Hands-on: Windows Longhorn Server Beta 2

Radical code revision focuses on security, system integrity and reliability.

It has been three years now since Windows Server 2003 hit the streets, and the requirements for servers have changed a lot since then. The Internet has become an even bigger part of corporate strategy, security is an increasingly time-consuming challenge, and round-the-clock reliability is more of a "must have" than ever before.

As these requirements have been changing, Microsoft developers have been working in tandem on Windows Vista and Windows Server, code-named Longhorn, which will be called Windows Server 200x as appropriate upon its release.

With the recent release of Windows Vista and Longhorn Server Beta 2, the teams have split again, and the Longhorn Server group is adding a few new features and then focusing on performance and reliability as the release date draws closer.

You're probably curious about what Longhorn Server brings to the table. In this preview, I'll discuss the more significant changes to the operating system architecture and then follow up on the newest features in this release. Finally, I'll take a look at the tentative release schedule and give some final thoughts on the viability of this major revision to Windows on the server.

The Biggest Changes

Unlike the transition from Windows 2000 Server to Windows Server 2003, which was a fairly minor "point-style" update, Longhorn Server is a radical revision to the core code base that makes up the Windows Server product. Longhorn Server shares quite a bit of fundamental code with Windows Vista, which was a product derived directly from the techniques of the Secure Development Model -- a sea change in programming methodologies at Microsoft that puts secure code at the forefront of all activity. Thus, a lot of new features and enhancements you will see in the product are a result of a more secure code base and an increased focus on system integrity and reliability.

The most radical changes to Longhorn Server include Server Core and the new Internet Information Services 7.0.

Server Core

Longhorn Server Core flips the notion of a Windows server on its head by removing the user interface, the extra services and everything else that makes a Windows server tick and only including the most fundamental core services required for a machine to run Longhorn Server.

Management is done through the command line or through an unattended configuration file. According to Microsoft, "Server Core is designed for use in organizations that either have many servers, some of which need only to perform dedicated tasks but with outstanding stability, or in environments where high security requirements require a minimal attack surface on the server." Accordingly, there are limited roles that core servers can perform. They are:

  • DHCP server

  • DNS server

  • File server, including the file replication service, the distributed file system (DFS), distributed file system replication (DFSR), the network file system and single instance storage (SIS)

  • Domain controller, including a read-only domain controller (which will be covered later in this article)

  • Active Directory Application Mode server

Additionally, Server Core machines can participate in Microsoft clusters, use network load balancing, host Unix applications, encrypt their drives with BitLocker and be monitored and managed through Simple Network Management Protocol.

Most administrators will find placing Server Core machines in branch offices to perform domain controller functions to be an excellent use of slightly older hardware that might otherwise be discarded. The smaller footprint of Server Core allows the operating system to do more with less system resources, and the reduced attack surface and stability make it an excellent choice for an appliance-like machine.

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