Microsoft has begun the drumbeat leading to the release of its new server operating system called Windows Server 2003. Or should I say operating systems? Because when the smoke and mirrors clear, there will be seven distinct offerings from Microsoft.
Expected to be ready for release in April 24, 2003, Microsoft is currently pushing Windows Server 2003's latest release candidate--called RC2--from its home page. It's sending this release to manufacturing on March 12.
The road to this new release has been filled with conundrums--not only technical, but market-oriented problems that made this release of the latest server operating system one of the most enigmatic in Microsoft's long history of software releases. Instead of pushing its latest technology as "leading edge," Microsoft is focusing on a conservative infrastructural message aimed at IT professionals in the small and medium business (SMB) sector, stressing scalability, compatibility, and server consolidation.
Seven Windows into the 2003 Architecture
There will be, initially, six versions of Windows Server 2003 on April 24, followed by a seventh due by the end of the summer. The bundling of these versions are said to reflect Microsoft's chief strategy to edge into the realm of Unix-based IT shops, with each version of Windows Server 2003 flavor-engineered to satisfy the tastes of a particular type of Unix environment.
- Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition is designed for small businesses and departmental use. It supports file and printer sharing, offers Internet connectivity, and allows for centralized application deployment.
- Windows Server 2003, Web Edition provides Web serving and hosting capabilities only. This includes Web applications, Web pages, and XML Web Services. It's designed to be used primarily as a replacement for the IIS Web server and includes support for developing and deploying XML Web services and applications that use ASP.NET technologies as a part of the .NET framework.
- Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition is built for the general-purpose needs of businesses of all sizes. It provides for development of applications, Web services, and infrastructural needs.
- Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition for 64-bit is a separate version for those who need support for eight processors, eight-node clustering, and 32 GB of memory on 64-bit computing platforms.
- Windows Server 2003, Datacenter Edition is designed for business-critical and mission-critical applications that demand high levels of scalability and availability. It will support 32-way SMP and 64 GB of RAM.
- Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition for 64-bit is a separate version of the Datacenter Edition that will provide for eight-node clustering and load-balancing services as a standard feature on 64-bit computing platforms. In addition, this version will support up to 512 GB of RAM.
The seventh version (to be made available by fall 2003) is tentatively called Windows Small Business Server 2003, according to Microsoft. It will be designed specifically for the needs of smaller business organizations, but it's unclear what specific features will separate it from the Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition.
Caught in a .NET Conundrum
In the midst of this market bundling of Microsoft's server product is the redirection of Microsoft's marketing--away from the .NET framework focus that had previously been its hallmark. .NET was introduced as a branded technology name at the height of the Internet investment bubble, when it appeared that companies would be willing to chart a course that would uniquely identify their information architectures in a global Internet framework. And .NET server was to be Microsoft's definitive response to Sun's Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) frameworks, providing its own virtual machine capabilities delivered to Web browsers. It is also the key development framework by which XML and Web services are to be delivered. For a while, Microsoft was intimating that its new Windows server offerings would be labeled .NET too. However, something happened--called the dot-com meltdown--that has caused all the purveyors of Web application server software to realign their marketing efforts toward a simpler message.
.NET framework technology, of course, remains the lynchpin of Microsoft's Web application server initiatives, but Microsoft--like IBM--is trying to get its marketing message more in tune with the real-world concerns of IT. From that real-world perspective, Web application serving is just one of many issues facing departments with lean budgets and deep infrastructural needs. By branding all of its server software as "Windows Server 2003," Microsoft seems to believe it stands a better chance of slipping .NET into organizations--along with XML and Web services technologies--than if it separately branded those technologies as revolutionary advances.
The Compatibility Conundrum
Of equal importance to Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 release date is its recent acquisition of Connectix Corporation. Connectix makes virtual environments for Windows, Linux, OS/2, and NetWare, and Microsoft's strategy is to make applications that were created for these environments run in a virtual server environment under Windows Server 2003.
This focus on virtual servers is equally important for older Windows NT 4.0 installations that have not been able to take advantage of the Windows 2000 operating system because of compatibility issues. Microsoft wanted to drop support for Windows NT last October but met firm resistance from many customers that had not migrated to Windows 2000.
Microsoft Offers Application Server Consolidation
Another key issue has been the server consolidation of Windows server farms. Windows Server 2003 is finally offering some significant scalability with its Enterprise Editions, and by using the Connectix virtual server technology, Microsoft believes that many of those older Windows NT footprints used for print, file, and legacy application serving can be brought in over the transom to reduce the number of machines IT must manage.
How will this virtual server environment function? Microsoft believes that many of the application servers today in departmental line-of-business environments are running at only 10 - 20% of full utilization. Often, these applications were architected to perform in dedicated environments. But, as the years have passed, hardware processor power has actually outstripped the requirements of the applications. So these dedicated server applications are consuming space and resources that could easily fit into a virtual server environment.
Microsoft says that the Connectix virtual machine technology isolates those applications from each other and makes it possible to achieve higher hardware utilization. The economic benefit is from lower capital expenses as well as savings on power, cooling, and space.
And, of course, if this virtual server environment can also absorb some Linux footprints, Microsoft will be all the happier.
Microsoft plans to have a customer preview of the virtual server available in March 2003.
Security: Microsoft Finally Responds
One of the key indications of Microsoft's shift in market focus is its proclamation that Windows Server 2003 is really an upgrade of Windows Server 2000 with all the default security holes patched. Executives within Microsoft continue to stress that, while previous versions of the Windows server platform were streamlined for Internet access, with ports and processes ready to connect, up to 75% of the current effort has been to find and close the holes and gaps. What Microsoft is sending us is a "kinder, gentler" Windows server, and this is an encouraging message for IT administrators who, under Windows NT and 2000, suffered from weekly announcements of security issues.
Shifting Market Focus
So is Microsoft actually dumbing down its marketing for Windows Server 2003? It appears that instead of focusing on its contribution to the technological leading edge, Microsoft is finally aiming at basic infrastructural concerns of IT with Windows Server 2003: server scalability, compatibility, consolidation, and security.
If this is "dumbing down" the message, all we can say is, "It's about time."