Has Windows Server 2008 R2 earned its stripes in the Enterprise?

Inspired by my new work environment and various past (and potential future) events and decisions that have occurred there, I began some reading regarding various platforms that are regularly mentioned in the Enterprise. My previous post “Is there still a .NET vs. Java Battle” was an earnest attempt to get a current opinion on what was once a very heated debate between the strengths and weaknesses of of two very similar, but seemingly rival languages; rival philosophies may be nearer the mark.

Java vs .Net - Photo that I ran intoFrom my admittedly superficial research on the topic area, I encountered some interesting information. It would seem that the heated arguments about which language/platform is “better” has largely subsided with what seems to be tremendous respect in the industry and quite a bit of innovation in one form or another happening on both sides.

The information shared by one of my readers highlighted a very important issue, which is:

The Application (and other) Servers that already exist in the enterprise plays a big role in the choice of a development platform.

This point was also raised by a software firm in their paper which can be found here. Having only worked with SMBs (Small/Medium Business) in my career, it wasn’t until I read this in my current position, understand the investment that goes into Enterprise grade systems,  that I was able to fully appreciate this statement. In the “Enterprise” scalability, performance, reliability, uptime, robustness etc. aren’t just words on paper, they are real measurable performance indicators that you have to validate against before you solutions are approved.

In my short time at my current job, I’ve heard many stories of vendors pulling our team aside and offering some earnest advices that running our systems on Windows Servers/Platforms would be a mistake. I found this quite interesting and heard enough stories like this to not simply dismiss it as vendor bias, but from what I had been reading, I was under the impression that the Windows platform had done significant work and was in fact gaining some respect in the enterprise space… the next logical step for me was, can I find current information to validate either position.

I found some information from ITIC here (http://itic-corp.com/blog/2011/04/itic-2011-reliability-survey-users-give-ibm-aix-v7-windows-server-2008-r2-highest-security-marks/), which genuinely surprised me:

IBM AIX v7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 Highest Security Marks
Nine out of 10 — 90% — of the 470 respondents to ITIC’s 2010-2011 Global Server Hardware and Server OS Reliability survey rated the security of Microsoft’s Windows Server 2008 R2 and IBM’s AIX v7 as “Excellent” or “Very Good.” This was the highest security ratings out of 18 different Server Operating System distributions (See Exhibit below).

IBM AIX PlatformI went back on the site (which is a little be messy IMO), but found several reports which showed that Microsoft was pretty much at the bottom of the list behind other Unix and Linux operating systems but over time, has showed steady improvement. This previous report was on security, this is one (http://itic-corp.com/blog/2011/01/ibm-stratus-hp-fujitsu-top-iticgfi-software-hardware-reliability-survey/) speaks to reliability:

For the third year in a row, IBM AIX Unix operating system (OS) running on the company’s Power System servers scored the highest reliability ratings among 19 different server OS platforms – including other Unix variants, Microsoft’s Windows Server, Linux distributions and Apple’s Mac OS X.

IBM seems to be the alpha dog in the enterprise with it’s AIX Unix based systems. However, in the third paragraph it goes on to say the following:

Microsoft’s Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 served up the biggest surprise in the survey, scoring impressive reliability gains and making it one of the top three most reliable, mainstream server OSes. Windows Server 2008 R2’s reliability renaissance is especially impressive since Microsoft’s Windows Server OS noticeably lagged behind the majority of the UNIX, Linux and Open Source distributions in the ITIC/Sunbelt 2008 and 2009 Server Reliability surveys. This was particularly evident when it came to chronicling the most severe Tier 3 outages which typically last for four or more hours, involve data loss and require multiple members of the IT department to perform remediation.

An overwhelming 92% majority of Windows Server 2008 R2 users experienced less than one or one Tier 3 outage per server, per annum followed closely by the 90% of respondents using IBM’s AIX 7.1 who said they experienced one or less than one severe Tier 3 incident, per server per annum.

Interesting information isn’t is? I urge you to read through the report and come up with your own conclusions.


ITIC wraps up their report saying this:

In summary the ITIC 2010-2011 Global Server Hardware and Server OS Reliability Survey findings indicates that all of the server operating system platforms have achieved a high degree of reliability. However, the IBM AIX 7.1 operating system, followed closely by Windows Server 2008 R2, HP UX 11i v3 and Novell SuSE Enterprise Linux 11 are the top four most reliable server OS distributions.

While I went in search of this information with some expectations, I was more than a little bit surprised at this particular result. I expected Microsoft be doing better than people claimed, but to be ranked #2 right after IBM and before Enterprise Linux distributions which I had heard quite a bit of statement about (i.e. vs. Windows) is no small feat in my humble opinion.

It may still be too early to make any real claims, but it certainly looks promising for IT pros as the report claims that all operating systems showed marked improvement but at lest now when you say that you’re running Windows Server as your server OS, your enterprise counterparts won’t be pointing and laughing anymore … or at the very least, won’t be justified in doing so.

Just wanted to raise two things in wrapping up:

Firstly, one reader called me out on my last article siting the need for information from more “reputable” sources. I would be extremely grateful if my readers would share any relevant information that they come across on this subject.

Finally, I know that I’ve only dipped my toe into the water, but now I’m interested to see how SQL Server 2008 R2 and IIS7 are holding up against the likes of Oracle 11g Database, IBM’s DB2 and WebSphere products, etc.

– Cheers

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Posted in .NET, Enterprise, Microsoft, WebSphere, Windows
One comment on “Has Windows Server 2008 R2 earned its stripes in the Enterprise?
  1. Gerhard Schwartz says:

    The ITIC reliability survey indeed shows quite surprising results, positioning Windows Server 2008 very near to the top of the crop. But it should be noted that the underlying survey was pretty much an opinion poll – filled out by people who typically know the platform they are primarily working with very well, and usually having less knowledge about other platforms. Their expectations may differ, e.g. what is seen as “good enough” by SMB customers might be not good enough at the enterprise level.

    Some element of apples-to-apples comparison comes from the number of outages recorded, and Windows showed pretty good figures here indeed. But again, the results are to be put in perspective: One outage per year may be seen as a pretty good result by many people, but would be seen as totally unacceptable by others who have higher reliability expectastions and are therefore using other platforms (e. g. fault tolerant systems).

    Also, little reference is made to the efforts required to achieve good reliability on the respective platform. People who have the time to fill out such surveys are likely to work in a well-organised environment where there is enough manpower to take good care of their Windows server farms. There is no questions that Windows can be operated quite reliably, but it comes at a cost. There are other platforms (not necessarily Unix platforms) that provide a extremely high level of reliability “out of the box”, without requiring a lot of tender care by system administrators.

    There are applications (e.g. in industrial IT or other critical infrastructure) where you simply can’t have planned outages every month just to adhere to Microsoft’s “Patch Tuesday”, so there is a need to cover a wider reliability spectrum.

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