Will Microsoft Windows Server 2008's Rising Tide Lift Vista's Boat?

Server Windows

"Server 2008 will bring to life functions and features of Vista that have been hidden somewhat in Server 2003 environments," says Todd Swank, director of marketing for system builder and solution provider Nor-Tech, Burnsville, Minn. "And that's when a lot of businesses are going to begin making the transition from XP to Vista."

Since the days of Windows NT, the Windows client and server operating systems have benefitted—from both a security and reliability standpoint—from shared engineering best practices and a common code base. But with Server 2008 and Vista, these commonalities will generate "significantly more business value" by cutting down on the time needed to patch and troubleshoot flaws, says Alex McCabe, solution architect at Continental Resources, a Bedford, Mass.-based solution provider.

"The NT 4 workstation and server were almost the same code, but that was a much simpler time: It's like comparing the Bronze Age to the Industrial Revolution," McCabe said.

For organizations that deploy Server 2008 and Vista together, the primary benefits will come in the form of more reliable code and consistent hot fixes within both platforms, McCabe says. For Microsoft, "there will be fewer issues with security hot fixes, because they'll be attributable to both the server and the workstation. From a security diagnostics and maintenance point of view, it'll be easier to identify issues for customers, and compatibility testing will also be easier," McCabe says.

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Dave Stutzman, technical services manager at i3 Business Solutions, a Microsoft Gold partner in Grand Rapids, Mich., hasn't been recommending Vista to his clients, but plans to re-evaluate that policy now that Vista service pack 1 has arrived and the synergies with Server 2008 become more apparent.

"After SP1, we're going to take a much closer look at Vista, and the kernel tie-in to Server 2008. We're most interested in the enhancements and performance gains that were nonexistent in previous versions," Stutzman says.

Microsoft has been talking up the performance gains that companies can see from deploying Server 2008 and Vista together, many of which stem from a redesigned TCP/IP stack that supports IPv6 and makes network operations faster and more efficient between the client and server.

This revamped architecture has implications for a wide range of server functions, including the prioritization of network traffic to specific line of business applications using group policy, says Justin Graham, senior technical product manager in the Windows Server product marketing group.

In addition, the Server Message Block 2.0 protocol, which Microsoft introduced with Vista, greatly speeds up client-to-server file sharing in Server 2008 environments, according to Graham. "The basic tenet we're trying to hit is to make it easier for customers to manage, deploy and leverage common technologies within the platform," he says.

Security For The Masses

The Server 2008/Vista combination also engenders tighter security through the use of BitLocker encryption and Network Access Protection (NAP), the latter of which is Microsoft's answer to the network access control (NAC) technology being pushed by Cisco and several smaller players.

BitLocker ties into the recent group policy improvements Microsoft has made, which means it's now possible for administrators to enforce hard drive encryption on clients and secure machines when they're outside the office, McCabe says. "If a laptop is lost, requiring all machines to run BitLocker lets you prevent access to the hard drive and files, which means there's no way anyone can wiggle out of it," he says.

Although Vista shipped with an embedded NAP client, Microsoft VARs in the security space haven't been able to even think about deploying the technology until the arrival of Server 2008. But even after the Server 2008 release, the Microsoft channel has divergent views on how soon NAP will begin to have an impact in the security market.

Matt Scherocman, vice president of consulting services at PCMS IT Advisor, a Cincinnati-based solution provider and Gold partner, says NAP is going to benefit VARs selling into the midmarket and SMB. "NAP makes sense for these customers because it eliminates the need to deploy a third-party network access control solution, and the cost of integrating it," he said.

The cost of implementing third-party NAC solutions has prevented many SMB organizations from deploying the technology, but because NAP comes bundled and integrated with Server 2008 and Vista, VARs could soon see a boom in SMB-related services revenue, Scherocman says. "Smaller companies are going to be more than willing to pay for the services to drive NAP implementations," he said.

However, Continental Resources' McCabe thinks it'll take some time for NAP to make any meaningful headway in the security market. "Microsoft's NAP is very difficult to implement in the enterprise, and is most often successful only in controlled areas that are publicly accessible," McCabe says. "We're interested that Microsoft has a solution, but don't think anyone will embrace it anytime soon. We don't have anyone asking about it," he says.

The automation that has been built into unified deployment tools for both Vista and Server 2008 will add up to time savings for channel partners, says Jeremy Chapman, senior product manager in the Windows Client Enterprise Marketing Team. He cites this as one of the most tangible examples of the code synergies between Windows Server 2008 and Vista.

For example, ImageX, a disk imaging utility that Microsoft developed for Server 2008 and Vista, can be used to capture both desktop and server reference images, while multicast deployment—which is new to Server 2008—makes it possible to deliver those images simultaneously to multiple machines, Chapman says.

"There's also a lot of automation in the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit for both desktops and servers. We now provide a task sequencing engine with the ability to orchestrate the OS installation and configuration process down all the way to the server role, where before you had to rely heavily on scripting, or in many cases manual checklists," Chapman says.

Vista: Ready For Takeoff?

Most businesses have been holding off on adopting Vista as a result of the cost and complexity involved with migration to the OS. However, the tangible business benefits of running Vista in Server 2008 environments could signal a change on that front, according to some solution providers.

Chris Ward, senior solutions architect at GreenPages, a solution provider in Kittery, Me., expects adoption of Windows Vista to rise in direct correspondence with Server 2009 deployments. "IT departments will need to run Vista workstations in order to manage all of the new features included in Server 2008. Once the IT staffs are comfortable with Vista running on their own machines, I believe they will be more willing to deploy it to the user community," he said.

Vista SP1 puts a stake in the ground and establishes Vista as a mature operating system environment, something that the channel has been looking for in order to justify recommending Vista to their customers, says Ron Perkes, vice president of product marketing at Tangent, a Burlingame, Calif.-based system builder.

"We're getting close to proactively recommending that our customers move to Vista, or at least with a new downgrade license when they buy Vista and it comes with XP," Perkes says.