What You Need to Know About New Windows and Exchange Service Packs and More

System Center Essentials, DPM 2010, and Apple iPad

This month, I've got news, tips, and opinions about yet another great set of technologies and products. And go figure, most of them are enterprise products, for a change. Here's what you need to know.

SP 1 for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2

Microsoft announced something I've been dying to discuss: details about the first service pack for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. (You might recall that both products are on the same code base and thus are serviced by the same service packs.) Last month, I noted that Windows 7 SP1 would mostly aggregate the software updates that appeared during its first year. But Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 will include some major new features:

      Dynamic memory. Anyone comparing Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization platform and the VMware stack will conclude that Microsoft's solution is evolving rapidly but lacking in a few key areas. Well, one of those remaining areas will be addressed with dynamic memory support in SP1. Dynamic memory makes it possible to pool the available memory on the host server and dynamically distribute it to virtual workloads as needed. In other words, you can dynamically allocate RAM to virtual machines (VMs), on the fly, without needing to shut them down first.

      RemoteFX. This functionality—which came via Microsoft’s purchase of Calista—is now finally available via SP1. It enhances the display experience during RDP sessions, supporting Windows Aero, Microsoft Silverlight, and Adobe Flash user experiences, and 3D graphics. (Citrix is also partnering with Microsoft to integrate RemoteFX technologies into HDX for XenDesktop.)

      Microsoft hasn’t announced the timing of SP1, but the plan is to ship it one year after Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. And as you know, those products dropped in October 2009.

Windows HPC Server 2008 R2

Speaking of Windows Server, Microsoft is working to finalize Windows HPC Server 2008 R2. A public Beta 2 version is available now, and Microsoft hopes to ship the final version by the end of 2010. HPC Server 2008, formerly marketed as Windows Compute Cluster Edition, is Microsoft's entry in the very high-end high-performance computing (HPC) server market. HPC Server 2008 R2 is aimed at the most scalable server systems and provides parallel computing capabilities. Most exciting is its ability to run Microsoft Excel calculations in parallel on a cluster, providing the absolute best performance for scientists, engineers, and analysts.

Exchange 2010 SP1

Service packs are in the air, apparently. Despite Exchange 2010’s recent launch, Microsoft is already at work on SP1. Yes, Exchange 2010 SP1 will aggregate the product and security fixes that shipped since the product launched. But it will also include new capabilities, including better mail archiving, Outlook Web App (formerly Outlook Web Access) improvements, and better management functionality. Let's look at these closely.

      Mail archiving. Although Exchange 2010 includes integrated mail archiving capabilities, this feature is enhanced in SP1. It will offer the option to provision individual users' personal archives to a different mailbox database other than their primary mailbox, import historic email from client-side PST files, and provide controls so that admins can delegate access to a user's Personal Archive. A new multi-mailbox search feature will make it easier to find email for legal or regulatory reasons.

      Outlook Web App. Microsoft's web-based Exchange client is being updated again with a visual refresh, better performance through pre-fetching and asynchronous delete, the ability to mark as read and categorize operations, and public shared access to calendars. Some features from previous OWA versions are returning, too, like UI themes, and the ability for users to move the reading pane.

      Management. With SP1, the Exchange Management Console (EMC) and Exchange Control Panel (ECP) are being enhanced to provide access to new management tasks, many of which relate to Retention Policy Tags that can help automate how email is deleted and archived.

      Other new features are coming in Exchange 2010 SP1 as well, and it's starting to shape up as a major release. Microsoft expects to deliver it by the end of 2010.

System Center Essentials 2010

Although Microsoft cancelled its midmarket-focused Essential Business Server product line—I was told that customers appreciated the integrated management but not the requirement that they buy three to four servers at a time—it hasn't lost focus on this small but important part of its customer base. Indeed, with Microsoft's midmarket customers returning to mainstream Windows Servers and other Microsoft servers, they need good management tools. So, not surprisingly, the software giant is offering a new version of its midmarket management solution, called System Center Essentials 2010.

      SCE 2010 hits all the midmarket high points, providing automation and central management for the busy IT generalists that keep this market running—and if you're familiar with the System Center family of products, you'll understand why this is such a big deal. (Microsoft defines midmarket as mid-sized companies with up to 50 servers and 500 clients.) By the time you read this, the final release of SCE 2010 will have hit the streets on June 1, 2010. Here's what you get.

      Unified management of physical machines and VMs. SCE has always offered a unified management experience, but in SCE 2010 this has been enhanced with virtualization capabilities from Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager (VMM), including the ability to manage physical and virtual servers and clients side by side, provisioning abilities, snapshots (which Microsoft calls Checkpoints), physical-to-virtual conversion, conversion from VMware to Hyper-V, machine migration, physical resource optimization, and more. This is the biggest improvement in SCE 2010 by far and represents an aggressive move into the virtualization space for this market segment. (Previously, Microsoft offered a bundle of the separate SCE 2007 SP1 and VMM 2008 tools.)

      Monitoring and reporting. SCE's monitoring capabilities help overworked IT staff in midsized businesses move from a reactive stance to being more proactive, while the reporting capabilities provide a running, high-level view of the health of the environment. The nicest thing about the UI, however, is that all of the status messages are hot links, providing not just information but actionable targets that can help admins fix problems. Embedded videos are attached to some links, helping admins learn on the go without leaving the SCE management environment.

      Software deployment and update management. SCE 2010 builds off the deployment and update management capabilities from previous versions. There are a number of enhancements, and Microsoft offers a third-party catalog so that deployment and update functionality isn't limited to its software. SCE 2010 offers more granular deployment and update management than before, so you can do things like target machines that meet certain criteria (like 32-bit versions of XP running particular languages). This is a nice solution for those seeking to deploy complex applications like Office 2010.

      Software and hardware inventory. As with its predecessors, SCE 2010 provides a complete asset inventory system for software and hardware in your environment. This helps with licensing compliance but also provides guidance when you wish to upgrade to new OSs or applications.

      Additionally, while SCE 2007 shipped with a core set of management packs, SCE 2010 streamlines this and offers a more intelligent approach where only those management packs that apply to the software in your environment are surfaced. And unlike before, you can see these relevant new packs in the centralized management console rather than having to check the Microsoft website.

System Center Data Protection Manager 2010

System Center Data Protection Manager (DPM) 2010 is the first major update to Microsoft's data protection product since DPM 2007 SP1, and it expands on that product's core functionality around protecting file shares, Exchange, Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft SharePoint, and Hyper-V. Oriented to protecting only Microsoft workloads, DPM 2010 integrates with the core data storage technologies in each (such as Shadow Copies in Windows Server), and provides near-term restoration from disk and long-term restoration from tape. New 2010 features include these:

      Cloud restore capabilities. Building on an exclusive offer that first appeared in DPM 2007 SP1, DPM 2010 supports replicating data to an Iron Mountain vault, extending the previous disk and tape restoration capabilities.

      Client support. For the first time, DPM also supports client-based data protection. And for laptops and other clients that might be disconnected from the corporate network, DPM 2010 can create local shadow copies to a reserved area of the disk, then protect the data on the server when a connection is established to the network. DPM 2010 supports 1000 clients per server and works with both Windows 7 and Windows Vista.

      DPM 2010 will ship alongside SCE 2010 on June 1. If you're interested in deploying both, Microsoft is offering a new Essentials Plus License that combines a single client management license for each into a single, less expensive package. Otherwise, pricing and licensing for SCE 2010 and DPM 2010 haven’t changed.

Apple iPad

And now for a change of pace, let's consider Apple's iPad. Launched with much fanfare and hype, the iPad is basically a very large iPod touch and not a miniature, tablet-based Mac. This design decision has positives and negatives, but I think it was the right choice, and as the iPad app ecosystem improves, and Apple lowers prices, it could become an interesting consumer option.

      Today, however, I can't recommend the iPad to most people, and it's no value to most businesses. Stay tuned to this space, however: Apple will improve the iPad, and many competitors—including HP, which is prepping a Windows 7-based Slate PC—will pop-up over time, providing highly portable machines that aren't as limited as Apple's offering. I know it's not acceptable to be anything but overly enthusiastic about an Apple product, but that's where I'm at right now.

Windows 7 Enterprise Trial

Finally, here's a tip: If you're interested in evaluating Windows 7 but haven't done so, Microsoft has extended the availability of the trial version of Windows 7 Enterprise through the end of 2010. (Previously, it was a limited time offer, though it's unclear how the company planned to measure when it had "run out" of downloadable copies.) Learn more at the Microsoft Springboard website.

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