Debunking Some Common Windows Server Workstation Myths

Forums Operating Systems Windows Server 2008 R2 Miscellaneous Debunking Some Common Windows Server Workstation Myths

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    • #44097

      I’ve noticed this whole “server as a workstation” concept is often misinterpreted by a lot of people. I’d like to take this opportunity to debunk a few common myths about using Server as a workstation for those who are new to the “workstation” game.

      Myth #1: Windows Server is less bloated than its desktop counterpart

      NOT true at all. They practically share the same number of services with the exception of Desktop specific or Server specific services. For example you won’t find the Media Center Scheduler service on Server, nor will you find Microsoft FTP service on Windows 7. I’ve fully configured both operating systems on my machine from a clean install perspective and I was using virtually the same amount of RAM on both OSes. To say that Windows Server comes “lightweight” is just not true. I think this rumor stems from peoples experience with OEM machines. For example an HP machine with Windows 7 Home Premium that has all the HP junk pre-installed. Windows Server on the other hand comes bare bone and then becomes bloated as more and more features are installed. But in the end, when fully configured, there is virtually no difference.

      Myth #2: Free RAM is wasted RAM (aka Superfetch)

      The decision of whether to run Superfetch on your machine is a matter of how powerful it is. While in short term, Superfetch does a great job at caching most recently used programs such as your web browser, office applications (word, excel, etc), or Windows Media Player. But one problem I’ve noticed with Superfetch is that it goes disk crazy. It also tends to eat up a lot of CPU cycles as well which for underpowered machines can occasionally cause the system to not respond. When you open a program Superfetch stores the most recent chunk of memory into a Prefetch folder on your hard drive. For some users who have small amount of RAM (1GB or less), disk operations become excessive and thrashing occurs, which hurts performance. Superfetch by no means “locks” the system memory which means when free memory nears 0, Windows will transparently free up RAM when it needs to. While this increases load times on some applications, it still doesn’t help when you need to occasionally call upon an application for the first time. With a larger pool of free RAM you don’t have to rely on virtual memory (aka the hard drive) to load the application up. Now it’s the complete opposite for high-performance towers. Take for example a quad core with 8GB of RAM. With such a large pool of RAM readily available, whats the chances that your free RAM will always be near the 0 mark? This is when Superfetch becomes necessary because disk I/O operations are not as excessive and thus not an annoyance. Superfetch should by no means be turned on by default without consideration of the specifications of the machine. I believe this is why Superfetch is available in 2008 but not turned on by default. Server 2008 is capable of running on several underpowered machines and using this logic i believe this is why Microsoft left it disabled. Also if you notice on the memory specifications of Vista home premium/ultimate vs Server 2008, it rates Vista as a minimum recommended 1GB, compared to 512MB for 08, I think this has something to do in conjunction in Superfetch.

      Myth #3: Windows Server has compatibility problems with desktop applications

      A lot of us here on win2008workstation forums can easily debunk this myth with ease. Let’s face it, the primary benefactor in determining an applications compatibility is dependencies.
      For example if I wrote a program that added a new feature to Media Center this program would
      be impossible to install on a default Windows Server due to lack of Media Center registry entries and service dependencies. But take this factor out of the equation. Most applications are written in code that is universal to Microsoft operating systems and the only thing preventing the application from running on a Server platform is parameter in the installation itself. Thanks to the help of many great people on this forum (Arris, Asciiwolf, JonusC, portalcake, etc) we have been able to install “desktop-only” software on this forum by tricking the installers into thinking the server OS is a desktop OS. From my own personal experience with Server i have found that compatibility with most applications is not a problem at all. Most of the problems seem to stem from security software and legacy driver support.

      Myth #4: Windows Server is more secure than its desktop counterparts

      While the security features of a Windows platform is more beefed than its desktop counterpart, its high demand from a networking perspective make it a greater threat to attack than its desktop counterpart. Take for example an Apple fan’s claim that Macintosh is superior to Windows because it doesn’t become infected with viruses as often. While Apple does have a thicker security shell, part of the reason why Apple is so much more secure is that hackers don’t waste their time writing code to infect a small pool of people. Microsoft owns over 90% of the marketing share in operating systems. You could do a lot more damage with 90% then you could with less than 10%. The internet is mostly built on servers running the Windows Server operating system which makes the threat of remote execution/take-over a greater possibility. Now if you plan to use Windows Server strictly as a limited role server (say for example only FTP) and use the rest as a workstation you severely reduce your chance of attack, provided you have implemented the highest security measures.

      Myth #5: Price

      I hate when people compare the desktop version of Windows to its server counterpart by stating that server offers all the features that its desktop counterpart has for 4x the price. First of all, nobody in their right mind would buy a $1000 server just to surf the internet. Secondly, you shouldn’t even considering using a Server platform as workstation unless you had a license to try it or you could afford it without any problems in your budget. This is a terrible way to compare the OS and should be thrown out of the water.

    • #51088

      u making good points here
      but there same difference
      i will write them down soon im going to sleep 5am here 🙂

    • #51089

      Hello hoak,

      Thank you for taking the time to read my review and make an honest post. I’ll try to respond to your statements in the best way I can to my knowledge.

      Depending on what you qualify as ‘bloated‘, and the iteration of Windows Server your comparing, Windows Server certainly can be ‘less bloated‘ then Windows 7 using officially sanctioned install configuration options that work. More germane considerations though then a vague term like ‘bloat‘ and the unqualified argument and digression is: performance, efficiency and fault tolerance. The Server kernels are smaller, use resources more efficiently, are better behaved when you stop or disable services, or applications crash, and can turn better benchmarks on the same hardware with identical service complement…

      While earlier versions of Windows Server operating systems (pre-2008) were smaller this simply is not the case anymore. The current builds of both the server and desktop operating systems share the same kernel. A resource behaves the same identical way it would on Windows Server 2008 R2 as it would on Windows 7. It is the software layer above the kernel that separates the two. I think applications are well behaved in Windows 7 just at a much smaller level. But keep in mind this discussion is strictly about using Windows Server as a “desktop”.

      The Windows Server OS does not include Superfetch and its opportuity cost, so I don’t know how this can be an argument against the Windows Server OS as a Workstation.

      I think you might be misinformed on this one. I was merely stating that Superfetch does not always offer a performance advantage when using it and it depends specifically on your hardware-type. Windows Server 2008 does come with the Superfetch service installed and can be turned by a simple registry change. I like the freedom of choosing whether I want turn superfetch on or off. On R2 I don’t have that option and I feel Microsoft cheated us out of that freedom.

      To wit, your statement: “While the security features of a Windows platform is more beefed than its desktop counterpart, its high demand from a networking perspective make it a greater threat to attack than its desktop counterpart.” — how is this a valid argument against any End-User Workstation deployment?

      It is not an argument against an end-user workstation, so long as you use it strictly as a workstation. But most of us will utilize one or more server role at some point, which increases the chance of an attack. I’m not saying that Windows Server has a weaker security backbone, quite the opposite actually. Security standards on a Server platform are much greater. But all that hyphened security has to make you think about the greater threat of attack a Server operating system poses.

      Myth #5: Price

      Again, your arguments here lacks a premise and context, in a production environment where you can’t afford the behavior of an OS that features flaky kernel semaphores, committee designed junk toy features, and need 100% up time — 4x or even 6x the price is cheap compared to the cost of one BSOD. But the price differential is in fact much smaller then 4x when comparing versions of 7 and Server with feature parity in a Workstation context (Ultimate vs Foundation) and is actually less then 2x. Moreover, someone that needs to explore the veracity of the best Microsoft OS for their Workstation deployment, can purchase a TechNet subscription and have a personal use license for all Microsoft Operating Systems for perpetuity for less then the cost of Server Standard…[/list]

      If we are talking about using Windows Server as a “development” workstation, where you will utilize both server and desktop features, Foundation has a clear advantage, but keep in mind I am talking strictly about using Server as a desktop only OS. The idea of paying $300 for a Server OS that can only do a limited amount of stuff its desktop counterpart can do for virtually the same amount of price makes no sense. The point I was trying to make is that if you are not going to use any of the server features than Windows 7 is the more preferred OS. If I wanted a workstation and I had a $300 budget I would definitely want the added feature of TV tuner and Media Center support, not to mention a slightly faster boot time. Compatibility is much higher than expected when using 7 as a desktop OS compared to Server. It just doesn’t make any logical sense to use Server as a desktop if you’re not going to use the server.

    • #51090
      hoak
      Participant

      @halladayrules wrote:

      The current builds of both the server and desktop operating systems share the same kernel. A resource behaves the same identical way it would on Windows Server 2008 R2 as it would on Windows 7. It is the software layer above the kernel that separates the two.

      Not true, the Windows 7 Kernel and HAL are based on the same Kernel as the Server OS, but were developed later, and there are substantial structural differences.

      @halladayrules wrote:

      I think applications are well behaved in Windows 7 just at a much smaller level.

      What does that mean?

      @halladayrules wrote:

      I think you might be misinformed on this one.

      Nope, and you yourself acknowledge I’m not…

      @halladayrules wrote:

      If we are talking about using Windows Server as a “development” workstation, where you will utilize both server and desktop features, Foundation has a clear advantage, but keep in mind I am talking strictly about using Server as a desktop only OS.

      Pretty restrictive ‘after the fact‘ qualification you’re making; Sever as a Workstation has many applications that aren’t strictly “development”, some even vetted by Microsoft.

      @halladayrules wrote:

      The idea of paying $300 for a Server OS that can only do a limited amount of stuff its desktop counterpart can do for virtually the same amount of price makes no sense.

      Limited? In what way?

      @halladayrules wrote:

      The point I was trying to make is that if you are not going to use any of the server features than Windows 7 is the more preferred OS.

      Again, that may apply to you, but there are real-time applications and production environments that don’t require Severs ‘server‘ features but it’s a much better OS choise for fault-tolerance, higher granularity security,

      @halladayrules wrote:

      If I wanted a workstation and I had a $300 budget I would definitely want the added feature of TV tuner and Media Center support, not to mention a slightly faster boot time. Compatibility is much higher than expected when using 7 as a desktop OS compared to Server. It just doesn’t make any logical sense to use Server as a desktop if you’re not going to use the server.

      Again, not everyone wants or needs a TV tuner, or uses an OS to play with desktop toys; Server makes perfect sense in many production and mission critical environments, or even day-to-day use where there are considerations of reliability and up-time have value that has a dollar amount attached to it, and foo-foo fluff, bells and whistles are secondary…

      😕

    • #51091

      @hoak wrote:

      @halladayrules wrote:

      The current builds of both the server and desktop operating systems share the same kernel. A resource behaves the same identical way it would on Windows Server 2008 R2 as it would on Windows 7. It is the software layer above the kernel that separates the two.

      Not true, the Windows 7 Kernel and HAL are based on the same Kernel as the Server OS, but were developed later, and there are substantial structural differences.

      You’ve got me lost on this one. The kernel architecture of both Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 are identical. By structural differences are you referring to how the registry is mapped out, default configurations, stuff like that? For example processor scheduling on Server OS is set to prioritize for background over foreground. Enlighten me on what you mean by “substantial structural differences”?

      @halladayrules wrote:

      I think applications are well behaved in Windows 7 just at a much smaller level.

      What does that mean?

      Well as you would expect in a server environment a server OS is designed to handle a much higher CPU workload than a desktop. A desktop is just not designed to do that. What I’m trying to say is, if you are using Windows Server as a desktop OS, and lets say you are installing Yahoo Messenger. Yahoo Messenger will act the same identical way on Windows 7 as it would on Windows Server, since they share the same kernel.

      @halladayrules wrote:

      If we are talking about using Windows Server as a “development” workstation, where you will utilize both server and desktop features, Foundation has a clear advantage, but keep in mind I am talking strictly about using Server as a desktop only OS.

      Pretty restrictive ‘after the fact‘ qualification you’re making; Sever as a Workstation has many applications that aren’t strictly “development”, some even vetted by Microsoft.

      Good point.

      @halladayrules wrote:

      The idea of paying $300 for a Server OS that can only do a limited amount of stuff its desktop counterpart can do for virtually the same amount of price makes no sense.

      Limited? In what way?

      No Media Center, HomeGroup, remote media streaming capabilities, better application compatibility support (especially with anti-virus)

      @halladayrules wrote:

      The point I was trying to make is that if you are not going to use any of the server features than Windows 7 is the more preferred OS.

      Again, that may apply to you, but there are real-time applications and production environments that don’t require Severs ‘server‘ features but it’s a much better OS choise for fault-tolerance, higher granularity security,

      @halladayrules wrote:

      If I wanted a workstation and I had a $300 budget I would definitely want the added feature of TV tuner and Media Center support, not to mention a slightly faster boot time. Compatibility is much higher than expected when using 7 as a desktop OS compared to Server. It just doesn’t make any logical sense to use Server as a desktop if you’re not going to use the server.

      Again, not everyone wants or needs a TV tuner, or uses an OS to play with desktop toys; Server makes perfect sense in many production and mission critical environments, or even day-to-day use where there are considerations of reliability and up-time have value that has a dollar amount attached to it, and foo-foo fluff, bells and whistles are secondary…

      I think you make both a great point and a irrelevant point here as well. I agree that you can use Windows Server as a great day-to-day OS without the need of any bells and whistles like Media Center. I use it as a general purpose OS with the exception of my FTP server. Server 2008 is probably in my opinion Microsoft’s greatest operating system. As far as up time is concerned thats not a valid reason to run Windows Server as a “desktop” OS. Up time is virtually meaningless to me as I shut down my computer every night. I sleep in the same room as my desktop so i shut it off every night, so up time to me is pointless and has no barring whatsoever.

      BTW, It’s nice to have an intelligent conversation regarding IT with you. I highly respect your opinion and I value your input greatly. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me on this.

    • #51092
      hoak
      Participant

      @halladayrules wrote:

      The kernel architecture of both Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 are identical.

      No, they are similar, and have the same code heritage but they are not “identical” — not even close… Microsoft’s own Kernel Development team corroberate and have discussed this extensively in several venues on many occasions…

      @halladayrules wrote:

      No Media Center, HomeGroup, remote media streaming capabilities, better application compatibility support (especially with anti-virus).

      Microsoft’s Media Center, and remote media streaming are quite simply horribly executed shovel-ware, with limited codec support, poor performance, horrific interface design, and poor feature support; there are FOSS products like VLC and MPCHC that are leaps and bounds better (true 64-bit media decodecs, offer full free decodec support, full decodec control, vastly better looking video, and better stream performance with lower resource use and zero registry bloat).

      HomeGroup is a resource pig trash-toy for individuals completely ignorant of networking that will keep them that way — not everyone that uses a Workstation is retarded and needs or even wants this kind of idiot ‘hand-holding‘…

      Compatibility is similarly a moot argument as less then 1/5 of 1% of all applications ‘in the wild‘ worth anything have compatibility issues on the Server OS… Consumer AVx software makes an excellent case in point, most are resource pigs, and perform no better or substantially worse then FOSS solutions that run fine on Sever OS; like Clam AV which doesn’t clog the registry with megabytes of useless crap, and your system RAM with poorley executed code scavengers. And the few Consumer AVx apps that don’t ‘appear‘ to run on the Server os’s it’s typically simple versioning issues that can be easily cricumvented if you really want to run this sort of junk.

      @halladayrules wrote:

      As far as up time is concerned thats not a valid reason to run Windows Server as a “desktop” OS. Up time is virtually meaningless to me as I shut down my computer every night. I sleep in the same room as my desktop so i shut it off every night, so up time to me is pointless and has no barring whatsoever.

      Saying it’s not a valid reason because you sleep next to your PC is ridiculous!

      Any assumption of ‘mythos‘ are presumptions that apply to more people then just you; your pet use of an operating system does not apply to how others will use it or depend on it — Workstations can run mission critical applications in all sorts of environments were up-time critical, and one minute (or more) of down-time for a reboot, or learning the cause of an issue costs far more then the OS…

      🙁

    • #51093
      hoak
      Participant

      @hoak wrote:

      @halladayrules wrote:

      The kernel architecture of both Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 are identical.

      No, they are similar, and have the same code heritage but they are not “identical” — not even close… Microsoft’s own Kernel Development team corroberate and have discussed this extensively in several venues on many occasions…

      @halladayrules wrote:

      No Media Center, HomeGroup, remote media streaming capabilities, better application compatibility support (especially with anti-virus).

      Microsoft’s Media Center, and remote media streaming are quite simply horribly executed shovel-ware, with limited codec support, poor performance, horrific interface design, and poor feature support; there are FOSS products like VLC and MPCHC that are leaps and bounds better (true 64-bit media decodecs, offer full free decodec support, full decodec control, vastly better looking video, and better stream performance with lower resource use and zero registry bloat).

      HomeGroup is a resource pig trash-toy for individuals completely ignorant of networking that will keep them that way — not everyone that uses a Workstation is retarded and needs or even wants this kind of idiot ‘hand-holding‘…

      Compatibility is similarly a moot argument as less then 1/5 of 1% of all applications ‘in the wild‘ worth anything have compatibility issues on the Server OS… Consumer AVx software makes an excellent case in point, most are resource pigs, and perform no better or substantially worse then FOSS solutions that run fine on Sever OS; like Clam AV which doesn’t clog the registry with megabytes of useless crap, and your system RAM with poorley executed code scavengers. And the few Consumer AVx apps that don’t ‘appear‘ to run on the Server OS’s it’s typically simple versioning issues that can be easily cricumvented if you really want to run this sort of junk.

      @halladayrules wrote:

      As far as up time is concerned thats not a valid reason to run Windows Server as a “desktop” OS. Up time is virtually meaningless to me as I shut down my computer every night. I sleep in the same room as my desktop so i shut it off every night, so up time to me is pointless and has no barring whatsoever.

      Saying it’s not a valid reason because you sleep next to your PC is ridiculous!

      Any assumption of ‘mythos‘ are presumptions that apply to more people then just you; your pet use of an operating system does not apply to how others will use it or depend on it — Workstations can run mission critical applications in all sorts of environments were up-time critical, and one minute (or more) of down-time for a reboot, or learning the cause of an issue costs far more then the OS…

      🙁

    • #51094

      Great response hoak and I couldn’t agree more about Windows Media Center. I really never liked the interface but it was the only simplest way i could figure out how to record live tv on my desktop using my TV tuner card. That was until i found Orb to stream live tv on the internet using windows 7, but then as time went back this became a useless feature and i reinstalled Server again.

      As far as sharing the same code base, that is indeed true, but I can relate to what you are saying about them not being identical. I should have rephrased that to say “code”. I’m no expert in programming at all, as a matter of fact i’m an idiot. I remember listening to a presentation that Mark Russinovich was giving in an online video and he was stating the structural differences within the kernel as you have mentioned in your previous post. This probably explains why, under the same identical hardware and software setup, Windows Server performs so much more responsive than Windows 7, despite sharing the same code. I was never able to figure out why, but now that you reminded me of that seminar Mark Russinovich was talking about, it makes sense. I’m not trying to play this off like I’m some sort of smart ass or anything I really like to learn anything I can about Windows Server because I am in the process of training to become Microsoft Server certified, eventually. I am pursing A+ certification right now, while at the same time going for my bachelors in Information Systems (Computer Security), so Windows Server means a great deal to me. I appreciate all of the input you have given me thus far.

    • #51095
      hoak
      Participant

      Sorry if any of my responses come off as a bit harsh, but the topic title is a commonly used Journalistic trick of the trade, and a title that should, imho, only be used in the debunking of common, popularly held assumptions with hard empirical evidence, science and fact.

      That said, I do agree with some of what might be the underling premise of your topic post that: ‘Microsoft’s Sever OS’s deployed as a Workstation is not for everyone…‘ — which would perhaps make a better topic concept, and the thread exploration of who the Server OS is and probably is not better suited for a more constructive discussion.

      With respect to objective design criterion and results Microsoft’s ‘Server‘ OS products are better operating systems then their ‘Consumer/Desktop‘ operating system products; the same objective design criterion apply to both and the distinction between ‘Consumer/Desktop‘ and ‘Server‘ OS is an arbitrary one manufactured for the sake of marketing and selling product at higher margins.

      Any OS can be made into a server, using 3rd party software and services, and again some of Microsoft’s Operating System design and features that separates the ‘Consumer‘ and ‘Server‘ OS are artificial and created by the Marketing department, not actual ‘best practice‘ design and engineering decisions made by Developers.

      Everyone, regardless of how the operating system they use will be deployed, and to what purpose wants some of the same things; for example everyone fundamentally wants their OS to work when they need it, and be reliable — as no one wants an OS that crashes or looses their work/data in the process of failing…

      I’d say reliability is priority #1 for just about anyone that uses a Workstation to do anything ‘productive‘ — the actual opportunity cost of that will depend on how critical those productive chores are; in the case of writing Grandma letters, it’s probably not even worth the price of a Microsoft OS at all, but in the case of running mission critical applications where process and production gets hosed, the value of a robust Workstation OS can be a ‘cost is no object‘ consideration.

      The balance of features, performance, and legacy software compatibility are again something Microsoft juggles for marketing leverage more then something that has a basis in ‘best practice‘ of operating system design and engineering.

      I think in most cases, for the person that thinks a Microsoft server OS rolled as a Workstation will be a better OS choice them that their assumption will often prove correct — as it’s not going to be the average User that actually attempts this; as this is a sharper audience, with specific needs, or an adventurous Geek curiosity about OS system internals that wants to explore.

      Using a Microsoft Server OS as a Workstation is somewhat analogous to flying an airplane vs driving a car — where almost anyone can get in a car and drive it (sans safely), but few people can get in an aircraft and even get it started no less off the runway and in the air — those that can know what they’re doing and to what purpose, and flying an airplane costs a lot more then driving a car, but can easily make up the opportunity cost again, depending on your objectives.

      🙂

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