Windows Server

10 surprising things about Windows Server 2008

When you take a look at Windows Server 2008, you'll discover big changes -- including some legitimate improvements. Justin James outlines a few of the unexpected aspects of the new OS, both good and bad.

When you take a look at Windows Server 2008, you'll discover big changes -- including some legitimate improvements.  Justin James outlines a few of the unexpected aspects of the new OS, both good and bad.


Windows Server 2003 felt like a refresh of Windows Server 2000. There were few radical changes, and most of the improvements were fairly under the surface. Windows Server 2008, on the other hand, is a full-size helping of "new and improved." While the overall package is quite good, there are a few surprises, "gotchas," and hidden delights you will want to know about before deciding if you will be moving to Windows Server 2008 any time soon.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: The 64-bit revolution is not complete

There have been 64-bit editions of Windows Server for years now, and Microsoft has made it quite clear that it wants all of its customers to move to 64-bit operating systems. That does not mean that you can throw away your 32-bit Windows Server 2008 CD, though! Over the last few months, I have been shocked on more than one occasion by the pieces of Microsoft software that not only do not have 64-bit versions, but will not run under a 64-bit OS at all. This list includes Team Foundation Server and ISA Server. If you are planning on moving to 64-bit Windows Server 2008, be prepared to have a 32-bit server or two around, whether it be on physical hardware or in a VM.

#2: Who moved my cheese?

While the UI changes in Windows Server 2008 are not nearly as sweeping as the Aero interface in Vista, it has undergone a dramatic rearrangement and renaming of the various applets around the system. In retrospect, the organization of these items is much more sensible, but that hardly matters when you have years of experience going to a particular area to find something, only to have it suddenly change. Expect to be a bit frustrated in the Control Panel until you get used to it.

#3: Windows Workstation 2008 might catch on

In an odd turn of events, Microsoft has provided the ability to bring the "Vista Desktop Experience" into Windows Server 2008. I doubt that many server administrators were asking for this, but the unusual result is that a number of people are modifying Windows Server 2008 to be as close to a desktop OS as possible. There have always been a few people who use the server edition of Windows as a desktop, but this makes it much easier and friendlier. These home-brewed efforts are generally called "Windows Workstation 2008," in case you're interested in trying it out on your own.

#4: Hyper-V is good, but...

Hyper-V was one of the most anticipated features of Windows Server 2008, and it's surprisingly good, particularly for a version 1 release from Microsoft. It is stable, easy to install and configure, and does not seem to have any major problems. For those of us who have been beaten into the "wait until the third version" or "don't install until SP1" mentality, this is a refreshing surprise.

#5: ...Hyper-V is limited

Hyper-V, while of high quality, is sorely lacking features. Considering that it was billed as a real alternative to VMWare and other existing solutions, it is a disappointment (to say the least) that it does not seem to include any utilities for importing VMs from products other than Virtual PC and Virtual Server. Even those imports are not workaround-free. Another real surprise here is the lack of a physical-to-virtual conversion utility. Hyper-V may be a good system, but make sure that you fully try it out before you commit to using it.

#6: NT 4 domain migration -- it's not happening

If you have been putting off the painful migration from your NT 4 domain until Windows Server 2008 was released, don't keep waiting. The older version (3.0) Active Directory Migration Tool (ADMT) supports migrations from NT 4, but not to Windows Server 2008. The latest version (3.1) support migrations to Windows Server 2008, but not from NT 4. Either migrate from NT 4 before changing your domain to be a Windows 2008 domain or get your NT 4 domain upgraded first.

#7: The ashtrays are now optional

In prior versions of Windows Server, a lot of applications came installed by default. No one ever uninstalled them because they did not cause any harm, even if you didn't use them or installed an alternative. Now, even the "throwaway" applications, like Windows Backup, are not installed by default. After installation, you need to add "features" to get the full Windows Server suite of applications. This can be frustrating if you are in a hurry, but the reduced clutter and resource overhead are worth it.

#8: Licensing is bewildering

Continuing a hallowed Microsoft tradition, trying to understand the licensing terms of Windows Server 2008 feels like hammering nails with your forehead. So maybe this isn't so much a surprise as a gotcha. The Standard Edition makes sense, but when you get into the issues around virtualization in Enterprise and Datacenter Editions, things can be a bit confusing. Depending upon your need for virtual machines and the number of physical CPUs (not CPU cores, thankfully) in your server, Enterprise Edition may be cheaper -- or it may be more expensive than Datacenter Edition. One thing to keep in mind is that once you start using virtual machines, you start to like them a lot more that you thought you would. It's easy to find yourself using a lot more of them than originally expected.

#9: There's no bloat

Maybe it's because Vista set expectations of pain, or because hardware has gotten so much cheaper, but Windows Server 2008 does not feel bloated or slow at all. Microsoft has done a pretty good job at minimizing the installed feature set to the bare minimum, and Server Core can take that even further. Depending upon your needs, it can be quite possible to upgrade even older equipment to Windows Server 2008 without needing to beef up the hardware.

#10: Quality beats expectations

Microsoft customers have developed low expectations of quality over the years, unfortunately, with good reason. While its track record for initial releases, in terms of security holes and bug counts, seems to be improving customers are still howling about Vista. As a result, it has come as a real surprise that the overall reaction to Windows Server 2008 has been muted, to say the least. The horror stories just are not flying around like they were with Vista. Maybe it's the extra year they spent working on it, or different expectations of the people who work with servers, but Windows Server 2008 has had a pretty warm reception so far. And that speaks a lot to its quality. There is nothing particularly flashy or standout about it. But at the same time, it is a solid, high quality product. And that is exactly what system administrators need.

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

23 comments
mike
mike

Dont't believe all you read. I put up a web server for web and ftp. I needed the iis7 for the ftp portion of the 2008 server to insure compatability with the new security laws. The writeups state SSL is standard in IIS7 but you have to use IIS6 on the FTP server so where did my encryption compliance go?

letter_2_roy
letter_2_roy

Dear Sir, This is as important as a good technical book. It sounds to me very important. With thanks & regards, Swapan.

grumpy bug
grumpy bug

Let me just say as a Workstation Windows 2008 rocks! Except for a few older program everything works. With the desktop pack installed it has a Vista look and feel but seems to be quicker and more stable. What I really like is the Hyper-V for my development work. On the host OS I run all my desktop apps and it is my domain controller. Then I have a series of virtual machines such as my SharePoint box, Exchange, ISA etc. So now I simply bring up the box that I want to work and shut it down when it is not needed. The only gotcha I have found with Hyper-V is my anti virus software kept deleting the virtual machine config files. This was solved by excluding the folder from the virus scans and solved the problem. I understand this is a problem for both Trend antivirus and ForeFront.

BordachenkovA
BordachenkovA

The most surprising feature for me (well, absent of the one) is lack for parallel SCSI support in failover clusters. It's really shocking because all our special bought HP Packaged Clusters are parallel SCSI type. :(

Justin James
Justin James

If you've switched to Windows Server 2008, how has it surprised you, in good and bad ways? J.Ja

mike
mike

it winds up that you have to uninstall FTP that comes with server 2008 and manually download ftp7 and then try to get it to work. To date, i have not been able to get secure ftp or certificate functionality on this FTP server

Justin James
Justin James

I've considered going thins route a few times, but something keeps holding me back, and I really can't place my finger on it. The big thing for me, is that I'm satisfied with Vista on my desktop. It has not given me any problems, on either my personal PC or my work laptop. But I seem to be a minority in that regard. :) J.Ja

pgit
pgit

I installed 2008 server for the first time last Monday. I immediately found myself googling "updates failed to configure reverting." I found a slew of hits about an upgrade/install problem. I had it in spades but eventually got around it. Still not sure what the problem was, but on reboot it would hang forever, grinding the hard drive with a message about having to revert files... Hope this doesn't happen every time.

seanferd
seanferd

Well, five days off the bat. I was beginning to wonder if no one had anything to say about W2k8.

jeremy.dugger
jeremy.dugger

The native support for tape backup before Server 2008, was a nice feature that allowed the inexpensive backup software to work. I realize M$ has said for as long as I am aware of that they are not in the backup business. I guess I am confused as to why not? In any event, if you are looking for a tape backup solution (it will eventually go away, but it is still required by request of customers of ours) the best/cheapest option for a standalone server was by Migo. They gave me a pretty sizable volume discount. One potential issue with them is no SQL support, but its $120 retail for the server edition and I just have SQL backup to disk and include that folder after midnight.

pworlton
pworlton

I haven't pinpointed where the performance hit lies, but it is definately there. My client has been running an old Win2k HP Kayak P-III workstation as a server for Lacerte Tax software. I recently had him purchase a brand new HP server with SAS drives (RAID 1). After transferring the data and sharing out the folder (Lacerte uses a file-based database), the loss of performance staggering. Data that previously took a few seconds for a client machine to retrieve now take several minutes. "So okay," I thought, "perhaps the SAS RAID could cause a performance hit." So I took the SCSI card and drive out of the old Kayak machine and installed it in the new server. Moved the data, changed the shares, etc... Now the new server has exactly the same drive configuration as the previous machine, but the performance has NOT improved one iota. It still takes several minutes to open Lacerte, as well as things like changing from "Personal" to "Corporate" customers (which I assume involves opening a different .DBF file). Needless to say, I'm disappointed. I don't know where the problem lies, but I suspect it is the same network slowness that Vista exibits. Either way, I wouldn't recommend 2008.

lafeyette_management
lafeyette_management

is sweet... On my HP dv9000-series laptop. Other than that Hyper-V isn't supported (probably due to hardware, having 64-bit extensions permanently turned off for Lord only knows what reason), the OS seems quick, responsive and surprisingly stable---stable enough, in fact, to play Microsoft Flight Simulator! Even features of the Piaggio Avanti that never worked under Vista or XP work flawlessly under this. I like 2008 (64-bit edition) and that's saying something because I'm one of the worst of the Microsoft-bashing Linux geeks! A./

rick
rick

I've been dual booting Xp/2008 for some time now, and 3 months ago finally made the full switch to "Workstation" 2008 - While I don't like the memory consumption on a fresh install (twice as much as XP) I'm liking everything else. I was *really* surprised to see that SLI worked as well (dual Gefore 7800GT's) using the Vista drivers. I'm seriously contemplating using it at home now, I'm liking it that much.

moorem
moorem

I absolutely love Server 08 as a workstation. I have been running it that way since beta on a laptop and it is by far the BEST workstation I have ever run. I even really like it as a server OS. I have it installed for several clients and for the most part it has been really great-except for the FEW incompatibilities.(expected)However one thing that REALLY aggravates me is the changes they have made to Remote Desktop Web Access. I think they have seriously over complicated something that was once simple and great. I understand the security benefits, but you can no longer slap up TS web access for use over the Internet for anyone from anywhere, regardless of OS or anything else. I think they should have left the traditional Web Access as a choice for those that want to run it that way.

Justin James
Justin James

... but a friend of mind recently had a similar problem on a fresh 2008 install. Maybe there is a problem with one of the most recent patches that blows up when installed on a fresh box? J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

I noticed that as well. They basically took Vista's backup client and beefed it up slightly. It's a decent backup client for a desktop, but it is inadequete for all but the least complex needs on a server. Backup prior to 2008 was still inadequete, but it was better at the very least. J.Ja

manish.gambhir
manish.gambhir

please ask the vendor of that application to improve the software or at least make it compatible with 2008. i would say this is one of the best OS i've come across if compared to NT4, 2000, 2003, R2, and 2008. as a part of improvement they have improved the security. many softwares are not supposed to run. imagine about cribbing about a car for not having a seatbelt with latest car of this year...

rkuhn040172
rkuhn040172

You would honestly slam Microsoft and Server 2008 based solely on this one experience? And, an experience where you the IT consultant is clearly to blame. There is no way on God's green Earth that a brand new server with 2008 on it (I'm assuming probably a P4 Xeon with multiple cores and multiple gigs of RAM) is any slower than a old PIII PC serving as a server. Perhaps this is another ID-10-T error. Rather than commenting on not recommending 2008 to others, perhaps you should post your dilemma in the Q&A section and figure out exactly what went wrong.

Justin James
Justin James

If you are having slowness for that, I would definitely suspect the networking stack too. I've noticed on some 2008 installs that the networking seemed to crawl. On the other hand, I've seen near 100% GigE speeds on transfer to/from 2008 as well. I think that the client OS plays a role in it, like it does not "play well" or something. I agree, it's disappointing. Without being there to troubleshoot, I would definitely look at networking and/or NIC drivers. That, by the way, is one MAJOR difference, more and more NICs are "software NICs" and bad drivers can kill them. We had a driver problem on a new server we built a few months ago that was causing the entire machine to crash, thanks to a memory leak in the Intel RAID driver. Gah. J.Ja

pworlton
pworlton

I've spoken with the software vendor (Lacerte made by Intuit - makers of Quicken, btw). Apparently the primary market of the software is small accounting firms and it is that market that doesn't want the software to change. I would really like it if Intuit would move it to an SQL-based database, but that isn't happening any time soon.

pworlton
pworlton

In spite of the rudeness of your personal attack, I will not allow your rhetorical nonsense to go unanswered. I made it clear that I was speaking from the point of view of my single experience. I never suggested that a more knowledgeable tech couldn't have resolved the performance issues. However, the very idea that it requires in-depth knowledge makes my post valid. We are all free to express our opinions here, and we are all free to change our opinions based on the experiences of others. I will not shut up simply because you don't agree with my opinion. By the way, I normally don't revisit threads after I've posted in them. But I came back here today after having spoken to other techs whom I respect and finding that they've had good experiences with 2008 performance. There are some techs like myself who have the integrity to admit they may have been wrong. However, I had a bad experience with 2008 and I stand by that. The fact that I may not have known all the special tweaks to make it work right do not invalidate my previous post.

randy_scadden
randy_scadden

We recently purchased a SAN and where just getting horrible performance out of it. That is until I turned up Jumbo Frames and can now typically get near Gige throughput. Most server class network cards have Jumbo Frame Rates disabled so it is typically just a check mark under the properties for the NIC. That's just my two cents. Hope it helps. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumbo_frame

pworlton
pworlton

I appreciate the suggestions. I had decided to try to upsell my client on a gigabit switch since the server supports it. The office is a bit small to justify it, but it may help resolve the performance issue. Small gigabit switches are fairly inexpensive these days. I will also take another look athe the drivers. Good suggestion.