Chapter 1: Windows Server 2008 R2 Technology Primer

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Because Windows Server 2008 R2 provides many different functions, each organization has to choose how to best implement Windows Server 2008 R2 and the various networking features that meet its own needs. In small network environments with fewer than 20 to 30 users, an organization might choose to implement all the Windows Server 2008 R2 features on a single server. However, in larger environments, multiple servers might be implemented to improve system performance, as well as provide fault tolerance and redundancy; thus, a more staged implementation of core services needs to be taken.

Windows Server 2008 R2 Core to an Active Directory Environment

For an organization that does not have Windows Active Directory already in place, that is one place to start because Active Directory Domain Services is key to application and user authentication. For organizations that already have a fully operational Active Directory running on Windows 2003 or Windows 2008, upgrading to Active Directory Domain Services on Windows Server 2008 R2 might be something that is addressed a little later in the upgrade cycle when AD DS 2008 R2 functionality is needed. To get a lot of the Windows Server 2008 R2 server functionality like 2008 R2 DFS, SharePoint Services, Hyper-V virtualization, and so on, an organization can still run on an older Active Directory environment (typically Active Directory 2003 native mode). However, the point is that Active Directory 2008 R2 is not a prerequisite to get Windows Server 2008 R2 server role functionality.

Because Active Directory is more than a simple list of users and passwords for authentication into a network, but rather a directory that Microsoft has embedded into the policy-based security, remote access security, and certificate-based security enhancements in Windows Server 2008 R2, AD DS 2008 implementation does occur earlier in the migration cycle for organizations wanting to implement many of the new Active Directory 2008 R2 technologies, such as Active Directory Recycle Bin, Offline Domain Join, Managed Service Accounts, and the ability to use PowerShell cmdlets within a Group Policy Object.

Windows Server 2008 R2 extends the capabilities of the Active Directory by creating better management tools, provides for more robust directory replication across a global enterprise, and allows for better scalability and redundancy to improve directory operations. Windows Server 2008 R2 effectively adds in more reliability, faster performance, and better management tools to a system that can be leveraged as a true enterprise directory provisioning, resource tracking, and resource management tool. Because of the importance of Active Directory to the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system, plus the breadth of capabilities that Active Directory can facilitate, six chapters in Part II of this book are dedicated to Active Directory.

Windows Server 2008 R2 Running Built-in Application Server Functions

As much as many administrators think of Active Directory as one of the key areas to upgrade when a new release of the operating system becomes available, in reality, Active Directory tends to not be the first thing updated. Instead, the real business drivers for migrating to Windows Server 2008 R2 typically come from the built-in application server programs that are available on Windows Server 2008 R2.

Windows Server 2008 R2 comes with several programs and utilities to provide robust networking capabilities. In addition to the basic file and print capabilities covered earlier in this chapter, Windows Server 2008 R2 can provide name resolution for the network and enable high availability through clustering and fault tolerance, connectivity for mobile users, web services functions, and dozens of other application server functions.

When convincing management that an upgrade to Windows Server 2008 R2 is important, the IT professional needs to sift through the technologies built in to Windows Server 2008 R2 and pick those services that help an organization use technology to achieve its business initiatives. When planning the implementation of Windows Server 2008 R2, a network architect needs to consider which of the server services are desired, how they will be combined on servers, and how they will be made redundant across multiple servers for business continuity failover.

For a small organization, the choice to combine several server functions to a single system or to just a few systems is one of economics. However, an organization might distribute server services to multiple servers to improve performance (covered in Chapter 34), distribute administration (covered in Chapter 18), create server redundancy (covered in Chapter 29), create a disaster recovery strategy (covered in Chapter 31, “Recovering from a Disaster”), enable security (covered in Chapter 13), or to serve users in other remote site locations of the organization (covered in Chapter 32).

Some of the built-in application server functions in Windows Server 2008 R2 include the following:

  • Domain controller—Like in previous versions of the Windows operating system, the domain controller enables users to authenticate to the domain for access to network resources.

  • Global catalog server—The global catalog server is a domain controller that also stores a subset of AD DS objects from other domains in the forest. When an internal or external user with appropriate security rights wants to look at a list of Active Directory users in the forest, the global catalog server provides the list.

  • DNS server—The domain name system (DNS) maintains a list of network servers and systems and their associated IP addresses, so a DNS server provides information about the devices connected to the network.

  • DHCP server—The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) assigns IPv4 and/or IPv6 network addresses to devices on the network. Windows Server 2008 R2 provides the service function to facilitate DHCP addresses to network devices.

  • Cluster server—When fault tolerance is important to an organization, clustering provides failover from one system to another. Windows Server 2008 R2 provides the ability to link systems together so that when one system fails, another system takes over.

  • Network Policy Server—NPS is the Microsoft implementation of a Remote Authentication Dial-in User Service (RADIUS) server and proxy. NPS performs centralized connection authentication, authorization, and accounting for many types of network access, including wireless and virtual private network (VPN) connections. NPS routes authentication and accounting messages to other RADIUS servers. It also acts as a health evaluation server for Network Access Protection (NAP).

  • Remote Desktop server—Instead of having a full desktop or laptop computer for each user on the network, organizations have the option of setting up simple, low-cost thin terminals for users to gain access to network resources. Windows Server 2008 R2 Remote Desktop Services allows a single server to host network system access for dozens of users.

  • Remote access server—When a remote user has a desktop or laptop system and needs access to network services, Windows Server 2008 R2 provides remote access services that allow the remote systems to establish a secure remote connection.

  • Web server—As more and more technologies become web-aware and are hosted on web servers, Windows Server 2008 R2 provides the technology to host these applications for browser-based access.

  • Media server—With information extending beyond text-based word processing documents and spreadsheets into rich media such as video and audio, Windows Server 2008 R2 provides a source for hosting and publishing video and audio content.

  • Virtualization server—Windows Server 2008 R2 provides the core capabilities to do server virtualization, providing the capability for an organization to consolidate physical servers into fewer host server systems, thus decreasing the total cost of IT operations.

  • Distributed File System (DFS) server—For the past decade, data files have been stored on file servers all around an organization. Windows Server 2008 R2 provides Distributed File Systems that allow an organization to take control of distributed files into a common unified namespace.

These plus several other functions provide robust networking services that help organizations leverage the Windows Server 2008 R2 technologies into solutions that solve business needs.

Windows Server 2008 R2 Running Add-in Applications Server Functions

Although some of the newer, built-in server application functions in Windows Server 2008 R2—such as Network Policy Server, server virtualization, Remote Desktop Services Web Access, Media Server, and so on—provide key areas for organizations to select as initial areas to implement Windows Server 2008 R2 technologies, other organizations might find add-in applications as being the key areas that drive an initial implementation of Windows Server 2008 R2. Some of the add-in applications come from Microsoft, such as the Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 messaging system or Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database system. Other add-ins to Windows Server 2008 R2 are provided by companies that provide human resource management applications; accounting software; document management tools; fax or voicemail add-ins; or other business, industry, or user productivity capabilities.

In earlier Windows Server operating systems, the core operating system provided simple logon and network connectivity functions; however, with Windows Server 2008 R2, the operating system includes many core capabilities built in to the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating environment. With integrated fault tolerance, data recovery, server security, remote access connectivity, web access technologies, and similar capabilities, organizations creating add-ins to Windows Server 2008 R2 can focus on business functions and capabilities, not on core infrastructure reliability, security, and mobile access functionality. This off-loading of the requirement of third-party add-in organizations to implement basic networking technologies into their applications enables these developers to focus on improving the business productivity and functionality of their applications. Additionally, consolidating information routing, security, remote management, and so on into the core operating system provides a common method of communication, authentication, and access to users without having to load up special drivers, add-ins, or tools to support each and every new application.

Much of the shift from application-focused infrastructure components to core operating system-focused functionality was built in to Windows 2000 and then later enhanced in Windows 2003 and Windows Server 2008. There were many challenges to earlier versions of the Windows operating system; however, after being on the market for many years now, Windows Server 2008 R2 add-ins have had several revisions to work through system functionality and component reliability between application and operating system. Fortunately, Windows Server 2008 R2 uses the same application/operating system technology used in Windows 2003 and Windows Server 2008, so applications written for Windows 2003 and Windows Server 2008 typically need just a simple service pack update to be able to run on Windows Server 2008 R2, if anything at all.


This introductory chapter was intended to highlight the new features, functions, migration tools, and management utilities in Windows Server 2008 R2 that will help administrators take advantage of the capabilities of the new operating system. If Windows Server 2008 R2 is seen as just a simple upgrade to Windows 2000/2003/2008, an organization will not benefit from the operating system enhancements. However, when fully leveraged with the capabilities of the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system, an organization can improve services to its employees through the use of new tools and technologies built in to the operating system.

Because Windows Server 2008 R2 is a relatively simple migration from existing Windows 2003 and Windows 2008 Active Directory environments, and Windows Server 2008 R2 application servers can be added to existing Active Directory 2000/2003/2008 domains, the migration process really is one where the IT administrators need to prioritize which Windows Server 2008 R2 services to install or migrate to first, and to then plan and test the new technologies to make sure they improve IT services to the organization.

Best Practices

The following are best practices from this chapter:

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