Microsoft releases Windows Server 2008 R2 beta

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Microsoft releases Windows Server 2008 R2 beta

Microsoft has released a beta version of Windows Server 2008 R2, which implements a number of key features for IT departments such as live migration of virtual machines and better support for remote desktops.

Windows Server 2008 R2 is the next version of Microsoft's server line, and shares much of its core code base with Windows 7, hence the synchronous release of both betas.

Like Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 beta is available to download now via MSDN and TechNet, with general public availability on 9 January.

The key features in the Windows Server beta concern virtualisation support and desktop migration, according to Neil Sanderson, product manager for virtualisation and management at Microsoft UK.

"There is a lot of interest from business customers around virtualisation, such as live migration and improvements to Hyper-V, but also desktop migration, " he said, adding that the beta showed the degree to which Microsoft was investing in a broad range of new technologies.

The most significant feature for enterprise customers is support for live migration of virtual workloads, a capability Microsoft demonstrated last year and which is enabled through the Clustered Shared Volumes feature.

The beta also takes advantage of new features in processors, such as AMD's Enhanced Page Tables and Intel's Nested Page Tables, which optimise memory use particularly when operating virtual machines.

Windows Server 2008 R2 is the first version of the software to be 64bit only, which Microsoft said enables it to support up to 256 logical processors and up to 32 in any single virtual machine.

Other improvements address power management, such as Core Parking. This lets Windows put unused cores into a low power state, but quickly bring them back up again to meet an increase in workload.

Administrators can set policies to finetune how this operates, Sanderson said, such as specifying that workloads should be moved around to minimise the number of cores in use.

The beta also includes new features to support virtual clients and desktops delivered via Terminal Services. For example, Windows Server 2008 R2 now has desktop broker functionality. Terminal Services has been updated to deliver this, connecting remote users to either a Terminal Services session or to a virtual client machine, as required.

Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol, which delivers the user interface to remote users, has also been enhanced to give a better multimedia experience. It now supports the Aero Glass visuals of Windows Vista for remote users, and DirectX redirection enabling complex graphics to be rendered locally on the client access device, according to Sanderson.

With such support provided in Windows, Microsoft appears to be treading on the toes of some big enterprise partners such as Citrix and Wyse, which has developed its own multimedia redirection technology for its thin client systems.

Sanderson said that these new features are "core enabling technologies", which it expected partners to build on. In particular, Citrix has technology designed to scale up to handle large volumes of users, he said.

"We do not expect customers to use our [desktop broker] for very large deployments," he added.

Windows Server 2008 R2 is still due for full release in the first half of 2010, but the beta version enables IT departments to begin kicking the tyres of the new platform ahead of full deployments.

Sanderson said that he believed the beta to be feature complete, but could not rule out any changes between now and next year.
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