Windows Server 2008 outshines Vista

It may look like Windows Vista. It shares the same code base as Vista. It even rolls in Vista’s first Service Pack. But in terms of customer adoption plans, Windows Server 2008 is no Vista.

A new Computerworld survey shows that 63 per cent of the 403 respondents plan to adopt Microsoft’s new server operating system.

This contrasts with the intention of some IT organizations to skip Vista entirely and move directly to Windows 7 on the desktop.

According to an online survey of 372 IT professionals conducted by Sanford C. Bernstein in May, companies expect just 26 per cent of their PCs to be running Vista by the beginning of 2011, down from an estimate of nearly 68 per cent of computers based on a similar survey a year ago.

“I haven’t seen any shadow of Vista being cast over Windows Server 2008,” says John Enck, analyst at Gartner Inc. Most industry watchers, in fact, agree that deployment is not a matter of if, but when and where.

IT executives say that for the most part, Windows Server 2008’s many new features won’t compel them to change their normal refresh schedules to adopt it right away. “It’s just an evolutionary step from Server 2003,” says Rick Redman, senior IT analyst for the city of Amarillo, Texas.

Jim Thomas, director of IT operations at window manufacturer Pella Corp. in Pella, Iowa, says Microsoft’s new virtualization hypervisor, Hyper-V, is interesting. But other than that, he says, there’s “not a whole lot” that he finds compelling. And Hyper-V is too new and immature to warrant rushing ahead to convert his 425 Windows servers, he adds.

Overall, however, IT decision-makers give the operating system a qualified thumbs up and plan to move to it as part of the normal server refresh cycle, which typically ranges from three to five years. Some customers, for instance, phase in new servers by replacing one-third of their machines each year; others replace all of their servers at once.

“We’re coming at it much more from a normal rollout of an operating system,” says Bob Yale, IT principal at The Vanguard Group Inc. in Valley Forge, Pa. Vanguard has about 1,200 Windows servers, most of which are running Windows Server 2003.

Overall, 59 per cent of Computerworld’s survey respondents who said they plan to adopt Windows Server 2008 (WS ’08) expect to get started within the next 12 months. More than half – 55 per cent — expect to complete the transition within two years. The highest level of interest came from respondents at midsize organizations with 100 to 1,000 employees; 69 per cent of them said they expect to get started within the next 12 months.

Selective Service

In most cases, the early adopters are deploying WS ’08 selectively in a bid to leverage specific new features in the operating system. While more than half of respondents in our survey said they will follow the usual upgrade schedule, about one in four said they will accelerate adoption for some applications. One in three respondents said that their organizations have a business need for a new feature in WS ’08.

Mike Moore, IT principal at Vanguard, says his company has implemented a few WS ’08 machines where the new features filled a business need. For instance, Vanguard has servers in place that leverage WS ’08’s new Network Access Protection (NAP) features. “We’d like to extend that further with the more-granular policy servers that Windows Server 2008 provides,” he says. But he doesn’t expect to get serious about WS ’08 rollouts until sometime in 2009.

Neither does the city of Amarillo’s Redman, who says he’d like to see a base of documentation and best practices before moving forward. “The biggest problem is getting useful technical articles out of Microsoft that don’t have a lot of marketing hype,” he says.

But Ward Ralston, senior technical product manager for Windows Server 2008, argues that plenty of resources exist today. He points to the Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Solution Accelerator and to the Microsoft Web Deployment Tool for IIS as examples.

Redman expects to begin migrating to WS ’08 within a year. For now, however, he’ll stick with Server 2003 when the need for new servers arises. While it’s not hard to install the new operating system, it’s quite a bit of work to load the fixes and patches and deal with technical support, he says. “If this one is working, why break it? We have 1,500 other things to do,” he notes.

Early adopter Pacific Coast Cos. in Cordova, Calif., upgraded three server-based applications to WS ’08 while participating in Microsoft’s beta program. The applications, which include an estimator, a design application and a quality-control application, are all hosted using Terminal Services and have been stable. Because they’re critical, however, administrators perform a preventive reboot every month, just to be safe, says enterprise architect Matt Okuma. But he’d like to see the operating system season a bit before he migrates other applications. “Would I run an SAP portal on Server 2008 right now? Probably not,” he says.

Like Vanguard, Pacific Coast plans to selectively deploy WS ’08 as a replacement for third-party network access control products. “We don’t want a fancy environment for network access protection. We just want to know when someone unauthorized has accessed our network,” Okuma says.

His organization has also deployed Windows Server 2008’s Terminal Services, with its ability to publish applications, as a replacement for his Citrix environment, which was hosted by a third party. The new setup saves on licensing and maintenance costs and performs better, according to Okuma.

Broader deployments at Pacific Coast will likely start with Active Directory servers, but that’s at least a year away.

Virtual Possibilities

Hyper-V is probably the most talked about new feature in Server 2008. But with the hypervisor and management tools just emerging from beta, most organizations don’t take Hyper-V seriously – yet. “It’s on our watch list, but not on the critical path to our virtualization strategy by any means,” says Vanguard’s Yale.

“Down the road, I think Microsoft will crush VMware, but they’re far behind VMware at this point,” says Okuma. He currently has 150 Windows servers, most of which are running virtualized Windows Server 2003 sessions on VMware products. Many of those virtual servers are “Tier 0” virtual machines, where server recovery would be time-consuming. “I would not move them to Hyper-V at this point,” Okuma says.

“In 12 to 18 months, [Microsoft] will give VMware a run for their money,” says Gartner’s Enck. He thinks Microsoft will push Hyper-V into the enterprise through aggressive licensing practices.

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