Server virtualisation will be key feature of Longhorn

29 May 2007

Server virtualisation and the 64-bit computing will be the key attributes to feature in the long-awaited successor to Windows Server 2003, until now code-named “Longhorn”.

It has taken nearly five years but Microsoft has begun readying the troops and the customers for the release of Windows Server 2008.

Richard Moore, server and tools manager at Microsoft Ireland, told that the new server operating system will aim to address the key obstacles faced by CIOs today, namely better control over server environments, the onset of 64-bit computing and environmental issues driven by “server sprawl” and compliance issues.

“Control and flexibility will be the key changes that will feature in the new OS, including server virtualisation features,” said Moore.

“The software will come with PowerShell, a scripting language that allows server managers to control and write script-based prompts to control multiple servers in a data centre environment. For example, if you have 500 servers you can write common scripts to control them yourself or through a third party.

“Another concept called ‘server core’ will feature in the software, which means managers need only switch on the components they require to manage a server environment. This will have an impact on manageability and means if you are performing an update you need only update the servers that are doing a particular job. This means a more secure, more robust environment.”

One of the big changes Moore says managers will notice will be the server virtualisation features and the full and proper onset of 64-bit computing. “CIOs will be able to use 64-bit computing more freely across the organisation. For the last number of years processors and servers have been defaulting to 64-bit but until they’ve been using 32-bit as a standard choice. This has resulted in memory constrains of about 4GB at the server level.

“In the 64-bit world there will be far greater memory capacity than in the past and virtual machines will effectively become bigger than physical machines.”

Moore said that environmental issues caused by server sprawl will be dealt with by greater use of virtualisation. “The idea of virtualisation is to get one machine to do many things. In many cases IT data centres are constrained by the power coming into the building. In most cases server utilisation averages around 15pc and a further issue is that servers consume as much electrical power to cool when they’re sitting idle as when they are on full steam.

“One of the hottest topics that IT managers are talking about at the moment is the management of large power-consuming server environments. Anything that helps to reduce energy usage and make these server environments easier to manage would be welcome,” Moore said.

“The key selling point of Windows Server 2008 will be the way it works with Microsoft’s System Center management products to allow you to manage physical and virtual environments from the same toolset.”

Other aspects of the forthcoming product, Moore said will be new security features to react to the large number of “guests” with laptops constantly connecting into corporate networks. “If someone connects physically or wirelessly the software runs a suite of tests and automatically checks if the device is compliant with the network. For a lot of managers this feature will be compelling in itself.”

Responding to the reality of heterogeneous IT environments will be a critical feature of the new Windows Server 2008, said Moore, pointing to the ability of the software to manage virtualisation and allow guest operating systems such as Novell’s SUSE Linux to run on an existing corporate environment.

“This is a revolutionary development. It is the fruition of working with different vendors to ensure we are compatible and that everything runs well together. This is in response to an era where the data centre will be more virtualised and full of various silos and different operating systems.

“It will allow for far easier co-habitation in data centres than has been the case in the past.”

Another trend on the horizon that Microsoft is cognisant of is the trend towards not only server virtualisation but application virtualisation. “It is at an early stage right now but organisations are already noting conflicts if there are different versions of software applications on a network, such as Word 2003 versus Word 2007.

“Windows Server 2008 will feature Softgrid technology that allows businesses to run multiple versions of an application. So, if you are running Office 2007 but are using Word 2003 inside it, it looks and feels like a normal application but inside it is running as a virtualised application,” Moore said.

By John Kennedy