Ward Ralston Discusses Windows Server 2008 R2

A number of editors from Windows IT Pro and SQL Server Magazine recently sat down with Ward Ralston, Microsoft Group Product Manager for Windows Server, do discuss the upcoming Windows Server 2008 R2 release. A transcript of the interview is printed here, and we've also recorded our interview in MP3 format and as an audiocast on ITTV.net:

Jeff James: This is Jeff James with Windows IT Pro magazine, and we're here in Redmond Washington at the Microsoft campus talking to Ward Ralston, the group product manager for Windows Server. We're talking to Ward about some of the cool new stuff that's coming out in Windows Server 2008 release 2.

I guess the first thing I wanted to ask you about was Live Migration, a new feature in Windows Server 2008 R2 that is comparable to VMware's VMotion product, which lets people basically migrate live VMs from one server to another. So maybe you could talk a little bit about that?

Ward Ralston: Yeah you bet. I guess I'll start out with saying that, with our initial release of Windows Server 2008, we came out with a feature known as Quick Migration, which allows organizations to move workflows from one node of a cluster to another in a few seconds. The reason why we were not able to implement a feature like VMware's VMotion in '08 is because our nodes were clustered and do not have the ability to talk to the same shared storage. So with R2 we implemented a new technology called Cluster Shared Volumes, and what that is it's kind of a logical subsist that lays on NTFS, and what that allows is multiple nodes in the cluster to compensate shared storage. And essentially what this allows us to do now is when we move a virtual workflow from one node in the cluster to another, we can do it instantaneously in milliseconds, rather than seconds, and have feature parody that's on par with VMware. I guess with that comes the significant point that this is all included in the product, this is not expensive add-on that would be associated with VMotion. It's with the product, as is the hypervisor, and it's all included with Windows Server.

Jeff James: Some of the other things we've heard about release 2 is that it's going to have a number of other improvements. One of the ones that I think a lot of IT pros are going to be excited about are the improvements to how they can manage Active Directory, so maybe you can talk a little about that.

Ward Ralston: Yeah, that's actually one of my personal favorite features, and the one that stands out the most is something known as the Active Directory Administrative Center. So in the past, IT pros were probably familiar with the Active Directory, user, computer, sites and services, domains and trusts, we've unified all of those consoles into one, called the Active Directory Administrative Center (ADAC), but we've also worked with our PowerShell team and our user experience team to make this a 100% PowerShell-based experience. As I mentioned before, when you're going through the UI, ADAC, configuring user, computer, site setting, it's actually building that PowerShell script in the background, so when you hit OK it actually executes that PowerShell script.

Another personal favorite feature of mine is something known as Active Directory Recycle Bin. So, if you accidentally delete an object in Active Directory, in the past you would've have to reboot it in the safe mode and do an authoritative restore on Active Directory backup, well now we offer, as I mentioned, a recycle bin. So, if you accidentally delete it, you can restore it right there from the console without having to bring a controller down.

Jeff James: While on the topic of PowerShell, maybe you could also talk a little bit about PowerShell 2.0?

Ward Ralston: With the original release of Server 08, we introduced PowerShell 1.0, and with R2 we're releasing PowerShell 2.0. I know that's kind of simple; there is so much going on with Powershell v2. For example, we now have a PowerShell graphical user interface, so people can work with their PowerShell scripts in a tabbed environment where they can see or run only portions of the script. This is probably one of the more significant things about PowerShell v2 as it relates to Server, but we're literally introducing hundreds and hundreds of new cmdlets, which are pre-packaged intelligence if you want of PowerShell scripts, with administration of the top server role administration built in mind. So, anything that you want to do with DNS, Active Directory, or failover clustering, can all be scripted and administrated with PowerShell. We also offer new remote capabilities, piping scripts, the ability to translate different languages, the list literally goes on and on and on. I guess one of the best resources to find what's coming new in PowerShell is a website that we recently established called PowerShellcommunity.org, where IT administrators can learn more from the experts of PowerShell what's coming, but also more importantly as a place to collaborate on shared scripts they've done in their environment.

Jeff James: Before we started recording we were talking about some of the features that were released in release 2, based on user feedback. So maybe you can talk a little about some of the features that were released in v2, based on what users told you?

Ward Ralston: Actually there's a couple that I didn't have a chance to mention, but I'll go with two of them. One of them that we heard feedback loud and clear on was with the initial release of Server '08, Server Manager was not able to connect to any other computer except the one you were sitting at, so now R2, Server Manager can connect to any server in your organization. You can administer it from that server, or you can install the remote server administration tools on a Win 7 client, and administer any server in your infrastructure as well.

Another feature that customers would like to see was the ability to do PowerShell on Server Core. When our initial release of 08 came out, the .NET framework which was needed to run PowerShell was actually a kind of monolithic install, it had some hooks into the GUI, so it was either an all or nothing play, which kind of got away from what Server Core was supposed to be, which was the absolute bare bones, minimalistic, what you needed server. So, with this release, we were able to actually componetize the .NET framework and only bring in the pieces absolutely needed, like the CLR, and the Windows Workflow foundation, so that we could run PowerShell as well as ASP.NET on Server Core.

Michael Otey: You mentioned that this was one of the first times since Windows Server 2000 and Windows Professional 2000 that the client and the server have been developed together. What are some of the benefits that you get from developing the client and server together?

Ward Ralston: That's a good question. One of the immediate benefits you get is that we have increased engineering efficiencies here at Microsoft. Instead of having an entire group that does one version of the product and an entire group that does the other version of the product, we—a group called Cosni—creates the core of what it means to be R2 and Windows 7 client, then we have separate engineering groups that make it Win 7 client the client and Server the server, but that also allows us to develop technologies with the client/server relationship in mind. I need to point out that I personally believe that we have had a phenomenal story to tell since we first started releasing the client and server as a joint company back in 2000, well actually NT 4.0 was the first true client/server operating system releases. We have a couple technologies coming with R2 and Win 7 that really stand out. One of them is called Branch Cache, and what that allows Win 7 clients in the branch to do is when that when they request a file across the WAN from a corporate resource, that file is then cached locally on an R2 server in the branch office. So, when subsequent users go to request the same file, they will actually be served the file locally instead of taxing the WAN link.

Another feature that we've been developing together jointly is something known as Direct Access. I'd really like to explain it by showing the experience it gives through a technology that something similar, and that's our Microsoft Outlook client. So when you open Outlook, it automatically in the background creates a connection to Exchange Server over firewall-friendly ports, and synchronizes without any interaction from the user. So with the Win 7 client, that's exactly the same experience that we're trying to give to end users. So when you log on to your laptop, without any interaction from the user, it's going to make a secure connection to the direct access servers, which will be running R2, and it does all the firewall-friendly ports, and creates that seamless connection back to corporate resources. But it does it in a way so that not every single request for information goes over that connection back to the corporate resource, we implement something known as split tunneling. So that, for example, if I were to request CNN.com, it would recognize that as an external DNS name and use whatever WAN or LAN connection that I am connected to. But if I request a corporate resource, like if I want to go to my company's homepage, it will recognize that as a NETBIOS or internal name and route it over the direct access connection. And of course the beauty is you're always on, users aren't burdened with setting up or troubleshooting a VPN, and systems administrators always have connections to those remote machines wherever they are in the world. So I can send updates to them, I can patch them, I can ensure they're compliant all the time. And of course all of this is done abstracting any complexity from the user.

Sheila Molnar: That's interesting. I had a question about the R2 release in Azure. How would you see that linked up?

Ward Ralston: That's a good point. So Azure is actually built on Windows Server 2008, that's actually the core operating system in there. So I guess the best way to describe it right now is we have the same application guts in R2 as the Azure platform does. As Azure graduates a little bit more and becomes more mature, you're going to see how we actually integrate with Azure. We do have some tie-ins right now with Active Directory Connector, so we can respect security principles between what you put in the cloud and what you have on-premise. But as we look to the months coming up, we'll have a better story to tell, and there's some things in development that I can't really share right now on how we're going to integrate more tightly with the cloud computing platform.

Sheila Molnar: Well great, that's exciting—something to look forward to.

Ward Ralston: You bet—I can't underscore what a huge area that is for us right now at Microsoft. As you know we just recently announced at PDC the Azure platform, so we'll see that mature a lot more here in the following months.

Sheila Molnar: I'd like to just ask you about some of the web features that are in R2. I understand that you have a new release of IIS?

Ward Ralston: Well, a new release—it's more of an incremental release.

Sheila Molnar: A point release.

Ward Ralston: So, what we're doing with IIS is that we've synchronized what's known as an agile development process internally. And what we need to do is release extensions to IIS faster than our 2-year, 4-year, major/minor release cadence will allow. So what we're doing is, every 2 or 3 months, we're releasing new features and functionality with IIS, for example secure FTP publishing, or the IIS administration pack, or one of the big things we've just released was the PowerShell provider. So what we've done is, all the ones that we've released to date, we've integrated with R2, and that's why you see the IIS 7.5 name. And through our website, iis.net, users will be able to become aware of ones that are coming in the future, like the URL rewriter, or web playlists, etc. But let me see, just looking here, there's probably about a good 15 different add-ons right now for IIS.

Sheila Molnar: So your developers needed to move toward the agile development model in order to get all of these done in such a rapid manner?

Ward Ralston: Absolutely. And to be quite honest, it's not really fair to our users to make them wait two years to get added functionality to a product that is moving so quickly in a space like the web.

Sheila Molnar: So do you see agile development as something that's going to proliferate across Microsoft?

Ward Ralston: Well, that's hard to say. For the operating system itself, I don't see that. And one of the reasons that we actually have the R2 release is that we found out with Windows 2003, that we were releasing a lot of out-of-band products. I think of the Group Policy Management Console, I think we had something like 20 out-of-band releases, and our users didn't know which ones were important for them to consume. So we decided for the OS, let's go ahead and roll them up every two years into the R2 version of the product, so they understand better what they should consume. But for something in a space that's moved so quickly as the web, we needed a vehicle to get that technology out to people a lot quicker. So, I wouldn't say that's the way we're going to start doing things in the future, but we definitely needed to adapt the web for that.

Jeff James: Well I think that's all the questions that we had. We really appreciate you taking the time to use Ward. Thanks a lot.

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