Microsoft deployment tools ready as Windows Server 2008 arrives

With Windows Server 2008 on the brink of general availability, planning tools abound. But also keep in mind installation options like Server Core.

With the release of Windows Server 2008 imminent, Microsoft has made sure that IT managers have plenty of tools for application and hardware compatibility testing with the new operating system.

A recently introduced, agentless tool, called the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Solution Accelerator, gives IT managers a hardware and device inventory compatibility rundown. The tool also pinpoints where physical servers should be placed in virtual server environments based on performance metrics gathered by Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2.

The assessment tool supports Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2003, Vista and Vista SP1, and Windows XP Professional Edition.

Microsoft recently re-branded Business Desktop Deployment (BDD) 2007 to Microsoft Deployment, and added support for the Windows server OS.

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Microsoft Deployment's Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK) 1.1 is expected to fully support Windows Server 2008 by the time it becomes generally available in March.

AIK performs unattended Windows installations, captures Windows images with ImageX, a command-line tool, and creates Windows PE images.

Microsoft Deployment has the same features as BDD, such as Zero Touch and Light Touch installations using System Center Management Server 2003 with the Operating System Deployment feature pack. Microsoft expects to complete the integration of System Center Configuration Manager 2007, the SMS 2003 upgrade and Windows Server 2008 in the first half of 2008.

Microsoft Deployment also adds new Application Compatibility Toolkit 5.0 (ACT) features, such as the ability to create data collection packages faster by putting the collected data in Microsoft installation packages rather than executable files. These packages can be deployed across machines using Group Policy.

There is no word yet from Microsoft on when ACT 5.0 will support Windows Server 2008. It currently supports Vista, Windows 2000 Server SP4, Windows Server 2003 SP1 and Windows XP SP2.

Consider the alternatives

Windows shops may want to consider Server Core, versus a full-on installation of various server roles in Windows Server 2008. This option lets IT managers set up an Active Directory server, for example, with only the basic bits they need from the server OS to run. Internet Explorer would not be a part of the AD Server Core role so the chances of IT admins meandering onto the Internet are eliminated.

That's one benefit of this installation option, but Server Core will also let IT shops extend the life of some of their servers, said Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a consulting firm in Kirkland, Wash.

"It may be attractive in that some [server] roles may make sense to isolate and even allow organizations to hang on to some servers they are getting ready to retire," Cherry said. "Instead they could have the DHCP function running on a little old box."

IIS 7.0, virtualization, file server, print, DNS, DHCP, Active Directory, Active Directory Lightweight Edition and Windows Media Services are all available Server Core roles.

This installation option also minimizes the risk of security attacks on the server and the number of patches that need to be deployed.

Virtualization is another attractive OS installation alternative because applications that only run once in a while can be turned on and off as needed instead of running all the time.

Keep in mind the potential lack of support from vendors you'll get should you choose to go the virtualized deployment route, however, Cherry said. "If you could run Exchange in a virtual machine, what kind of support would you get from Microsoft? Do they have the experience to know what will happen with [Exchange] when it runs on a virtual machine, or will you be helping them figure that out?" he said.

A guided tour

Microsoft is also introducing a number of how-tos like the Infrastructure Planning and Design guides that take IT managers through architectural changes needed to move to the new server OS.

A Windows Server 2008 Security Guide offers both automated tools and best practices to set up security baselines, harden server workloads and evaluate security settings.

Using System Center to install

Microsoft has added features to its desktop manager software, System Center Configuration Manager 2007 to improve its ability to install server operating system software.

IT managers will be able to use Configuration Manager 2007 to install and manage Windows Server 2008 moving forward and to control some of the server OS features like the Network Access Protection desktop quarantine feature.

A new Windows Imaging Format (WIM) developed for Vista also supports server OS deployments and has a driver catalogue that takes a basic WIM, applies it to many types of systems and inserts the needed driver types for a specific piece of hardware.

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