Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 Technical Launch, Wembley: The new efficiency?

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I have just spent the day at Wembley stadium for the technical launch of Windows 7, Server 2008 R2 & Exchange 2010 dubbed as “the new efficiency”. The launch demonstrated what the latest offerings from ms can do in order to help streamline your infrastructure in order to save time and money. i guess this is the bottom line for every windows launch ever but it was good to see something aimed at the it pros rather than a PDC or full on tech:ed event. I am pleased to report that the latest produce from the MS market actually will help you to achieve your goals.

Official Microsoft “The New Efficiency” site with keynotes, slide-decks etc.

Windows Server 2008 R2: Event Highlights

As with all R2 editions of server software (by that I mean the only other R2 version; 2003 R2). This isn’t classified as a brand new operating system, rather, a functionality update to the existing 2008 feature set. So yes, you do need to pay for these features, unlike a freely downloadable service pack. With 2003 you could argue that R2 was nothing more than a set of add-ons (albeit very powerful additions) to the OS. However 2008 R2 is a much deeper update that introduces the integration of features you’d expect from a full Server 2012 edition but keeping the 2008 base we all know and love.

  • PowerShell V2.0
    • Don’t confuse this update as just another freely downloadable upgrade. R2 actually replaces the management end to many of the behind-the-scenes workings of windows. I was a bit hesitant to jump on the PowerShell bandwagon but after seeing it in action in R2 I got the next ticket on board. The power within the shell lies in the relationship it has to the GUI. As far as I’m concerned, Windows is all about the GUI, it’s what we know and love and love to hate but how many times have you had to do repetitive tasks, like modifying AD attributes or recreating settings per machine? Well, you may know that PowerShell  v1.0 let you do this automatically akin to the Linux lovers shell but PowerShell  v2.0 is actually what controls favourites like the AD mmc or MDT 2010. At any time you can take a peak at what a wizard in the GUI has acheived through a PowerShell script. Another bonus is the growing number of modules and Cmdlets that help you to process a whole batch of commands in a single line.
    • It does have a bit of a way to go. Microsoft still provide a lot of cmd based exe apps due to PowerShell’s reliance on the dot net infrastructure but I believe the benefits outweigh any disadvantage. Also, only some of the GUI console’s have been given the PowerShell magic underneath but those that remain can at least use PowerShell even though the GUI may need to catch up. Take for example the amazing life-saving AD recycle bin. A new feature in R2, although you should be given a medal if you find it before you actually need it. The recycle bin must first be enabled by a PowerShell script, and then, can only be utilised through a PowerShell script. Why this didn’t make it into a GUI seems a bit like a half-finshed job but at least it’s there somewhere. As with all scripting languages, whether VB, batch or basic command line syntax, it is hard to realise the value unless you find a way in. I guess mine will be through Hyper-V or AD management. Theire is a learning curve but it is something worth learmning considering this is Ms’s path to the future. I expect all Server 2012 consoles to be utilising PowerShell behind the scenes.
    • Windows PowerShell on TechNet
  • Hyper-V R2
    • Bottom line – Hyper-V R2 is way cheaper than VMware. Seriously. Like 1/3 of the price. What’s more, Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2 (free edition) is identical to Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V in terms of the workload it can manage, supported processors, memory and features including the magic Live Migration. This means I can create a clustered suite of free hyper-v machines with failover and only need to pay for the guest licences. Add to that remote management capabilities of Powershell and you may start beginning to regret that 3-year investment with the competition.
    • Virtualization with Hyper-V or download the free version here
  • Working together with Win 7
    • Most people interested will have tried the Win7 Beta or RC so we already know about how efficient and snappy it is (if not you can download a 90 day trial here). In my ideal world I would click our fingers and every client would be running this OS. I won’t repeat info you can find easily on the Microsoft site but Windows 7 provides the base to take advantage of the numerous server 2008 R2 functions such as BranchCache (reduce bandwitdh across WAN links), DirectAccess (stick your VPN switch in the bin), Remote Desktop Services (including VDI’s, App-V, etc,) and improved server management with RSAT and PowerShell v2.0.
  • Other stuff at the launch
    • I also enjoyed a seminar on deploying Windows 7 using Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010. Although i can see this is an amazingly powerful detailed tool, it still seems to miss the point of deployment. You still need ImageX, DISM, WAIK, WDS and MDT (all free) but for zero touch you need to shell out for System Center Configuration Manager. They have practically replaced ImageX with DISM just as they come out with a GUI for ImageX (GImageX). The idea of this is to make it easier to deploy and service images, but for SMBs it is a hell of a lot easer to just create a reference PC and upload an image to whatever server side cloning tool you use. I wish it could be simpler but I fear that it can’t be. So I guess the MDT & SCM combo will be for those multi-national corps that image PCs every 6-12 months rathe than the smb 3-5 year (if-you’re-lucky) hardware refresh. If I did need to send out a new image to more than a couple of PCs then MDT is a great place to start, if not for the actual tools, for the wealth of information and solution accelerators provided.
    • Keynote: the event was rounded off with a keynote from Ward Rawlson (whooooo???). This was a great end to the event, and would have actually been a better mood-setter for a big opening rather than the lacklustre intro we recieved. However, a few customers from the TAP program revealed how they very effectively deployed solutions. Hopefully these case studies will be put online soon as what the UK police force are doing with Virtual Desktops is very interesting.
    • There where a few vendors peddling the wares at the event. HP didn’t really seem to be showing anything new but a Fujitsu LifeBook tablet caught my eye. Unfortunately, I can’t recall the model but it was showcasing the Touch features of Windows 7, just like you’ve seen in all those Microsoft Surface videos. The experience felt very natural to me and I could easily see myself using my fingers more than a mouse. Fujitsu isn’t really a company I would normally think of but there new tablet range looked really solid and professional with some great prices to (the model I used was £800 RRP).
    • As always at these events, the networking is often just as useful (if not more so) than the presentations and demos. It was great talking to other IT Pros about how they have tested Windows 7 and what they plan to do with Server 2008 R2. I was lucky enough to be invited to an exclusive meeting after the main event with other select MVPs, IT Pros and Microsoft’s team of presenters, held in the stadium’s press box. It’s always good to see the determination and professionalism of the Microsoft staff first hand. They are always friendly and willing to answer any questions (apart from the hush in the room when Microsoft Courier was mentioned!). James O’Neill explained to me a bit more about the differences between the paid-for and free versions of Hyper-V as well as some of his PowerShell wizardry. It good to see that the staff are just as critical and open-minded about their software as we are ourselves.
    • Finally, at the end of the day I got my goody bag (pictured above) which consisted of the full RTM version  Windows 7 Ultimate (!), Microsoft Arc Mouse (!), Wembley Souvenir Guide, some Retractable chat headphones as well as the obligatory t-shirts, pens and an anti-static duster! Back of the net!
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