Prepare for the future: Windows 2008 and 64bit

New Year = New work for you. As I look into my crystal ball for 2009 I see Windows Server 2008 and 64 bit servers in your future. Why? If for no other reason than the next version of SharePoint will be 64bit only and I know you are looking forward to test driving it whenever it shows up. Todd and I have spent quite a bit of time discussing the items below so I thought I would share some of the thoughts we had.

64 bit

You are probably a lot like me and think 32 bit vs. 64 bit? No big deal, everything is the same you just get to use more memory. Yeah… on the surface that sounds great but in reality not the case. In reality, the software world is still very new to this whole 64bit thing and sometimes we are the ones who suffer. An example is simple things like ifilters for Search. For the longest time we didn’t have a reliable, free 64 bit PDF ifilter. This caused more than one SharePoint deployment to be changed in mid project because no one checked; they just assumed it was available. The point is until you do a project top to bottom in 64 bit you are going to be under the false assumption it will all just work. Did you know the VSeWSS (Visual Studio Extension for SharePoint) only work in 32 bit?

Now luckily for us the current version of SharePoint runs in both 32 and 64 bit so this is the time to play. In a perfect world you would have two test farms, one for 32 bit and one for 64 bit, and then you could try everything twice. You probably also know that you can mix and match the two architectures in the same farm, while this is true try to proceed with caution. While they can be combined you cannot mix a role. So for example if your web front end (WFE) is 32 bit then you shouldn’t add a second WFE that is 64 bit, this is unsupported. But you can have a 32 bit WFE and 64 bit Index server with no problems.

Even outside of the SharePoint/Administrator space 64 bit is becoming more prevalent. My new Dell M4400 is running Windows Vista Ultimate 64 bit. Why? The laptop supports 8 GB of RAM and to take advantage of that you need 64 bit. The downside to this is for a lot of hardware the 64 bit drivers are not as readily available or they are not as stable as their 32 bit counterparts. Then once you do a get a stable deployment of Windows on your laptop you may find not all of your software works. For a long time Cisco didn’t have a 64 bit VPN client, that was very painful. Eugene Rosenfeld has a blog post on Why I hate x64 which points out some oddities when it comes to software, some have been fixed others have not. The key thing here is you would have never thought of these things not working until you committed to running 64 bit.

I realize after reading this it is easy to think this 64 bit thing sucks, I should just avoid it. No. You need to take this knowledge and embrace it because sooner than later you will find yourself running 64 bit servers. Would you prefer to learn them now while it is a side thought instead of being knee deep into a critical project, trying to meet a deadline and discover such things?

Other Random Reading – Making the Move to x64

(This is funny but I am having this same conversation on Twitter right now completely unrelated to this post.)

Windows Server 2008

Another false assumption – I know EVERYTHING there is to know about Windows Server 2003 so I am already an expert at W2k8. Wrong again. You may be able to figure out things fairly quickly but there are a lot of little things that are different. For a SharePoint admin IIS 7 != IIS 6 no matter how badly we want it to be. Example? I tried to setup SharePoint and Kerberos on a Windows 2008 box and a few hours later I found the new check box I needed to deselect in a post from Spence. 🙁 Did you know that W2k8 has a 28 MB file upload limit baked in? I didn’t until the first time I encountered it. Windows Server 2008 WFE will not allow large file uploads The list goes on and on.

Now this stuff does not mean W2k8 is bad, just different. And until you dig your claws in and play A LOT you aren’t going to learn these little differences. I have been trying to blog the differences as I have encountered them but there are more to come.

Another random thought about W2k8 is our dear friend Hyper-V. If you see the use of Hyper-V in your future you need to start with it early and often also. It is not the next version of Virtual PC or Virtual Server so experience with those products will not help. Hyper-V is faster but at a cost of having to learn again how to build and configure things. Even more annoying, most of your W2k3 VHDs will have to be reactivated when you move them to Hyper-V. Very rude. Once again, you aren’t going to find the nuisances until you try.

My challenge to you

Find yourself a box you can install Windows Server 2008 64 bit on with Hyper-V. Then in Hyper-V create a virtual Windows Server 2008 64 bit box. Now add SQL 2008 and then MOSS 2007 SP1 + the December cumulative update. How did that go? I am sure it wasn’t easy but I promise you will have learned plenty along the way and at the end you will have a nice play ground for testing against. Hell, then be sure to update your resume with all of the new skills you just acquired. 🙂

Shane – SharePoint Consulting

10 Comments so far

  1.   John on January 5th, 2009          Reply

    Don’t forget the memory either! x64 can use it.

  2.   Dan Lewis on January 5th, 2009          Reply

    Very good advice Shane. It’s something that I typically do, embrace the newer technology as soon as possible so that you can learn it ‘before’ it’s required to know it.

    And Windows 2008 is very different indeed – I did an implementation a couple of months ago, and remember hitting a few snags with SQL running on the server because I was using a least priveleged approach for my moss install, and the resolution to my problem was a tiny blurb on TechNet in italics as a footnote to another article. All of the information isn’t out there yet so the quicker to play, the quicker to learn!

  3.   Tom Winter on January 6th, 2009          Reply

    Thanks for the post. I put in a proposal for a bunch of 64bit/Windows Server 2008 machines for a SharePoint install. We’ll see if I get them!

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