Hands-on: Windows Longhorn Server Beta 2

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

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Windows Deployment Services

Many an administrator have 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 and provided the ability to customize installations and set them off with just a few keystrokes.

In Longhorn Server, Microsoft has radically revised RIS and renamed it Windows Deployment Services (WDS). WDS still works using preboot execution environment and trivial file transfer protocol (TFTP) to an operating system, but it includes Windows PE, a graphical front end to the installation process that replaces the ugly, less functional, text-based, blue-screen setup phase that has plagued corporate Windows since NT 3.0. WDS is still being actively developed by Microsoft, so there is more to come on this technology.

Performance and Reliability Upgrades

Among the other enhancements in Longhorn Server, there will be 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 Longhorn Server, these tools have been combined into a single interface, called the Performance Diagnostics Console, to make it easier to view statistics and alerts about how well your machine is handling its duties. See Figure 4 for details.

Figure 4 - The Performance Diagnostics Console in Longhorn Server Beta 2


Figure 4 - The Performance Diagnostics Console in Longhorn Server Beta 2
(Click image to see larger view)

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 representin on a scale of 1 to 10 how pristine your system is. Unfortunately, the index needs recalibration before release, because the result of its computations shows that Windows simply decays over a period of 30 days with no appreciable activity -- something that either defends the old adage of Windows Rot or smacks of beta-quality releases.

There will be other improvements before Longhorn Server releases, but at this point in the development cycle, the team is focused on becoming "feature complete." By Beta 3, intense work on reliability and performance will begin.

Analysis and Conclusion

Longhorn Server presents an interesting set of features that will result in tangible benefits for many administrators. The Server Core version of the product is perhaps the most useful new edition of Windows on the server in quite a while, and it's appropriate for use in many situations where rock-solid servers are required.

If your server farms host network-intensive applications, you'll find the changes to the TCP/IP stack and other network performance improvements tantalizing, and hardware assistance now makes network scaling much more cost-effective by requiring fewer physical servers than before. Of course, security is of paramount importance, and NAP alone is worth investing in Longhorn Server when it's released. Management capabilities are improved as well.

When can you expect the product to arrive? Beta 2, as you know, was released at the end of May. Microsoft expects to deliver Beta 3 by the end of this calendar year, and the current projections are that Longhorn Server will be released to manufacturing sometime in the second half of 2007. (It will likely be in the fourth quarter.)

At this point, Longhorn Server is shaping up to be a compelling release. Assuming performance and reliability continues to improve, once released, it will definitely be worth deploying during your standard upgrade cycle.

Learn more

See these Microsoft links for in-depth information:

For more information about Windows Server "Longhorn" and the Windows Server System, see the following:
The Windows Server "Longhorn" page
The Windows Server System Home Page

For more information about the networking changes in Windows Server "Longhorn", see the following:
"New Networking Features in Windows Server "Longhorn" and Windows Vista"
"Next Generation TCP/IP Stack in Windows Vista and Windows Server 'Longhorn'"
"Performance Enhancements in the Next Generation TCP/IP Stack"

For other topics, see the following:

"The New Windows Firewall in Windows Vista and Windows Server 'Longhorn'"
Network Access Protection Home Page
Internet Information Services Home Page

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 LLC, a publishing company specializing in books for programmers and IT professionals.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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