script at any point during the operation and voila! the script is built for you automatically. You can export it and run it on any number of systems.

Now that's a major improvement. Think about it. No more arcane command lines. No more complex scripting languages. IT pros everywhere will love WS08's integration of Server Manager with PowerShell because it means they no longer have to become programmers to automate operations.

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