Windows Server 2008: It’s the security, stupid

Better security is the biggest draw of Windows Server 2008, the newest server operating system from Microsoft Corp., but worries about first-version bugs top their list of IT professionals’ concerns, according to a recent survey.

Of the nearly 800 IT decision-makers polled by CDW Corp., 49 per cent cited security features as the benefit of most interest to their company, school or government agency. Other perceived benefits of Windows Server 2008, according to the survey, included faster setup and configuration (cited by 41 per cent of the respondents), easier administration (40 per cent) and the operating system’s new integrated virtualization (35 per cent).

“Security ranked No. 1, both here and in the three surveys we did on Windows Vista,” said David Cottingham, director of product and product management at the Vernon Hills, Ill.-based computer and software reseller. “It’s [because] Microsoft’s been effective in getting its message across,” he said, referring to the security drum that the developer has pounded for both Windows Vista and Server 2008. “They spent a lot of time talking about security.

“But the [poll results] also match nicely with the problem users are having,” Cottingham said. “So it’s a receptive audience.”

Users considering Windows Server 2008 — which Microsoft will officially launch Feb. 27 at a Los Angeles event — are also reacting to what they have seen in pre-release builds of the operating system on the security front, said Cottingham.

While security gets a positive response from potential users, possible bugs are their biggest worry. Nearly half — 48 per cent — of those polled cited the catch-all “bugs” as a concern; the only other response that came close was application compatibility, which 41 per cent of the respondents cited.

“Bugs,” by CDW’s definition, include everything from possible security vulnerabilities to performance and reliability problems, said Cottingham, who downplayed the results to some extent. “That’s a natural concern for a new operating system.”

Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a research firm that specializes in tracking Microsoft’s moves, had a different take on Windows Server 2008’s pitch. “The concern with bugs isn’t a security concern, but a reliability and performance concern.” It’s not possible to know now what reliability and performance issues might develop with Server 2008; the verdict there, said Cherry, won’t be in until after the final code is deployed by companies and other organizations.

“But I’m not so sure that these worries are such an issue with Server, at least compared to Vista,” he said. “Server doesn’t have as many changes, and the changes that were made, I think, are really good. It’s not like Vista, where Microsoft messed with stuff they should have just left alone. Server has always been on a much more stable track than the client OSs.

“Fundamentally, Server is building on a better base of reliability and performance in the first place,” he said.

Like the IT professionals polled by CDW, Cherry sees security as a big benefit of the new operating system. At the top of his list: Server Core, a scaled-back installation option that omits the Windows Explorer shell, reduces the number of services running on the server and doesn’t include Internet Explorer, a noted exploit magnet.

“[Server Core] increases the security of Windows Server 2008, because if you’re just running components, that has to be more secure. If it requires less patching, because some services aren’t running, that has to be helping security.”

Saying he is “bullish” on Windows Server 2008,” Cherry urged users to work with the software sooner rather than later. “There’s value there, and I don’t think you’ll want to wait to deploy. You should gain experience with Server Core now.”

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