A major revamp of the Windows Server 2008 platform, this R2 release not only enhances performance and scalability but adds numerous new and enhanced features. The headline act has to be Hyper-V 2.0 with live migration, but a huge supporting cast makes it a significant release worth evaluating by companies of any size.
Support for 256 cores and 64 logical processors in the VM pool; Hyper-V 2.0 with live migration; simplified local and remote management; IIS 7.5; PowerShell 2.0; DirectAccess technology for use with Windows 7.
Not a free or simple update; can be installed only on 64-bit hardware
Windows 7 may be grabbing the headlines, but it’s not the only new operating system on the block. Originally dubbed Windows 7 Server, the now more conservatively styled Windows Server 2008 (WS 2008) R2 could do for servers what the Vista replacement is expected to deliver on the desktop. That’s because, unlike the R2 for Windows Server 2003, the WS 2008 R2 is packed full of enhanced and, in some cases, totally new features, the most keenly awaited of which has to be Hyper-V 2.0.
The new Windows hypervisor removes the thorn of live migration from Microsoft’s side, enabling virtual machines to be migrated between host servers while still running, for example to balance loads or allow for server maintenance. Rival VMware has had this option with VMotion for years but it’s costly, whereas with Hyper-V 2.0 it’s bundled in both the full Windows Server 2008 R2 package and the standalone Hyper-V Server implementation.
Live migration is facilitated by another new feature of the R2 release called Clustered Shared Volume, part of an enhanced Failover Clustering role that enables virtual hard disks used by virtual machines (VMs) to be shared.
Clustering in WS 2008 wasn’t always easy, but we had no problems setting up an R2 cluster. Indeed, once we’d sorted out the servers to use and the disks we wanted to share the whole process took just a few minutes using the enhanced Failover Clustering Manager in WS 2008 R2 to both configure the cluster and manage VM migration.
Migrating virtual machines
We were also impressed by the speed and ease with which VMs could be migrated. That’s because there’s a lot of background preparatory work with a duplicate VM first created on the target server to which memory and state information from t he source VM is replicated. That done, the source VM is shut down and the new VM started in seconds with no discernible interruption in service as far as applications and users are concerned
Live migration can also be managed from the command line PowerShell interface, although to fully exploit this and other new Hyper-V features you’ll need the R2 release of System Center Virtual Machine Manager, expected within 60 days of the new hypervisor. Note, however, that you still can’t migrate VMs between servers with processors from different vendors, although migration to another processor family from the same vendor is now possible.
Other changes in Hyper-V include the ability to boot physical as well as virtual machines from VHD images, and add and remove storage on running VMs. Terminal Services also gets an overhaul and a new name – Remote Desktop Services – reflecting the inclusion of new Virtual Desktop Integration technologies. However, 2008 R2 isn’t just about virtualisation with lots of other usability and management enhancements plus new facilities when Windows 7 clients are connected to the OS.
We installed the software on a variety of servers and found the process a lot quicker and simpler than for the original WS 2008 product with far less operator input required. Tools to automate rollouts are available but a typical bare metal install took us around an hour with the end result a minimal yet secure server ready to be fine-tuned using the re-vamped Server Manager console from which we added the various roles and features we wanted. These are unchanged from WS 2008 but the setup tools are, again, more automated, added to which Server Manager can now be run remotely - a real boon when servers are tucked away in inhospitable machine rooms.