If Microsoft hadn't cancelled its company picnic this year, one could safely assume that a tug-of-war between the Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 development teams would've had a special kind of intensity. That's because the former has garnered all the attention recently, while the latter has kept a much lower profile.
But Windows Server 2008 R2 has the potential to shape Microsoft's business in more far-reaching ways than Windows 7, and could finally put Microsoft on equal footing with competitors in a virtualization market that shows no sign of cooling.
"We've been the silent partners in the Windows 7 project. Everybody has been super interested in Windows 7," said Iain McDonald, general manager of the Windows Server Group, in a keynote speech at Microsoft's TechEd conference earlier this week.
Microsoft is developing Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 concurrently, and R2 provides the underpinning for new Windows 7 features like Direct Access and Branch Cache, which Microsoft hopes will spur companies to upgrade to a version of Windows that hasn't yet been demonized by a large swathe of the IT industry.
Microsoft made a big splash at TechEd by revealing that Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 will be out in time for the holidays. Microsoft needs Windows 7 to succeed in order to begin scrubbing away Vista's disastrous legacy, but it's not seen as crucial to Microsoft's maintaining its stranglehold on the desktop OS market.
With Windows Server 2008 R2, Microsoft's customers can get the benefits of virtualization within their server environments, and that's a selling point that makes a lot of sense to customers, said Todd Swank, vice president of marketing at Nor-Tech, a Burnsville, Minn.-based system builder.
"Microsoft is late to the game, but the virtualization improvements they've made in Windows Server 2008 R2 are a real threat for VMware," Swank said.
Microsoft, which introduced its Hyper-V virtualization hypervisor with Windows Server 2008, has been criticized for not having virtualization features that VMware has been offering for years. One such feature is Live Migration, which allows administrators to move running virtual machines from one system to another system without any perceptible downtime.
Microsoft's stance has been that a feature in Hyper-V called Quick Migration can perform virtual machine migrations in just six seconds, and partners have said this is sufficient for most scenarios. But Windows Server 2008 R2 will have Live Migration built in, giving Microsoft's foes one less point on which to harp.
VMware often mentions that Microsoft has no clustered file systems in Windows, but Windows Server 2008 R2 will add a feature called Cluster Shared Volumes, which offers advantages of clustered file systems and links that to the existing management system in Windows.
Microsoft has also taken a future-proofing tack in developing Windows Server 2008 R2. Advancements in multicore processor technology have made virtualization a natural fit for next-generation servers, and Hyper-V will support 64 logical processors -- 8 processors times 8 cores -- when Microsoft releases Windows Server 2008 R2 to manufacturing.