Beta Man

Longhorn Beta 3 Drops

Is it worth migrating servers in the next year?

More control. Increased protection. Greater flexibility. How important are these characteristics in your servers? More important, does it look like Longhorn Server (still using the code-name inherited from Vista) has those characteristics in abundance enough to merit an early migration?

The answer, like most, is "it depends." If you're looking for a game-changer, Longhorn may not be it. Except in cases involving edge computing, there may be no compelling reason to get ready to migrate quickly. But there are some organizations for which one or more Longhorn features fill a major need. Among the key features that could make Longhorn a must-have OS: Server Core or the read-only Active Directory domain controller.

I grabbed Longhorn beta 3 from the Microsoft download site using my MSDN subscription to obtain a product key. It comes as an .ISO file, which I burned onto a DVD, making it bootable on a clean system. The entire process, including downloading, burning the DVD and installing, took most of a day. However, the installation-only portion of that was about three hours.

Figure 1
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Figure 1. Windows Reliability and Performance Monitor is an MMC snap-in that provides a graphical view for customizing performance data collection and Event Trace sessions.

Installing requires choosing the roles you want the server to play. Longhorn Server offers roles. Many roles. But you're able to install only those roles that you want the target server to have. This accomplishes two things: First, it simplifies administration of Longhorn systems in that you only have the features on the server that you need for its role; second, it allows for server specialization. You can design server configurations for the role they're intended to play and not worry about overloading them.

The roles include Active Directory Domain Services, Application Server, DHCP Server, DNS Server, File Server, Print Services, Terminal Services and a number of others. During setup, you add the roles you want the server to play, and you can add to and modify the roles from the console to keep up with the shifting requirements of your organization. There's your flexibility.

Protect and Defend
Greater protection is exemplified by the read-only domain controller (RODC). Let's say you have a geographically separated branch office where a couple dozen employees log in every morning. Your first inclination might be to have a domain controller at that location, but there may be no way to guarantee the physical security of that computer.

So you make that domain controller an RODC. Except for account passwords, an RODC holds all the objects and attributes that a writable domain controller holds. Changes cannot be made to the database that's stored on the RODC; instead, changes are made on a writable domain controller and replicated back to the RODC. This prevents a change that could otherwise be made at branch locations from replicating to the entire domain.

And, of course, there's Server Core. I didn't install Server Core, but it comes as a part of the package. Server Core installation provides a minimal environment for running specific server roles such as Windows Server Virtualization, AD, DNS, Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, Windows Internet Name Service, Media Services, and File and Print Server, reducing both the servicing and management requirements and the attack surface.

To provide this minimal environment, a Server Core installation deploys only the subset of the binaries that are required by the supported server roles. This is somewhat reminiscent of the older Windows Embedded Editions, in that you could pick and choose which features and capabilities you needed in an embedded system and then assemble them into a unique configuration. In the case of Server Core, you only get the one minimum configuration, with several possible roles.

Figure 2
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Figure 2. Longhorn Server Manager provides a Web-based console for performing just about any administrative task needed on the system or network.

For Control Freaks
The key to more control is Server Manager. Server Manager uses both a GUI and command-line tools that allow you to efficiently install, configure and manage Longhorn roles and features. Its Add/Remove Role Wizard allows you to add or configure one or more roles, or to remove currently installed ones. Server Manager is also used to manage a server's identity and system information, display server status and identify problems with role configuration.

Even in this day and age, there are some admins who prefer to work at the command line. I understand that concept well. While I like a GUI as much as the next person, I find myself dropping down to the command line several times a day, primarily because I prefer not waiting for the GUI to respond.

That's what PowerShell is for. This new command language adds to that productivity. PowerShell will remind veteran admins of one of the Unix shells with its ability to write complex scripts to call tools and perform just about any activity. Rather than being a usual command-style language, PowerShell is built on .NET and returns .NET objects. You write scripts to create and manipulate these objects. PowerShell gives you access to the file system, registry and the digital signature certificate, among other stores on the system. You can also use it to perform actions on remote systems. PowerShell is a major new system-scripting environment that current Windows script jockeys could conceivably use to enable the data center to run itself.

By the Numbers
Longhorn Server includes Internet Information Server (IIS) 7 and the .NET Framework 3.0 in its arsenal. This means that Longhorn is almost certainly the new Web server, and that more Web applications will use .NET 3.0 features, such as LINQ and
Windows Communication Foundation-based Web services.

Here are the particulars of the Longhorn product. There are four editions of Longhorn: Standard, Enterprise, Datacenter and Web Server. There's also at least one 64-bit edition for the Intel Itanium architecture. The minimum processor speed is 1GH and the minimum memory configuration is 512MB, although 1GB is recommended.

Longhorn Server gives the impression of a solid, if unspectacular, upgrade from Windows Server 2003. Microsoft listened to its customers for this product release and added features that made sense to run an enterprise and to give admins more tools. There's nothing earthshaking about Longhorn, which means it should be able to slip right into a data center with minimal effort. The added capabilities of Server Manager, PowerShell and Server Core will make admins happy for the increased power they'll now have at their command.

On the downside, there are no "wow" capabilities that make this a mandatory upgrade, unless one of them really makes a difference in workload or reach for your organization. If you're running Windows Server 2003 and happy with it, there's no reason to do anything until you're ready to upgrade servers. If you're running Windows 2000 Server or earlier, this is your logical upgrade path, as soon as it comes out and your admin staff is comfortable with it.

About the Author

Peter Varhol is the executive editor, reviews of Redmond magazine and has more than 20 years of experience as a software developer, software product manager and technology writer. He has graduate degrees in computer science and mathematics, and has taught both subjects at the university level.

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