WinHEC: Windows Server 2008 R2 Pushes Processor Limits

Windows Server 2008 R2 got the lion's share of attention on Thursday at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Los Angeles, starting with a keynote by Microsoft exec Bill Laing.

Laing is Microsoft's corporate vice president of the Windows Server Division. While much of the news about Windows Server 2008 R2 features had been disclosed last week at Microsoft's Professional Developer's Conference, the keynote hit the high points for an audience consisting largely of Microsoft's hardware engineering partners.

The R2 version of Windows Server 2008 isn't generally available yet, but it's being reviewed by some of Microsoft's partners. It's expected to be publicly available in late 2009 or early 2010.

Nonetheless, WinHEC attendees could still see Windows Server 2008 R2 in action during Laing's keynote. Onstage with Laing were two big-box servers, including the Hewlett-Packard Integrity Superdome Server using Intel Itanium x64 processors plus two terabytes of memory and the IBM x3950 M2 Server running Intel Xeon x86 processors.

Other enterprise servers tested using Windows Server 2008 R2 included the NEC AsAmA and Unisys ES7000/one.

Laing emphasized that the Windows Server 2008 R2 build is capable now of scaling operations from 64 logical processors (the current limit) to 256 logical processors on the Superdome Server. With the IBM x3950 M2 Server, the system scaled up to 192 available cores.

The keynote also demonstrated what to do with all of this computing power by running a live demo of a massive SQL Server application that was occupying about 82 percent of the Superdome Server's capacity. Within a few seconds, the load balanced automatically across the 256 logical cores when the demo was run. A graph of the system's performance was relatively flat across all of the processors.

The demo used a next-generation build of SQL Server, code-named "Kilimanjaro," which Microsoft expects to ship sometime in the first half of 2010. Kilimanjaro was announced in October at the Microsoft Business Intelligence Conference in Seattle.

Laing emphasized a number of features to look for in Windows Server 2008 R2. It will have a power-saving ability through a "core parking" feature, which reduces power consumption on lighter loads by using a minimum amount of processors.

Power conservation is certainly important. Datacenters consume about 1.5 percent of total U.S. energy production, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study that WinHEC presenters referenced.

The R2 release of Windows Server 2008 will support "live migration," which lets you move a virtual machine from one server to another without apparent disruption to an end user that may be tapping those resources.

Users will have a choice of using PowerShell or a graphical user interface with the System Center Virtual Machine Manager. Microsoft is also adding remote capabilities to its management solutions.

The keynote was also an occasion for Laing to declare that Microsoft is done with 32-bit servers. It will no longer sell them, favoring the 64-bit variety. Laing said that we are almost through a 64-bit transition phase, especially with falling prices for DRAM.

Microsoft's big announcement during the keynote was the scale up to 256 logical processors. However, 256 apparently is not the limit.

"We'd love to do 512 [logical processors], said Arie van der Hoeven, Microsoft's senior program manager for the Windows Kernel Team, in a session talk also given on Thursday. He added that with Microsoft's Windows Server 2008 R2 software, there is "no limit" to the number of processors that can be supported.

The limitation, if any, is that Microsoft needs to test in advance with the available hardware -- hence the promoted 256 number.

Microsoft is targeting the under $25,000 server market with Windows Server 2008 R2, and that represents about half of the enterprise server market, van der Hoeven said.

One interesting bit of information is that Windows Server 2008 and the Windows 7 client both share the same kernel. The shared kernel marks a change in direction for Microsoft, which no longer plans to fork the code between server and client Windows operating systems.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.