Windows Server 2003 Prepares for Grand Entrance

By Thor Olavsrud

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Microsoft's long-delayed Windows Server 2003 will make its grand entrance in San Francisco Thursday, carrying with it the company's hopes to become a player in the high-end supercomputers, clusters and mainframes markets, as well as enterprise storage.

Based on preliminary tests by customers and industry groups running beta versions of Windows Server 2003, Microsoft claims the new product is the best performing Windows server operating system to date when compared with previous versions. Additionally, it represents the largest software development project in the company's history. It totals about 50 million lines of code -- the work of more than 5,000 developers and 2,500 testers over a three year period.

Security is the primary reason for Windows Server 2003's 16 to 18 month delay, according to Laura DiDio, analyst with The Yankee Group.

"They will ship no product that is not secure," DiDio said, speaking to Microsoft's commitment to its Trustworthy Computing Initiative, unveiled in January 2002 in an effort to secure the company's code. "That is the main reason that they attributed to the 16 to 18 month delay in shipping Windows Server 2003."

The company had originally slated Windows Server 2003, then known as Windows .NET Server, for release in 2001. But the Trustworthy Computing Initiative placed everything else on hold, as the company spent more than $200 million on a line-by-line audit of its code by more than 13,000 Windows Division employees.

"Windows Server 2003 is the highest quality Windows server operating system ever released. It was designed and built with security as the top priority," Bill Veghte, vice president of Microsoft's Windows Server Division, said when he announced the operating system's release to manufacturing in March.

Todd Wanke, project manager for Windows Server, who was responsible for overseeing the day-to-day development of Windows Server 2003, added, "My job was to make sure that, day after day, everyone on the development and testing teams was working toward the same quality milestones. Quality was our primary concern. We weren't afraid to let the product release date slip if that's what we needed to do for quality."

Gunning for the High End
Windows Server 2003 will support both 32-bit and 64-bit architectures, scaling from a Web edition geared for Web serving to a Datacenter Edition for high-end servers which supports up to 32-way SMP and 64 GB of RAM (up to 512 GB on the 64-bit architecture). The Datacenter Edition also provides eight-node clustering and load balancing services as standard features, and on the 64-bit architecture it can support 64 processors.

"We set out with a goal to double the performance of Windows 2000 on common workloads, and we've more than achieved that," Brian Valentine, senior vice president of Microsoft's Windows Division, told internetnews.com.

Based on preliminary tests by customers and industry groups running beta versions of Windows Server 2003, Microsoft claims the new product is the best performing Windows server operating system to date when compared with previous versions. The testing found:

* IT infrastructures ran up to 30 percent more efficiently
* A 20 to 30 percent reduction in the number of servers to perform the same workload
* Performance levels up to twice as fast across all workloads
* A 20 percent reduction in overall management costs
* 35 percent of customers were able to redeploy IT staff from server management to higher value projects
* A 50 percent reduction in deployment cost and 40 percent increase in stability over similar Windows NT Server 4.0 infrastructure
* Testers were able to build applications in half the time with twice the performance
* Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPPC) benchmarks ranked Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000 as the fastest 32-way online transaction, with 433,107 transactions per minute.

The company has already shored up alliances with chipmakers to back up its play for the high-end of the datacenter. Earlier in April, Intel, one of Microsoft's oldest and most important partners, said Windows Server 2003 will support Intel's Itanium 2 family of 64-bit processors, marking the first formal release of the operating system supporting the Itanium product family. That means no more 'limited editions' will be required for Itanium support under Windows.

"Intel has been doing multi-processor servers in the last eight years, and with Intel and Windows-based servers, we are really playing up to the high end," Intel Itanium Processor Family Product Line Manager Mike Graf told internetnews.com at the time.

But Intel isn't alone. Microsoft's Valentine was on hand at AMD's Tuesday launch of its new Opteron processors, which offer an x86-based 64-bit architecture that is compatible with 32-bit applications.

"We've been working with AMD since the beginning on this project," Valentine said. "64-bit computing; we think it is the wave of the future."

He added, "It's about running a Windows server and a Windows workstation in 64-bit with any workload the customer may want to run on it."

Valentine said 64-bit Windows Server 2003 on the IA-64 architecture will be available beginning with the launch Thursday, while support for AMD's x86-64 architecture will follow in the coming months.

More on Page 2Enterprise Storage
With storage one of the few technology segments that analysts agree is still going strong (a recent Merrill Lynch survey of U.S. and U.K. chief information officers found that storage is the number 1 priority of CIOs, and CIO Magazine has reported that 22 percent of IT budgets are allocated to storage), Microsoft is also counting on Windows Server 2003 to help it capture a larger slice of that market with new storage management features.

"At Microsoft, we have risen to the challenge by introducing a set of significant new and enhanced storage management features in Windows Server 2003," said Zane Adam, director of product management and marketing for Microsoft's Enterprise Storage Division (announced last spring at the 2002 Storage Networking World conference). "These features make it easier for database, storage and network administrators to maintain and manage disks and volumes, backup and restore data, and connect to Storage Area Networks (SANs). And we're not just talking about the large enterprises -- small- to medium-sized businesses are facing the same storage problems and can benefit from these solutions as well."

Among the new enhancements are:

* Virtual Disk Service (VDS), which provides APIs that allow storage hardware vendors to extend Windows storage features, supporting Directly Attached Storage (DAS), Network Attached Storage (NAS) and SANs with a single management interface
* Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS), which provides an infrastructure for creating a point-in-time copy of a single volume or multiple volumes, and also allows users of client computers to view and recover previous snapshots of their files without involving IT
* Improved SAN support, including flexible volume mounting, improved SAN Host Bus Adapter (HBA) interoperability, a Multi-Path I/O (MPIO) Driver Development Kit which allows storage vendors to create interoperable multi-pathing solutions in both Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003, and support (by June) for the Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI), recently ratified by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
* Automated System Recovery (ASR), which enables 'bare metal restore' (clean installation) of a server without having to load the entire image.

Deep Integration
While Microsoft is hoping that Windows Server 2003 is the wedge it needs to break UNIX's stranglehold on high-end datacenter servers, the product is also a cornerstone of the company's .NET strategy -- together with its Visual Studio .NET development environment, the Windows XP operating system and the forthcoming Office 2003 and 'Yukon' SQL Server offerings.

Windows Server 2003 and Visual Studio .NET 2003 (which will be released in tandem with the server operating system) are tightly integrated as part of Microsoft's plan to create a cohesive ecosystem on which businesses can build their Web services. Windows Server 2003 fully leverages the .NET Framework, the platform infrastructure that defines Microsoft's Web services push. Meanwhile, Visual Studio .NET 2003 is an incremental advancement to the company's integrated development environment (IDE), a developer tool suite which at its core contains the vision of enabling development teams to share in large-scale projects across the entire development life cycle, even when mixing components of various languages and using a variety of deployment architectures, from the Internet to Windows to mobile devices.

The company is positioning Windows Server 2003 as the perfect deployment platform for applications built with Visual Studio .NET 2003 (though it also plans to support Windows 2000 Server with the .NET Framework and Windows 98 or later for the deployment of smart client applications). Office 2003 will contain the tools necessary to create and consume XML documents, while Yukon will embed the Common Language Runtime (CLR), along with support for multiple programming languages, allowing developers to work with whatever languages they favor. A new version of Visual Studio .NET, currently dubbed 'Visual Studio for Yukon,' is likely to accompany that release and will feature .NET Framework 2.0

Windows Server 2003 is integral to Microsoft's plan because, as ZapThink Co-Founder and Senior Analyst Ronald Schmelzer puts it, "they feel the operating system really is the application server. They've never had a separate application server product." In a Web services model, the application server, which handles all application operations between users and an organization's backend business applications or databases, takes on much greater importance.

"They see every application that they're going to build on top of Windows Server 2003 as being Web services-enabled," Schmelzer said. "It's really going to be a fully functioning citizen in the corporate architecture."

Will Customers Bite?
But the key question remains: Will all the new functionality convince customers to upgrade to the new operating system?

A recently completed Yankee Group Survey, conducted with Sunbelt Software, found that 34 percent of businesses plan to make the upgrade, but 15 percent have decided to avoid the new operating system and 50 percent have not yet decided. The survey questioned 1,000 IT managers and chief technology officers. Yankee Group's DiDio said 50 percent of the respondents were in the small and medium business market (SMB), with between one and 1,000 end users, and 15 percent came from very large enterprises.

DiDio said that constrained IT budgets have led to three and a half to four, five or even six year upgrade cycles in many businesses, and many IT decision makers may decide to try to wait Microsoft out and upgrade with the next version of Windows Server. That product is code-named Blackcomb, and is expected in 2005 or 2006.

"Microsoft's biggest competitor in this space right now is itself," she said.

Of those who do plan to migrate, 7 percent said they would make the switch as soon as the software ships, 11 percent said within three to six months, 5 percent said within six to nine months, and 14 percent said within the next 12 months. A further 63 percent said they have no definitive plans to migrate.