Microsoft Windows Server options compared

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In the course of this year, almost 10 million antiquated Windows Server 2003 servers will have their applications and data removed and deployed on new servers, and the old servers will be shut down and disposed of. It is a natural assumption that the destination servers will be Server 2012, but that's not necessarily the case, nor should it be.

You have three choices from Microsoft: Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2008 R2 and the Azure cloud service. Here are the pros and cons of each.

Windows Server 2012 R2

Windows Server 2012 comes with an integrated and significantly updated version of Hyper-V over the Server 2008 version, an IP address management function that supports both IPv4 and IPv6, a new file system called ReFS, and a big update to PowerShell, making it almost an operating system within an operating system. 

It also uses the same Metro interface as Windows 8, which no one liked. Fortunately, it has a massively expanded PowerShell, with more than 2,300 commandlets. You can completely manage the system from PowerShell.

While the OS itself sports many revisions from Server 2008, the advances in Hyper-V stand out. Hyper-V Replica alone is a gem because it helps with disaster recovery by logging changes to the disks in a virtual machine (VM) and uses compression to save on bandwidth. So you can take multiple snapshots of a VM and decide which to use for recovery in the event of a disaster.

Hyper-V in Server 2012 is significantly advanced over its 2008 counterpart in every way: 320 logical processors in 2012 vs 64 in 2008; 4TB of memory in 2012 vs. 1TB in 2008; 64 virtual processors per VM vs. 8; 8,000 clustered VMs vs. 1,000, and so on. Microsoft built Server 2012 for a cloud environment; it runs Azure on Server 2012. If it's good enough for Azure it should be good enough for you.

The company is working on Sever 2016 for next year, but by all means, don't wait. You will get many years of life out of WS2012. Mainstream support is good until January 9, 2018 and the end of life will be January 10, 2023.

Windows Server 2008 R2

If Windows Server 2012 R2 is so great, why should you consider running Windows Server 2008 R2 these days? Compatibility.

That's the reason Pella Corp., a leading manufacturer of windows and doors, began deploying Server 2008 R2 to replace their WS2003 servers. The company began its own migration off Server 2003 before Server 2012 came out, according to Kenny Nedder, a technical manager in the company’s IT department. Pella has kept some 2008 R2 servers for internal compatibility, although the intention is to eventually migrate to Server 2012.

Another reason for 2008 is there is no Server 2012 version of Small Business Server or Windows Server Essentials. If you look to upgrade from those two products, Microsoft will offer you Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard or Datacenter. The upgrade process is well documented, and it is neither simple nor short.

Windows Azure

With Azure, you get a Windows experience on a cloud-based IaaS provider. The big benefit is you don't have the headache of hardware maintenance. Microsoft handles the compute, networking, storage arrays, servers, virtualization hypervisor and backup.

There are several issues to keep in mind, however. One is data integrity. If you are in a regulated business, such as health care or financial services, you are mandated to keep your data behind the firewall.

The other is latency. Access to high performance connections outside of your LAN is a determining factor of what you store where, said Nick East, CEO of Zynstra, which specializes in Windows Server 2003 migrations to a hybrid solution. "It's not just about availability but at a good price. Maybe you can get an excellent connection to cloud apps but it could be the cost is high because you have to do an upgrade on your connectivity," he said.

That proved to be the reason Pella went with an internal, on-premises solution rather than the cloud, even though Microsoft has a massive data center just outside of Des Moines, Iowa. Pella, based in the city of the same name, is 45 miles outside of town and the bandwidth it needed was prohibitively expensive.

"In a small town in the middle of Iowa, getting bandwidth to the Internet has not come cheap," said Nedder. "Even if other costs align, the cost to operate that was the main driver [for staying on-premises]. We still consider cloud an increasingly viable option. For example Pella uses WebEx and Office 365 as software in the cloud, although our financial model for pure infrastructure as a service has not fully developed."

“Pella also needed low-latency systems, to guarantee high-volume manufacturing transactions would work, such as warehouse inventory scanning, raw material movement, unit completions and finished goods shipments. Latency was a big consideration in where we hosted our systems,” said Jim Thomas, director of IT operations at Pella.

While Pella is sticking to on-premises, if it had to do it again, cloud services would be a strong consideration. Thomas said improvements in tools in recent years have made it much easier to move to the cloud. "In the early 2000s my team aggressively started to look for ways to reduce our Windows server costs. We started with VMware, aggressively virtualized server hardware and later converted to Microsoft’s private cloud solution. Our efforts over the years have generated a very talented team that has achieved internally what many can achieve by going to the cloud. Had we not made all those initial investments, the cloud would have been a much more compelling solution." he said.

This story, "Microsoft Windows Server options compared" was originally published by ITworld.

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