Hands on: Windows Server 'Longhorn' Beta 3 review

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Windows PowerShell

Think of Windows PowerShell as the command line on steroids, with extensibility that touches a lot of applications running on the server as well as areas of the server itself. With PowerShell, you get a command-line environment built on top of the .Net runtime and the .Net framework, which allows for much greater customization and flexibility of commands.

PowerShell uses "cmdlets," or simple utilities that perform a very specific task, as its base. Cmdlets are designed to be run, piped and otherwise used with other cmdlets to create powerful automated systems. PowerShell can integrate with your custom C# or VB code, and you can create new cmdlets that perform tasks specific to your deployment. Since PowerShell uses and consumes .Net objects, not text, the capabilities to configure applications, services, Web sites and other facilities are much extended over the traditional command line. But from within PowerShell, you retain the ability to run traditional and command-line utilities as well, so from one environment you can get the best of both worlds.

Check out Figure 4, for instance. Here I've entered a command: get-process | where-object { $_.VirtualMemorySize gt 1000000 }

Figure 4: Running a Windows PowerShell command

Figure 4: Running a Windows PowerShell command (Click image for larger view)

This will retrieve a list of all processes where the amount of virtual memory used is greater than 1 megabyte. The results are listed in Figure 4.

Higher availability

The cluster story gets better with Windows Server Longhorn as well. Now called "fail-over clusters," server clusters allow multiple machines to be grouped together to a set of common tasks, such that loads are split, services are managed as a group, and failures on one machine don't bring the whole group down. Of course, constructing a server cluster takes some configuration work, but the new Validation Wizard makes it a bit easier to run tests on the most fundamental components of your proposed cluster to ensure that they pass muster. Three different types of tests are enabled:

  • Node tests look at each of the machines that will make up the cluster and ensure their software meets the common configuration requirements of a cluster.
  • Network tests examine specific requirements of the network components of the cluster, including numbering and addressing.
  • Storage tests query disk components and ensure that they support some core SCSI commands and can react to cluster operations correctly.

Additionally, the Cluster Setup Wizard has been simplified and is scriptable, so setting up many fail-over clusters with a common, consistent configuration is much easier. And you can export a cluster configuration based on Windows Server 2003 and re-import it to a Windows Server Longhorn fail-over cluster. That's not to mention a streamlined interface for adding and managing new fail-over cluster members, integration with the Volume Shadow Copy Service for efficient backups and improvements to the stability and security of the cluster infrastructure itself.

The last word

There's been a notable difference in stability and refinement from Beta 2, which was released around this time last year, to Beta 3. Features work now. Services deploy properly. There are few configuration errors. Beta 3 is certainly a usable build for testing and development purposes, if you're not brave enough to be part of the Rapid Deployment Program and dogfood the build yourself.

My impressions of this release: Windows Server Longhorn is a major upgrade, one that promises benefits and advantages for a wide swath of shops across the world. Depending on where your heavy technology investments are, or how your company and its IT infrastructure are laid out, you'll find a lot to like -- and little to dislike.

Jonathan Hassell is an author, consultant and speaker on a variety of IT topics. His published works include RADIUS, Hardening Windows, Using Windows Small Business Server 2003 and Learning Windows Server 2003. His work appears regularly in such periodicals as Windows IT Pro magazine, PC Pro and TechNet Magazine. He also speaks worldwide on topics ranging from networking and security to Windows administration. He is currently an editor for Apress Inc., a publishing company specializing in books for programmers and IT professionals.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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