Weighing Windows Server options

(Image: Microsoft)

26 May 2015

In the course of this year, almost 10 million antiquated Windows Server 2003 servers will have their applications and data removed and deployed on new servers, and the old servers will be shut down and disposed of. It is a natural assumption that the destination servers will be Server 2012, but that is not necessarily the case, nor should it be.

You have three choices from Microsoft: Windows Server 2012 R2, Windows Server 2008 R2, and the Azure cloud service. Here are the pros and cons for each.


Windows Server 2012 R2
Windows Server 2012 comes with an integrated and significantly updated version of Hyper-V over the Server 2008 version, an IP address management function that supports both IPv4 and IPv6, a new file system called ReFS, and a big update to PowerShell, making it almost an operating system within an operating system.

It also uses the same Metro interface as Windows 8, which no one liked. Fortunately, it has a massively expanded PowerShell, with more than 2,300 commandlets. You can completely manage the system from PowerShell.

While the OS itself sports many revisions from Server 2008, the advances in Hyper-V stand out. Hyper-V Replica alone is a gem because it helps with disaster recovery by logging changes to the disks in a virtual machine (VM) and uses compression to save on bandwidth, you can then take multiple snapshots of a VM and decide which to use for recovery in the event of a disaster.

Hyper-V in Server 2012 is significantly advanced over its 2008 counterpart in every way: 320 logical processors in 2012 vs 64 in 2008; 4TB of memory in 2012 vs 1TB in 2008; 64 virtual processors per VM vs 8; 8,000 clustered VMs vs. 1,000, and so on. Microsoft built Server 2012 for a cloud environment; it runs Azure on Server 2012. If it’s good enough for Azure it should be good enough for you.

The company is working on Sever 2016 for next year, but by all means, do not wait. You will get many years of life out of WS2012. Mainstream support is good until 9 January, 2018 and the end of life will be 10 January, 2023.


Windows Server 2008 R2
If Windows Server 2012 R2 is so great, why should you consider running Windows Server 2008 R2 these days? Compatibility.

That is the reason Pella Corp., a US manufacturer of windows and doors, began deploying Server 2008 R2 to replace their WS2003 servers. The company began its own migration off Server 2003 before Server 2012 came out, according to Kenny Nedder, a technical manager in the company’s IT department. Pella has kept some 2008 R2 servers for internal compatibility, although the intention is to eventually migrate to Server 2012.

Another reason for 2008 is there is no Server 2012 version of Small Business Server or Windows Server Essentials. If you look to upgrade from those two products, Microsoft will offer you Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard or Datacenter. The upgrade process is well documented, and it is neither simple nor short.


Server 2012 on a Server 2008 VM
Believe it or not, you can actually run Windows Server 2012 in a VM on a Server 2008 machine. You must run Service Pack 1 and a hotfix on Server 2008. However, if you have patched to Service Pack 2, it will not run Server 2012. Plus there are a lot of restrictions in running Server 2012 on a Server 2008 VM. The only reason to run the newer OS virtually on the old OS is for testing purposes.


Windows Azure
With Azure, you get a Windows experience on a cloud-based IaaS provider. The big benefit is you do not have the headache of hardware maintenance. Microsoft handles the compute, networking, storage arrays, servers, virtualisation hypervisor, and backup.

There are several issues to keep in mind, however. One is data integrity. If you are in a regulated business, such as health care or financial services, you are mandated to keep your data behind the firewall.

The other issue is latency. Access to high performance connections outside of your LAN is a determining factor for what you store where, said Nick East, CEO of Zynstra, which specialises in Windows Server 2003 migrations to a hybrid solution. “It’s not just about availability but at a good price. Maybe you can get an excellent connection to cloud apps but it could be the cost is high because you have to do an upgrade on your connectivity,” he said.



Andy Patrizio, IDG News Service

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