Microsoft Windows Server 2008 may not ship officially until Wednesday, but early adopters are running it in production networks and reporting solid results with new features including everything from stretched clusters to workload specific configurations of the server.

"Every one of our organisations is having the conversation about rolling out 2008 or deploying Windows Server 2003," says Rand Morimoto, a consultant with Convergent, which helps companies architect and implement, local, wide area and enterprise networks. "If they think 2008 is dependable and reliable, we roll it out. And we have installed 100s of these servers in production environments."

While early adopters are reporting success with their deployments, a recent survey by CDW showed that security, set up and configuration improvements and virtualisation were key benefits identified by the 772 IT respondents from small business, medium/large businesses, state/local governments, higher education and K-12 education.

But there were concerns among respondents with bugs (48%), application compatibility (41%) and hardware compatibility (28%) topping the list.

And Microsoft has issued specific guidelines that avoid in-place upgrades for application servers, including those running Exchange 2007 SP1. Morimoto says, however, that users are finding that certain new features are finally breaking down barriers, including stretched clusters that allow clusters to sit on either end of a T-1 WAN connection.

"Before, these kinds of clusters were only run by the richest companies that could support fiber across the WAN. This is a huge development for needs like [disaster recovery] for Exchange 2007."

Morimoto says features such as Network Access Protection (NAP) are compelling to Convergent customers, but admits the deployment is cleaner and easier to pull off in a homogeneous Microsoft environment with Vista and Windows Server 2008.

"When you start to get into multi-platform environments you run into stuff that is not supported," he said.

Morimoto, who authored the just released book Windows Server 2008 Unleashed , says the server's Read-Only Domain Controllers have been a huge boost for global companies, which can deploy them in remote semi-secure areas with piece of mind.

He also says SMB2, the new version of the old Windows file-sharing protocol, is providing users with a 30%-40% increase in data transfers between branch and remote offices.

As far as Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualisation, which is still in beta and is slated to ship this fall, Morimoto says Microsoft still has to deliver the management tools including those for disaster recovery/failover and centralised console management of VMware images and Hyper-V images. "Once the tools are available virtualisation becomes a no-brainer," he says.

Convergent has 12 customers already in production with Hyper V. "As a virtual server host it works," says Morimoto.

Other users are reporting that Windows Server 2008 runs well as a guest operating system in VMware virtualisation environments.

"We've seen no issues and no performance problems," says Matt Okuma, enterprise architect for Pacific Coast Companies, which provides IT and others services to parent company Pacific Coast Building Products.

While Okuma says Windows Server 2008 has many useful features, he says the migration could be jarring.

"It is going to be a major change from 2003 to 2008," he says. "Managing the server is different. It is a major change from what administrators are use to. It was a shellshock to me when I got into the interface, but now I see the advantages of what they have done."

Okuma has four servers deployed. The company is using Terminal Services to support a truss-design application that previously ran on Citrix.

"The application had become too slow, but now a design step that would take three seconds is instantaneous. The performance using 2008 is night and day."

Okuma, who has been in production with 2008 since December, says he also used the Server Roles capability to install Terminal Services and to install a Rights Management Server that is tied to a SharePoint Server and provides protection when sharing sensitive documents within the company.

"We have also integrated it to protect our e-mail," says Okuma.

He plans to have his Active Directory up and running on Windows Server 2008 by May and by February 2009 to have all his major servers on 2008 to handle some 2,000 users.

He is currently working on some proof-of-concepts with NAP and says it works well with his infrastructure.

"My main goal now is to stop buying third-party products that do something that Server '08 brings to you."

One thing that others users say Windows Server 2008 brings is better integration when used with SQL Server and Visual Studio 2008.

Wednesday's launch of Windows Server 2008 in Los Angeles will also feature those two products and how the entire platform works together. Visual Studio 2008 shipped in Nov. 2007 and SQL Server is slated for release before June 30.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says the trio will form the bedrock of the company's services platform.

That is what Big Hammer Data uses the three to accomplish. The company runs a service that collects and stores product data from manufacturers, such as descriptions and specifications for a television, and provides it to retailers who can use the information on e-commerce sites, kiosks or point-of-sale terminals.

"We have a large scale system that has to be fast and agile," says Mike Steineke, vice president of IT for Big Hammer.

The Big Hammer platform, which has database, application and presentation layers, runs on a cluster of Web servers (to server manufacturers), a cluster of Terminal Servers (to serve retailers) that tap into the remote desktop features of Windows Server 2008, and Unisys ES7000 server hardware to support the SQL Server 2008 database.

"Looking at all three as a whole we see ease of interoperability and ease of use," says Steineke, "We are able to develop applications and deploy them without any problems."

Steineke says constructs, such as user authentication for security, are built on components understood and supported in all three products.

"Interoperability with user authentication happens from the Web tier through the application code you have written all the way through to SQL Server, and we found with the 2008 platform that we have zero issues with any kind of problem that our developers would normally spend days trying to figure out why this does not work."

Big Hammer already has about 40 servers deployed in its production and disaster recovery environments.