OS for Windows VMS: Server vs. 7

By: Brian Rhodes, Published on Aug 21, 2012

How important is it to choose a 'server' version of an operating system? While every major VMS developer supports Windows 7, many new enterprise video servers are built using Server 2008 R2. Do the different versions impact performance? In this note, we contrast the two versions, describe how their differences affect VMS servers, and share feedback from VMS companies on which platform they recommend.

Key Differences

Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 share the same kernel, have the same network stack, and share the same GUI. Even by Microsoft's own account, the functional and stability differences are nominal. However, a deeper look at the two platforms reveal some differences that influence video management systems:

  • 32/64 Bit Architectures: Windows 7 can be installed in either version, while Server 08 R2 is 64 bit only. (However, older 32 bit software can still be run.) This difference may prevent older hardware from being used to run the server OS.
  • Maximum Physical CPUs: Not to be confused with 'cores', Windows 7 supports 2 physcial CPUs, and Server 2008 R2 supports 8 physical CPUs. The majority of surveillance systems will not require more than 2 physical processors. However, for deployments with hundreds of megapixel cameras, more processing power may be necessary. In this circumstance Server OS might be required if the resulting server requires 3 or more CPUs.
  • Incoming File Sharing Connections: Windows 7 support 10 simultaneous, while Server 2008 R2 supports Unlimited connections. Depending on the VMS software deployed this may limit the number of simultaneous viewing clients of the video database.
  • Power Management Mode: Windows 7 enables several energy conserving settings by default, and they must be disabled in order to assure recording is always able to happen. Server 2008 R2 does not have these settings enabled.
  • Video Driver Support: In many cases, aftermarket video cards do not have Server OS versions of drivers, since application servers are not typically required to handle high-end graphics or video streaming.
  • Price: Retail licenses of Windows 7 Professional costs between $150 and $300, while Server 2008 R2 Standard costs between $500 and $900.

Which Choice is Best?

System Size Matters: For smaller camera counts, there is likely negligible performance difference between versions. Given that smaller systems may require a 'multi-role' recording server that also serves as a viewing client, it may be advantageous to use Windows 7 given its expanded video driver support. Other constraints, like number of local drives needed, can influence operating system selection based purely on server size.

Default Choice: Interestingly, Windows 7 is not a preinstalled OS option when ordering a server from Dell or HP. This reinforces the suggestion that Server 2008 R2 is commonly specified because 'that is the way it has always been' and because 'Server 2008 is the baseline system globally used' by IT departments for servers.

VMS Feedback: We asked several VMS vendors for feedback on the question "Server 2008 R2 or Win 7?" We share portions of their detailed responses below:

  • "[With our VMS platform], there are basically there are no advantages in using Windows 2008 Server over Windows 7."
  • "Most IT departments will choose to deploy Server 2008 as it does offer some advantages in terms of deployment and security. It is something they "know" and are comfortable dealing with."
  • "In larger installations - with hundreds or thousands of cameras - Server 2008 can generally handle more resources, data, offers Active Directory security and is generally preferred for virtual installations."
  • "As for managing the OS, there may be some benefit for Windows 2008 server on a domain, for making it easier to manage and more secure, but Windows 7 is pretty good about that."
  • "In general terms, if you are using a desktop OS for a VMS server - whether it's on a mini-tower desktop or on a rack mounted box - it shouldn't be used for other purposes. It's a critical part of your security system and should be treated as such - no web surfing or YouTube on it."

Make sure to check with your VMS vendor to inquire about any restrictions or preferences for OS choice.

Windows Server OS Options

One option is to use Windows Server Foundation, a much less expensive version of Server 2008 R2, similar in price to Windows 7 Pro, that drops some server functionalities that are less likely to be used in VMS deployments. See this comparison for tradeoffs between Server Standard and Foundation version [link no longer available]. The most notable limitation for Foundation is no support for 'Hyper-V', Microsoft's virtualization platform.

For example, ipConfigure requires a Server OS for their VMS server software but supports Windows Server 2008 R2 Web version that provides many benefits of using a Server OS but at a much lower cost than the standard edition.

Conclusion

While tradeoffs exist when running a workstation OS in a server environment, the performance differences are minor and the tradeoffs center around management and administration. Users in our LinkedIn group report running up to 50+ cameras on Windows 7 [link no longer available] without issue.

When a VMS server is designed to be included in a server farm managed by an IT department, keeping with a server OS helps maintain 'sameness' and maintains manageablility. However, for less formal environments and stand alone surveillance deployments, Windows 7 regularly provide the same 'bang' for less 'buck'.

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