Review: Much to like in Windows Server 2008

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The dead-gateway detection algorithm present in Windows Server 2003 has been slightly improved: Windows Server 2008 now tries every so often to send TCP traffic through what it thinks to be a dead gateway. If the transmission doesn't error out, then Windows automatically changes the default gateway to the previously detected dead gateway, which is now live. And Windows Server 2008 supports offloading network processing functions from the CPU itself to the processing circuitry on the network interface card, freeing up the CPU to manage other processes.

Network scaling is also improved. In previous versions of Windows Server, one NIC was associated with one single, physical processor. However, with the right network card, Windows Server 2008 supports scaling NICs and their associated traffic among multiple CPUs -- a feature called receive-side scaling. This allows much higher amounts of traffic to be received by one NIC on a highly loaded server. This particularly benefits multiprocessor servers, since more scale can be added simply by adding processors or NICs and not by adding entirely new servers.

Changes to Terminal Services

Network applications are growing in popularity with each passing week. In addition to the three new features detailed below, the team worked on improving the core processes that make TS tick, including single sign-on to Terminal Services sessions, monitor spanning and high resolution support for sessions, integration with the Windows System Resource Manager to better monitor performance and resource usage, and themes that make TS sessions seamless to the client.

Three key new features are new in the Windows Server 2008 release. The first is Terminal Services RemoteApp. Like the functionality offered by Citrix MetaFrame years ago, Windows Server 2008 will support out-of-the-box the ability to define programs to be run directly from a TS-enabled server but be integrated within the local copy of Windows, adding resizable application window areas, Alt-Tab switching functionality, remotely populating the system tray icons and more. Users will have no idea that their application is hosted elsewhere, except for the occasional slow response because of network latency or server overload.

It's also simple to enable this functionality: administrators create .RDP files, which are essentially text-based profiles of a Terminal Services connection that the client reads and uses to configure an RDP session for that particular program. They can also create .MSI files that can populate profiles; the main advantage here is that .MSI files are traditionally very easy to deploy via automated system management methods like Systems Management Server, Group Policy and IntelliMirror, and so on.

Next, there's the Terminal Services Gateway. This feature allows users to access Terminal Services-hosted applications from a Web portal anywhere on the Internet, secured via an encrypted HTTPS channel. The gateway can send connections through firewalls and correctly navigate NAT translation situations that stymied the use of this technology before.

This saves corporations from having to deploy VPN access to remote users for the sole purpose of accessing a Terminal Services machine. Plus, since the data is sent over HTTPS, almost anyone can access the sessions, even at locations where the RDP protocol is blocked by the firewall. Administrators can set connection authorization policies that define user groups that are permitted to access TS through the TS Gateway machine.

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