After five long years of work, Microsoft has delivered a landmark release of the Windows Server platform. Unlike the previous "2K" family of 2000, 2003 and 2003R2, this is a considerable rewrite representing the latest thinking from the server team on a number of important fronts.

Some of the important themes this time around include a major push towards 64-bit server functionality, a significant investment in virtualisation, and a more componentised view of the product.

Most significantly though is the determination to reduce the visible "footprint" of the product and to ensure that no server offers up capabilities that are not explicitly required. In the past, Microsoft has taken the view that almost every feature should be up and running at the end of the setup process.

This launch represents a 180 degree change of mind - a standard install of the Server product leaves you with something which has essentially no functionality at all, not even file and print share. It is at this point that you decide what roles you want to add to your new server and only the functionality necessary to support those roles are actually installed. At the very least, this forces the system administrator to actively design and plan the functionality of the network servers rather than just relying on "things that will work automatically"

For the first time too, there is a GUI-free version of Server, called Server Core. This lets you run with essentially only a command line interface, and minimises all the GUI functionality. After some 15 years of solid GUI operation, this comes as something of a shock to a seasoned Windows Server administrator, but the option is welcome.

Roles The main roles show just how seriously Microsoft has taken the task of breaking up the previously almost monopolistic server design into a core that has a set of options. The list of roles is fairly self-explanatory all eighteen of them - Web Services (IIS), Application Server, Hyper-V (for hypervisor), Print, Active Directory Domain Services, AD Lightweight Directory Services, AD Rights Management Services, DHCP, DHS, Fax, UDDI, Deployment Services, AD Certificates, File Services, Network Policy and Access, Terminal Services and AD Federation Services.

Some of these are completely new, others have been considerably beefed up compared to previous versions. However, the message is clear - design your network and then enable the necessary functionality. Anyone who just ticks all the boxes in the hope that it will be enough will only bring on a big set of management problems down the line.

Clearly, in the larger wide area network arena, some roles are best used at the periphery of the network, and others are better suited to more core roles. And other functionality will be mixed together for a branch office installation, for example.

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