Eight steps to Longhorn planning

For data centre managers, nothing spells "doom and disaster" quite like a server infrastructure change. Whether it's a new virtualisation technique, an upgrade to network access-control software or new command line parameters enterprise server management is a daunting proposition.

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But what if those changes occur all at once? That's the scenario with Windows Server 2008 (WS2008). Formerly known as Longhorn, WS2008 is set to be released later this year. Just this week, Microsoft made available the Community Technology Preview of the operating system, which includes installation and some other options in addition to what is available in the Beta 3 release.

When it does become available, WS2008 will definitely have an impact on the infrastructure of most large companies, at least at some point.

The question is: how much of an impact will it have?

The answer depends greatly on when you start planning, how quickly you deploy and which WS2008 features you want to make part of your technology infrastructure.

For example, Continental Airlines is using a phased implementation strategy. The company started working with Microsoft early, testing the server operating system in the airline's own datacentres and evaluating the release in Microsoft test laboratories.

Continental travelled up to Microsoft's offices at the end of April and tested the schema extensions and deployment with Continental's main Active Directory database file. "We created our entire forest architecture in the lab," says Jason Foster, a systems architect and senior technology manager at Continental. A forest architecture is a type of networking model, in this case for Continental's Active Directory structure.

The key for Continental is that it will control which services it will deploy, and when.

"We are taking a phased implementation approach where Phase 1 is limited to 10 Active Directory domain controllers in the Houston data centre," Foster explains. "We feel that phasing in the technology helps absorb some of the exposure, while adding the 10 new servers to the infrastructure allows the existing Active Directory to provide authentication services uninterrupted," so the company's security exposure is limited as it begins rolling in the new operating system.

In addition to the phased approach he described, Foster plans to deploy the Read Only Domain Controller (RODC) capability right away in most of Continental's regional locations at airports and in its two primary datacentres in Houston and Charlotte, Continental will use RODC to enforce security policies in regional and remote offices and prevent unauthorised intrusions.

Meanwhile, Ward Ralston, a senior technical manager at Microsoft, downplays the coming datacentre infrastructure changes. He says that the system requirements for WS2008 are remarkably similar to those for Windows Server 2003, released in April 2003. He also says that, while WS2003 had unspecified "millions" of lines of code, WS2008 has only about 800,000. If anything, Ralston says, WS2008 will streamline IT operations with its new Server Core and PowerShell features, not add new complexity. Indeed, Foster says, some services, such as DNS, DHCP and file/print, will have little impact on datacentres.

Ralston's seems to be the minority view. Christopher Voce, an analyst at Forrester Research, says that because the new server architecture in WS2008 has many important benefits for large organisations, it's best to start planning for deployment now.

"There are a host of new enterprise-level features, a new emphasis on remote management and new security improvements," says Voce. "The new Server Core feature could change the way administrators do their job. Some features, like PowerShell, look like nothing more than a blinking cursor, yet will have a dramatic impact on IT. The main point is: Start testing now."

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