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Server Core roles could include Exchange and SAP

With Server Core -- Microsoft's bare bones installation of Windows Server 2008 -- IT managers can take advantage of virtualization and look forward to better performance, says Ward Ralston, a product manager on the Window Server team.

This is the second article in a three-part series on Windows Server 2008's Server Core minimal install option. Read part one, Windows server team delves deep into Server Core.

Microsoft has some big plans for Server Core, which is the term the company uses to describe its bare bones installation of Windows Server 2008. With Server Core, IT managers can count on better performance and can still take advantage of virtualization, according to Ward Ralston, a product manager on the Windows Server team. Exchange and even SAP may

Ward Ralston, Windows Server 2008 Server Core
Ward Ralston, Microsoft
someday make an appearance in Server Core, he said.

Ralston talked with recently about the future of Server Core and its pluses and minuses when going with roles such as IIS, virtualization and Active Directory in Server Core versus a full installation. What can we expect in Server Core in the future?

Ward Ralston: We're actually having talks about what would it look like to have a Server Core installation -- maybe with SQL Server on it -- that we package in a virtual hard disk and that customers can get up and running instantly. Or what does Server Core look like with Exchange, and -- looking years into the future -- what does it look like for our customers to write their own server role for Server Core. Maybe it's SAP on Server Core?

Some testers say that different roles in Server Core have their pros and cons. What are the benefits and drawbacks of the IIS 7.0 Server Core role?

Ralston: You lose the .Net Framework. So, really, Server Core for IIS is going to be great for static Web pages or front-end Web servers that just write to a database. But, one of the things we haven't been talking about is how verbose IIS now runs PHP [open-source scripting language]. We've been working very closely with the industry developers around PHP to make sure our CGI implementation of PHP is on par with any PHP implementation out there today. When I think of Server Core running with IIS 7.0, I immediately think that one of the more popular ways people are going to implement this is with PHP on the back end. Although, we are marching forward on getting that .Net Framework in [Server Core].

What about the virtualization role? Can you virtualize every role in Server Core?

Ralston: Yes. There's no reason you can't have a virtual instance of Server Core running any of those [nine] roles. We do it all the time.

That makes a really compelling story, especially when we start talking about our dynamic data center. You have this very small workload or footprint running, like DNS or DHCP in a virtualized instance, and you have our System Center family monitoring the physical and virtual relationship. If that physical box becomes over-utilized or if that virtual instance needs more resources -- this is where we can start dynamically moving it around the data center achieving 100% uptime while giving that host exactly the resources it needs.

How does Server Core tie into Microsoft's System Center management product line?

Ralston: That's where our virtualization will shine. Only our System Center products understand Microsoft's product at the core, so they know all event logs and how to take action on them. They know what it means for the computer to be healthy, but they also understand what it means to be virtualized and what it means for a host to be running a virtualized role. They understand how to move those machines around based on rules we create.

With virtualization and management -- that conversation almost always has to happen in the same sentence because as organizations start virtualizing hundreds or thousands of workloads -- it's going to be paramount that they have turnkey solutions to manage those virtual instances.

Are there things you won't be able to do in Server Core with virtualization that you can do with the full install?

Ralston: If you were to contrast a Server Core install with a Windows Server 2008 full install -- both running the virtualization role -- you'll get better performance from the Server Core install option because we don't have all that extra overhead of the GUI and the .Net Framework that comes with the full version. We don't have exact metrics around that, but it's almost obvious there will be performance benefits.

Does Active Directory function the same way in Server Core as the full install?

Ralston: Yes, just minus the GUI, so you're not losing anything. It's important to point out about Server Core, the TCPIP, the file systems, Group Policy, Remote Differential compression, DFS name space -- all that still works in Server Core. It's just that we stripped out all of the excess. That makes it look so dramatic.

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