Microsoft next week will distribute a pre-beta of Windows Server 2008 R2 to a select group of testers and highlight the software's virtualisation capabilities, integration with Windows 7 and other features.
The company has moved to align Windows Server 2008 R2, which briefly was referred to as Windows Server 7, and the Windows 7 client OS although Microsoft officials would not say if they would ship together.
But users who adopt both will get new security, networking and other features although some of those will require network upgrades like implementing IPv6.
The R2 pre-beta, which is a 64-bit only platform, was given to attendees of the company's WinHEC and TechEd EMEA conferences that were held last week. The R2 server pre-beta comes a week after Microsoft distributed Windows 7 to attendees at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC).
The company said a more widely distributed R2 beta would come next year alongside the Windows 7 beta.Two weeks ago, Microsoft said at its PDC that the Windows 7 beta would ship in early 2009.
Bill Laing, Microsoft's vice president of Windows Server and systems, however, said after the tandem release of the two betas that Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 would not necessarily share the same ship date.
Microsoft observers have been theorizing that Windows 7 could ship as early as mid- to late 2009. Laing said last week Microsoft still plans to ship the R2 server in 2010.
Microsoft also said customers should begin thinking about migrating off Windows Server 2000, which will not run on newer hardware especially multi-core systems.
The R2 beta's integration with Windows 7 was high on the server's feature list. Also on that short list was virtualization, which includes the Live Migration feature pulled from the first release of Microsoft's Hyper-V server virtualization technology, management features such as reduced power consumption, scalability that included support for 256 processors, and an improved Web platform around Internet Information Server (IIS) 7.0.
The Windows 7 integration points include a laundry list of features including DirectAccess, which lets Windows 7 PCs directly connect to intranet-based resources without needing a VPN connection.
While DirectAccess could eliminate VPN infrastructure, users will have to support IPv6 and IPSec on their network in order to access intranet resources.
Only a handful of companies are running IPv6. The U.S. Department of Defense has said it is adopting IPv6 but have yet to roll it out.
IPv4 networks could provide translation services to IPv6, Microsoft said. R2 server will support the Teredo Server, Teredo Relay, ISATAP Router, and 6to4 router transition technologies. Six months after R2 ships, Microsoft will add to the list its own Forefront Intelligent Access Gateway.
Laing said a company's entire network does not have to be IPv6 for DirectAccess to work. The client nodes and some of the network nodes for tasks such as authentication have to support IPv6. But he did add that users will also need to support IPSec.
"DirectAccess is a compelling feature, but there is infrastructure work you need to do and it will take time to roll this out," Laing said.
Other Windows 7 integration points with R2 include Branch Caching, which caches on a branch-office network frequently used content; a read-only Distributed File System (DFS) to improve branch office security, power management via Group Policy, BitLocker drive encryption for USB drives referred to as BitLocker To Go, and an Offline Folders feature for mobile users.
Unique to the server, the R2 release includes support for Live Migration, a much anticipated feature add-on to Hyper-V. Not only will the feature help Microsoft match similar tools already available from VMware and open-source hypervisor platforms, Live Migration is key for availability and scalability in the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) support coming in R2 server.
Another key VDI component is Remote Desktop Services (RDS), formerly called Terminal Services, which allows users outside the intranet to connect to desktops and application running inside virtual machines on a server.
RDS includes the Remote Desktop Connection Broker, an upgrade to Windows Server's Session Broker, an administrative set-up tool for both server-based virtualized desktops and traditional Terminal Services remote desktops.
Microsoft is building its VDI infrastructure on the back of the Connection Broker, Hyper-V and Virtual Machine Manager.
RDS fits in a loose grouping with Microsoft's other virtualised desktop software that is part of its popular Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), which includes App-V and Enterprise Desktop Virtualization.
Microsoft is also working on application virtualisation for the server, but it will not be part of R2 server. Also not in the release is technology Microsoft acquired when it bought Calista Technologies, which delivers 3D graphics, such as Vista Aero Glass, and multimedia support to virtualised desktops.
Microsoft next week will continue with server announcement when it launches its servers for small and midsized businesses - Windows Small Business Server 2008 and Windows Essential Business Server 2008.