Windows Server 2008 R2 showed its pretty face at the Professional Developers Conference today, here in Los Angeles. Hi there, my name’s Oliver Rist and I’m a new technical product manager on the Windows Server team. I’m down here in La-La Land heaving great sighs of satisfaction as we unveil the first sneak peeks of pre-beta Windows Server 2008 R2. Though this release is right in line with our announced roadmap strategy for future Server releases, there are several items of note with R2:

First and foremost, 32-bit is done. History. Archives. Windows Server 2008 R2 is the first Windows OS platform to go 64-bit only, and frankly it was high time. Customers have been unable to purchase a 32-bit server CPU for over two years now, and the advancements in CPU architectures really dictated that we squeeze as much performance out of customers’ hardware purchases as possible. The move to 64-bit is a first step.

You’ll also find that we’ve aligned R2 development around four core technology pillars:

First, there’s virtualization. R2 represents our most pervasive move into virtualization yet, including R2’s undisputed marquee feature, Live Migration. Think physical host migrations of running VMs happening in milliseconds—no service or user connection interruptions. With Live Migration, data centers can truly go virtual and largely divorce management considerations between software and hardware, and all managed from inside a single OS frame.

R2’s virtualization also extends to a new Hyper-V for Windows Server 2008 R2 (think mucho better management, beefier resources for VMs and more). And potentially more exciting, Terminal Services is updating its remote applications feature to include a true Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). Think desktops and applications wrapped in virtualized packages, managed centrally and deployed to Windows 7 desktop with such tight integration most users will be unable to tell the difference between centrally hosted apps and those installed locally. (And don’t worry, a Web Access feature will let Windows XP and Windows Vista users in on the fun, too.)

Our second area of core concentration is streamlined management. R2 contains a host of new server role-specific management UIs. Even better, these are all built on PowerShell 2.0, which hosts a bunch of improvements of its own. For one, you’ll find over 240 new cmdlets inside the R2 box with more coming from other Microsoft platform products. There’s also a new Graphical PowerShell UI that adds developer-oriented features so you can more easily create your own cmdlets, including syntax coloring and better debugging tools. Add to that a new Active Directory Domain Services management console, enhanced Group Policy functions and a remote-capable Server Manager, and IT administrators have a lot to look forward to with R2.

Our Web concentration largely represents updates to IIS 7.0. The Web server is better than ever with new PowerShell management support, bennies gained from new failover clustering updates, and a number of popular IIS Extensions that have been rolled up into this release, including WebDAV and an updated Administration Pack to name just two. New reporting capabilities, better deployment options and more flexible deployment options with support for technologies like SilverLight and PHP—it’s a brave new IIS world in R2.

Last and definitely my favorite is the enterprise workloads pillar. Yes, this covers the heavy-iron features I love so much, like failover clustering, new reliability features and updates to enterprise storage (more iSCSI enhancements, management and more). But it also covers the end-to-end network experience for enterprise users—and that means a very cool Better Together story with Windows 7. Live Migration is getting a lot of spotlight attention, but I think DirectAccess is might be the sleeper feature of R2 and Windows 7. With DA, remote computing essentially becomes invisible for end-users. Using technologies like SSTP and IPv6 combined with way-easy management UIs in Windows Server 2008 R2, admins can build remote computing policies that let users plug into any network, anywhere and see their local network resources—completely secure, no clunky VPN required. As long as there’s an outward network connection, DA takes care of everything in the background and automatically. Awesome. And that’s just one R2-Windows 7 synergy out of many.

I’ll be updating this blog regularly from now on with a deeper dive into R2’s load of new features and its capabilities with the new client. Meanwhile, visit www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2008r2 for more details as well as the Reviewers Guide I’ve been putting together for the last several weeks. We’ll be adding a lot of new content over the next several months so keep checking back.

Oliver Rist