Review: Much to like in Windows Server 2008

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Windows Deployment Services

Many an administrator has come to love Remote Installation Services (RIS), the add-on to Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 that streamed an installation of client and server operating systems over the network. It also provided the ability to customize installations and set them off with just a few keystrokes. In Windows Server 2008, Microsoft has radically revised RIS and renamed it Windows Deployment Services (WDS).

WDS still works using pre-boot execution environment (PXE) and trivial file transfer protocol (TFTP) to an OS. But now it also includes Windows PE, a graphical front end to the installation process that replaces the ugly, less functional text-based blue screen setup phase that's plagued corporate Windows since NT 3.0. You can create many different images and store them on a WDS machine (see Figure 6), which can then stream those images to out via unicast or multicast to clients on your network.

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Figure 6 - Windows Deployment Services

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Performance and reliability updates

Among the other enhancements in Windows Server 2008, there was work done to improve overall system reliability and performance. For example, to view processes in previous versions of Windows Server, you had two basic tools, both of which were virtually unchanged from release to release -- the Task Manager and the Performance Monitor. In Windows Server 2008, these tools have been combined into a single interface, called the Performance Diagnostics Console (which is also integrated into the aforementioned Server Manager), to make it easier to view statistics and alerts about how well your machine is handling its duties.

The Resource View is a simpler, but more powerful, view of how certain processes and services, among other metrics, are using the available resources on your machine. The Reliability Monitor shows a detailed view of exactly what events are occurring on a regular or intermittent basis to degrade the stability of your server. For example, you can see problems and degradations based on software installation activity, application failures, hardware missteps, Windows failures and other, uncategorized problems. The Reliability Monitor generates a "stability index," which is a painfully arbitrary number supposedly representing, on a scale of 1 to 10, how pristine your system is.

Additionally, the Event Viewer has been redesigned to be more efficient in allowing access to logs both on the current server and on other servers. You can easily filter log views, subscribe and unsubscribe to event logs from other machines and make notes on log entries, all from a single convenient console (see Figure 7).

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Figure 7 - Event Viewer

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And it's not just the console that has improved. A new cluster validation wizard takes the guesswork out of configuring a server cluster. Improvements to the mechanics of how clusters are put together allow for majority node set clusters without a quorum disk, which was previously a big obstacle in putting together machines for use in a cluster.

In other words, Windows Server 2008 offers a single mixed-mode type of clustering that replaces the old quorum and majority node set clusters you might have been familiar with from Windows Server 2003. In this new hybrid-quorum model, there is a concept of "votes," and a cluster is by default designed to tolerate the loss of a single vote. Each node of a cluster gets a "vote," as does the storage source for a cluster. Thus, if the quorum disk is lost, the cluster continues since only a single vote is no longer present.

To re-create the old Windows Server 2003 model with a shared quorum disk as the absolute must-have resource for a cluster, you can simply assign a vote to the quorum disk (now called a witness disk) and no votes for each node of the cluster. Better still, the witness disk doesn't even have to be a physical disk at all: it can be a file share over a network, and one share can even function as a witness for multiple server clusters.

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Figure 8 - Failover Cluster Management

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Essentially, the concept of votes was introduced, as you can see, to allow more flexibility in configuring clusters and their tolerance of failure than was previously possible.

Along with other redesigned management consoles, you can now manage true server clusters from the revised Failover Cluster Management console (see Figure 8).

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