Hands on: Windows Server 'Longhorn' Beta 3 review

Editor's note: New information has been released regarding the availability of Windows Server Virtualization. This review was updated on May 16 around 4 p.m. to make it clear that the virtualization software is not part of the Longhorn Beta 3 release. Also, Microsoft has announced that Longhorn is now officially called Windows Server 2008.

Just last week, Microsoft released beta 3 of its newest Windows Server revision to the general computing public. While Windows Vista and Office 2007 have stolen a lot of publicity thunder over the past few months with their recent final releases, Microsoft has been slowly but surely churning out its update to Windows on the server. Since Beta 2, released last year, the company has made great improvements in performance, usability and polish -- not to mention that the product is more or less on time according to the product's development schedule, and no features have been cut.

Features have been added, including support for the much-anticipated Windows Server Virtualization code, previously called Hypervisor and which will be available as a preproduction version at the time of Windows Server Longhorns release. Additionally, there are myriad incremental improvements to features that have been on Windows Server for a long time -- Terminal Services, clustering and server management, just to name a few -- as well as some revolutionary new capabilities, like Server Core and PowerShell.

Let's dig deep into the Beta 3 release and see what's happening with the next version of Windows on the server.

Windows Server Virtualization

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year or two, you know that virtualization is a game-changing scenario. Server consolidation, energy efficiency, simpler management and deployment and increased capacity are all tangible benefits to be gained from a move to virtual servers and virtually hosted services. Microsoft has seen the light and is here to help with Windows Server Virtualization, which, according to the company, "is a next-generation Hypervisor-based virtualization platform integrated with the operating system that allows you to dynamically add physical and virtual resources."

Let's break that down a bit. Using servers with processors equipped with Intel VT or AMD-V enabled technology, Windows Server Virtualization interacts with Hypervisor, which is a very small layer of software that is present directly on the processor. This software offers hooks into the management of processes and threads on the processor that the host operating system can use to efficiently manage multiple virtual machines, and multiple virtual operating systems, running on a single physical processor.

Since there are no third-party software products or drivers to install, you get nearly guaranteed compatibility without the difficult problems that software bugs can introduce into your system.

Along with efficient process management, you can hot-add resources to the machine hosting your virtualized services. From processors to memory to network cards to additional storage media, you can add these devices to the machine without needing to bring down any services and interrupt user sessions. You can also host 64-bit guest sessions, which is a big boon to organizations moving toward adoption of 64-bit software. You can virtualize your migration, save money on deployment costs, and then assess how many physical machines you'll need when you finish your migration.

Windows Server Virtualization is the natural next step in Microsoft's virtualization story. With properly equipped hardware, you stand ready to enjoy a number of benefits that weren't possible before.

Server Manager

One of the core premises held by the product team during the development of Windows Server Longhorn was that administrators should have more control over their machines and that they ought to be able to spend less time on routine administrative tasks -- if they had the right tools. Enter the Server Manager, a sort of one-stop shop for managing almost any facet of a machine running Windows Server Longhorn. From the Server Manager, an administrator gets a central view of the roles the server is operating in and the services that are running; he also has access to the respective configuration tools.

Figure 1: The new Server Manager console

Figure 1: The new Server Manager console ()

Server Manager is a quick way to get a machine set up -- no more clicking around many Microsoft Management Console windows trying to get services deployed. Figure 1 shows the Server Manager on a freshly installed server.

Within the Server Manager, you can see the options to add roles and features to the server. Additionally, the Diagnostics menu (in the left pane) provides access to the Windows Event Viewer, the Services console and the Device Manager. You also get the Reliability and Performance Monitor, which has been tuned to work with Longhorn code but to the user works in the same way as the identically named feature in Windows Vista.

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