"Faster" and "slimmer" are two adjectives to which few software product upgrades can lay legitimate claim-particularly if the software upgrade in question is a Windows operating system.
And, yet, Microsoft's Windows Server 2008, which recently hit the RTM (release to manufacturing) milestone, demonstrates that Microsoft is capable of producing a lean, mean server machine-and doing it, no less, atop the same code base that backs the company's oft-maligned Windows Vista client operating system.
The new Windows Server boasts a set of networking enhancements that dramatically boost file serving performance, and the product can be deployed in a new, stripped-down Server Core configuration, which significantly reduces the attack surface of systems hosting certain Windows Server roles.
Toss in a more modular and securable Web server in IIS (Internet Information Services) 7.0, Microsoft's new hypervisor-based virtualization functionality and a host of management enhancements, and Windows Server 2008 merits eWEEK Labs' Analyst's Choice designation.
That's not to say, however, that Windows Server 2008 is without its warts. For instance, while it's great to see Windows Server take a page out of Linux's book with support for slimmed-down deployments, Server Core supports only a limited set of predetermined roles, such as those for file or domain services.
What's more, due to its monolithic packaging and broad dependencies, Microsoft's .Net Framework cannot be installed on Server Core instances, which, among other things, bars Microsoft's innovative PowerShell command-line interface from the command-line-centric Server Core.
However, assorted quibbles aside, Windows Server 2008 comes with a value proposition that's significantly stronger than that of its client-side sibling, Vista, and the product is well worth evaluating both for organizations currently running Windows and for those that are not.
Windows Server 2008 is available in five versions: a $999 Standard edition that comes with five CALs (client access licenses); a $3,999, 25-CAL Enterprise Edition; a $2,999-per-processor Datacenter Edition; a $2,999-per-processor version for Itanium-based systems; and a $469 Web server edition.
You can find a series of pages outlining the hardware and software differences among these versions here. Versions of Windows Server 2008 also are available for x86, x86-64 and Intel Itanium 2 processor platforms.
I tested the x86-64 version of Windows Server 2008 on a Dell PowerEdge 830 server with a dual-core Intel Pentium D processor and 2GB of RAM. I also tested the system, in both full-install and Server Core configurations, in a variety of virtual machines under VMware ESX Server.
I installed a couple of my Windows Server 2008 instances using the product's spruced-up network install facility, called WDS (Windows Deployment Services). I installed the WDS role on one of my Windows Server 2008 machines and directed the service to fetch an install image from my Windows Server 2008 install media. From there, I was able to boot a new system on my network using PXE from the WDS service and kick off a new installation.