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Microsoft Windows Server 2008 features prolong server hardware life

Users upgrading to Microsoft Windows Server 2008 may stave off upgrading servers' processors and memory, thanks to the Server Core feature.

As Microsoft launches its latest Windows Server 2008, IT administrators may wonder whether this latest operating system will run on the server hardware they already have. The answer is most likely yes, especially if you opt for the new Server Core feature, which some observers have deemed the most promising feature of Microsoft's new release because of Server Core's ability to extend server life.

At the same time, data center managers need to set the near-term possibility of sustaining their hardware status quo against the longer-term reality: Windows Server 2008 signals the end of the line. With future Windows offerings, 32-bit hardware will no longer be sufficient. Still, for resource-strapped shops, repurposing today may stave off costly upgrades for a few years.

The optimum-hardware disconnect
As with any software, there is a disconnect between minimum and optimal system requirements, and Windows Server 2008 is no different. For example, the new release requires at least 1 GHz x86 server processor or 1.4 Ghz for an x64 system, but 2 GHz is recommended. For Itanium-based systems, an Intel Itanium 2 processor is needed. This compares with 550-MHz or faster processor recommendation for Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition, which supports up to four processors on one server.
We did not need to upgrade any part of the system ... and it immediately provided us with better performance.
Mauricio Freitas,

As for memory, the minimum amount needed to run Windows Server 2008 is 512 MB of RAM, but Microsoft suggests 2 GB of RAM or more. For the Standard Edition of Windows Server 2003, Microsoft only recommended 256 MB. On the surface, this required increase of two to four times current amounts of memory may seem like a lot, but it really isn't, said Tony Iams, vice president and senior analyst of system software research at Ideas International.

"I do not consider this increase very surprising for a major new release, nor very burdensome, given that even an entry-[level] x86 server typically meets these requirements," Iams said. For example, even an entry-level Dell PowerEdge SC440, which retails for just $999, has a 1.8 GHz dual-core Intel Pentium E2160, 1 GB of memory, and 160 GB of disk, Iams pointed out.

Any server on which you plan to run Windows Server 2008 should have at least 10 GB of available disk space, but 40 GB or more is recommended. This compares with Windows Server 2003 requirement of 1.25 to 2 GB of available hard disk space.

Microsoft declined an interview regarding new hardware requirements for Windows Server 2008 prior to its release, pointing to the information on Microsoft's website. Microsoft also lists a catalog of tested products that indicates all hardware certified to run Windows Server 2008.

Server Core in Windows Server 2008
Blogging System administrators and analysts alike call the new Server Core feature the most exciting part of Windows Server 2008.

With Server Core, system administrators can choose either the full installation with the Windows graphical interface and applications or a scaled-down installation of the OS on individual machines.

By installing only Server Cores, users can run specific server roles in the smallest possible environment, which minimizes management tasks and conserves server capacity.

"Server Core gives organizations an opportunity to look at how they manage their infrastructure and re-think their infrastructure. If you are running a website with static content, it could run on a server core, for instance," said Michael Cherry, an analyst on Microsoft's operating systems for Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft, an independent firm that tracks Microsoft products. "This feature also allows you to repurpose older hardware and possibly extend server life."

A server running a Server Core installation can support Active Directory Domain Services; Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services; DHCP Server; DNS Server; File Services; Print Services; Streaming Media Services; and Windows Virtualization.(A technical overview of Server Core is available at Keith Combs' blog .)

Server Core is available in the Standard, Enterprise and Datacenter editions of Windows Server 2008, but not in the Web or Itanium editions.

Windows Server 2008; better performance
The New Zealand-based IT news, blogs and forums website Geekzone implemented Windows Server 2008 Enterprise Release Candidate in November 2007 as part of the Go-Live License, an early-adopters program by Microsoft, said Mauricio Freitas, the administrator for Geekzone.

Geekzone site now runs on this OS using the same physical servers that ran Windows Server 2003. The servers are based on a dual-core processor running at 3 GHz, with 3 GB RAM and two SCSI drives with software mirroring, Freitas said.

"We did not need to upgrade any part of the system, which already met Microsoft's requirements for the new version, and it immediately provided us with better performance. Even our users told us that the overall site response seemed improved for them, around the country and the world," Freitas said.

"We tested the upgrade process using Virtual Server 2005 R2 SP1 using an image of the original system created with Acronis Inc.'s [backup] tools. Once we were happy that the upgrade would work, we planned an outage in one of our slowest days of the week, and in just under a couple of hours we had Windows Server 2008 installed and running," he said.

The end of the line for 32-bit
But while existing server hardware will probably handle Windows Server 2008 just fine on both 32- and 64-bit hardware, be warned that it is reportedly Microsoft's last 32-bit server operating system. Following the Windows Server 2008 release, future server OS releases will support only 64-bit.

Even today, there's no doubt that Windows Server 2008 is optimized for 64-bit hardware. For starters, Microsoft urged users to choose 64-bit processors in its Performance Tuning Guidelines for Windows Server 2008, released in October.

As Microsoft explains it in the guidelines, two 32-bit CPUs are not as fast as one 64-bit CPU. Users without 64-bit processing can double the number of CPUs to run Windows Server 2008, but the ramp-up in number of CPUs does not guarantee twice the performance.

"The big message Microsoft is sending here is that 64-bit processing is mainstream, and you should keep that in mind when you are looking at hardware," said Cherry. "From a hardware perspective, all the Windows-derived products released after Windows Server 2008 will require 64-bit."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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