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Windows Server 2008 Technology Primer

This chapter provides an overview of what's in Windows 2008, explains how IT professionals have leveraged the technologies to improve IT services to their organization, and acts as a guide on where to find more information on these core technology solutions.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Windows Server 2008 was launched on February 27, 2008, and to some it is just the next-generation server operating system that replaces Windows 2003, but for others it is a significant improvement to a 5-year-old operating system that will drastically improve how IT will support business and organizational initiatives for the next several years. To the authors of this book, we see the similarities that Windows 2008 has in terms of usability and common graphical user interfaces (GUIs) with previous versions of Windows Server that make it easy to jump in and start implementing the new technologies. However, after 3 1/2 years of early adopter experience with Windows 2008, when properly implemented, the new features and technologies built in to Windows 2008 really address shortcomings of previous versions of Windows Server and truly allow IT organizations to help organizations meet their business initiatives through the implementation of key technologies now included in Windows 2008.

This chapter provides an overview of what's in Windows 2008, explains how IT professionals have leveraged the technologies to improve IT services to their organization, and acts as a guide on where to find more information on these core technology solutions in the various chapters of this book.

Windows Server 2008 Defined

Windows Server 2008 is effectively the sixth generation of the Windows Server operating system and on the surface looks and feels very much like a cross between Windows Server 2003 and Windows Vista. Upon initial bootup, shown in Figure 1.1, Windows 2008 looks like Windows Vista relative to icons, toolbars, and menus. However, because Windows 2008 is more of a business functional operating system than a consumer or user operating system, things like the cute Windows Aero 3D interface are not installed and the multimedia features found in the Windows Vista Home or Ultimate versions of the operating system are not included, by default.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 Windows 2008 desktop screen.

Under the surface, though, and covered through the pages of this chapter are highlighted the new technologies and capabilities built in to Windows 2008.

Windows 2008 Under the Hood

As much as there are a lot of new features and functions added in to Windows 2008 that are covered in chapters throughout this book, one of the first places I like to start is around the things in Windows 2008 that you don't see that make up some of the core capabilities of the new operating system. These are technologies that make the new operating system faster, more reliable, and do more things—but they aren't features that you have to install or configure.

Self-Healing NTFS

One of the new embedded technologies in Windows 2008 is self-healing NTFS. Effectively, the operating system has a worker thread that runs in the background, which makes corrections to the file system when NTFS detects a corrupt file or directory. In the past when there was a file system problem, you typically had to reboot the server for chkdsk to run and clean up file and directory corrupt errors.

This self-healing function is not something you will ever see running; however, it is an added capability under the hood in Windows 2008 that keeps the operating system running reliably and with fewer system problems.

Hot-Swappable Components

Included in Windows 2008 is the ability to hot swap core hardware components, such as replacing memory, processors, and PCI adapter cards to a server that supports this feature. In an IT environment where zero downtime means that an IT administrator cannot even shut down a system to replace failed components, having hot-swappable capabilities built in to the operating system helps organizations minimize system downtime.

In Windows 2008, with properly supported hardware, failed memory can be swapped out while the server is running. In addition, processor boards can be hot swapped, and PCI adapters such as network adapters or communications adapters can be added or removed from the system. Many IT operations already enjoy some of these capabilities as several server hardware vendors have provided plug-ins to Windows 2003 to support this type of functionality. However with this capability now built in to Windows 2008, an IT professional can perform the hot swaps and both the operating system and applications running on the operating system will acknowledge the hardware changes without the use of special add-in software components.

Server Message Block 2.0

Introduced in Windows Vista and now core to Windows 2008 is Server Message Block 2.0, more commonly called SMB2. SMB2 is a protocol that handles the transfer of files between systems. Effectively, SMB2 combines file communications and through a larger communications buffer is able to reduce the number of round-trips needed when transmitting data between systems.

For the old-timers reading this chapter, it is analogous to the difference between the copy command and the xcopy command in DOS. The copy command reads, writes, reads, writes information. The xcopy command reads, reads, reads information and then writes, writes, writes the information. Because more information is read into a buffer and transferred in bulk, the information is transmitted significantly faster.

Most users on a high-speed local area network (LAN) won't notice the improvements when opening and saving files out of something like Microsoft Office against a Windows 2008 server; however, for users who might be copying up large image files or datasets between systems will find the information copying 10 to 30 times faster. The performance improvement is very noticeable in wide area network (WAN) situations on networks with high latency. Because a typical transfer of files requires short read and write segments of data, a file could take minutes to transfer across a WAN that can transfer in seconds between SMB2 connected systems because the round-trip chatter is drastically reduced.

For SMB2 to work effectively, the systems on both ends need to be Windows 2008 systems, Windows Vista systems, or a combination of the two. A Windows XP client to a Windows 2008 server will communicate over SMB 1.0 for backward compatibility and will not gain from this new technology.

SMB2 and the benefits of this embedded technology are discussed in more detail in Chapter 32, "Optimizing Windows Server 2008 for Branch Office Communications."

Parallel Session Creation

In Windows 2008, the Session Manager Subsystem (smss.exe) creates an instance of itself to initialize each session up to the number of processors in the server. In the past with Windows 2003 or earlier, there was only a single instance of smss.exe, and, thus, system requests had to be handled sequentially. With parallel processing of sessions, technologies like Windows Terminal Services greatly benefit from this enhancement. Rather than having seven Terminal Services clients queued up to log on and run thin client sessions, on an eight-core processor server, each of the seven client sessions can simultaneously log on and run applications at processor speed.

Again, this is a technology that a network administrator does not install, configure, or run separately, but is now built in to Windows 2008, which ultimately improves the raw performance of applications and tasks that used to queue up serially on a server that can now be handled in parallel with each core processor handling the added tasks.

User Profile Hive Cleanup Service

Another technology built in to Windows 2008 is the User Profile Hive Cleanup Service. This service helps to ensure user sessions are completely terminated when a user logs off of a system. It removes temporary file content, cache memory content, and other information typically generated during a user session, but deemed unnecessary for longer-term storage.

This service is particularly useful for organizations using Windows 2008 Terminal Services where user sessions are routinely created on a server, and for security purposes, the user profile data is removed when the user logs off of the session.


Hyper-V is a technology built in to the core of the operating system in Windows 2008 that greatly enhances the performance and capabilities of server virtualization in a Windows 2008 environment. In the past, virtual server software sat on top of the network operating system and each guest session was dependent on many shared components of the operating system.

Hyper-V provides a very thin layer between the hardware abstract layer of the system and the operating system that provides guest sessions in a virtualized environment to communicate directly with the hardware layer of the system. Without having the host operating system in the way, guest sessions can perform significantly faster than in the past, and guest sessions can operate independent of the host operating system in terms of better reliability from eliminating host operating system bottlenecks.

Hyper-V and server virtualization is covered in more detail in Chapter 37, "Deploying and Using Windows Virtualization."

Windows Server 2008 as an Application Server

As much as there have been significant improvements in Windows 2008 under the hood that greatly enhance the performance, reliability, and scalability of Windows 2008 in the enterprise, Windows servers have always been exceptional application servers hosting critical business applications for organizations. Windows 2008 continues the tradition of the operating system being an application server with common server roles being included in the operating system. When installing Windows 2008, the Server Manager console provides a list of server roles that can be added to a system, as shown in Figure 1.2.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 Server roles in Windows 2008.

The various server roles in Windows 2008 typically fall into three categories, as follows:

  • File and print services—As a file and print server, Windows 2008 provides the basic services leveraged by users in the storage of data and the printing of information off the network. Several improvements have been made in Windows 2008 for file security (covered in Chapter 13, "Server-Level Security") and file server fault tolerance (covered in Chapter 28, "File System Management and Fault Tolerance").
  • Domain services—In enterprise environments running Windows networking, typically the organization is running Active Directory to provide centralized logon authentication. Active Directory continues to be a key component in Windows 2008 with several extensions to the basic internal forest concept of an organization to expanded federated forests that allow Active Directories to interconnect with one another. There are several chapters in Part II, "Windows Server 2008 Active Directory," that address Active Directory, federated forests, lightweight directories, and so on.
  • Application services—Windows 2008 provides the basis for the installation of business applications such as Microsoft Exchange, Microsoft Office SharePoint Services, SQL Server, and so on. These applications are initially made to be compatible with Windows 2008, and later are updated to leverage and take full advantage of the new technologies built in to the Windows 2008 operating system. Some of the applications that come with Windows 2008 include Windows Terminal Services for thin client computing access (covered in Chapter 25, "Terminal Services"), Windows Media Server for video and audio hosting and broadcasting (covered in Chapter 36, "Windows Media Services"), utility server services such as DNS and DHCP (covered in Chapter 11, "DHCP/WINS/Domain Controllers," and Chapter 10, "Domain Name System and IPv6"), SharePoint document sharing and collaboration technologies (covered in Chapter 35, "Windows SharePoint Services 3.0"), and virtual server hosting (covered in Chapter 37).

This book focuses on the Windows 2008 operating system and the planning, migration, security, administration, and support of the operating system. Windows 2008 is also the base network operating system on top of which all future Windows Server applications will be built.

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