Windows Server 2003 R2 was released to manufacturing with some restrained launch-style fanfare and should be generally available within 60 days. This is the promised interim update in Microsoft’s Server Roadmap that fills the gap between the major releases in 2003 (Windows Server 2003) and Windows Server Longhorn (2007). Unfortunately, a lot of its thunder got stolen by Service Pack 1 (SP1) earlier in the year or by features pushed out to Longhorn, but here’s what’s new in R2:
Simplified Branch Server Management
Windows Server 2003 R2 allows you to maintain the performance, availability, and productivity benefits of a local branch office server while avoiding issues typically associated with branch office server solutions such as connectivity limitation and management overhead.
Improved Identity and Access Management
Windows Server 2003 R2 includes Active Directory Federation Services, which is designed to help administrators address identity management challenges by making it possible for organizations to share a user’s identity information more securely across security boundaries. Windows Server 2003 R2 also provides UNIX password synchronization, which helps integrate servers running Windows and UNIX by simplifying the process of maintaining secure passwords.
Reduced Storage Management Costs
Windows Server 2003 R2 includes new tools designed to provide a centralized view of storage; simplified storage planning, provisioning and maintenance; and improved monitoring and reporting.
Rich Web Platform
Windows Server 2003 R2 enables businesses to extend their infrastructure over the Web while reducing development and management costs through enhancements delivered with Windows Server 2003 SP1, x64 Editions, Windows SharePoint Services, .NET Framework 2.0, and Internet Information Services 6.0.
Cost Effective Server Virtualization
Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition (EE) will allow you to run up to four virtual instances of Windows Server 2003 R2 EE on one licensed physical server or hardware partition, thereby decreasing the costs of server virtualization.
Also announced were the simultaneous RTM of Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 and the 2Q2006 release of Small Business Server 2003 R2 with a variety of enhancements, as well as a pricing deal on Virtual Server 2005 R2 Enterprise Edition. More details are in the press release.
Windows Server 2003 R2 always had the objective that there would be minimal qualification testing required by customers since the basic binaries weren’t changing, but new features were being added. That being said, I can’t imagine that most shops will be skipping all testing, but perhaps they can streamline it. It is important to note that Windows Server 2003 R2 is a paid upgrade, so unlike a service pack, it can be and likely will be avoided on existing systems unless some of the new features are desired. However, it is completely replacing Windows Server 2003 in the channel and therefore new acquisitions will likely involve it depending on existing licensing arrangements. ISVs, of course, will need to deal with it.