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For Windows Server, a Busy 2005

When it came to product releases in 2004, Windows Server was AWOL. Even the relatively small, incremental releases that were supposed to ship in 2004, like Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, failed to materialize. Not that folks were complaining too much. With a stable and secure server operating system in Windows Server 2003, IT has done just fine, thank you very much, and didn't seem to mind a year-long break from the Microsoft server operating system release treadmill.

Hope you enjoyed the reprieve, because Microsoft is resetting the treadmill to running mode in 2005.

Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1
Windows Server 2003 SP1 forms the foundation for much of the rest of Microsoft's 2005 plan. Like Windows XP Service Pack 2, SP1 is part of Microsoft's "Springboard" initiative to improve security on key products customers already have installed.

New features and improvements appearing in interim builds of the service pack include a Security Configuration Wizard, porting of the Windows Firewall from Windows XP to Windows Server 2003 and a new quarantine function to make sure systems making RAS or VPN connections are up to date on patches and antivirus signatures. Security will also be improved through support for Data Execution Prevention, boot-time network protection for clean installs and a new wave of security guidance.

With a release candidate posted in early December 2004, the final version of SP1 is planned for the first half of 2005.

Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions
The next big item on the Microsoft 2005 roadmap depends on Windows Server 2003 SP1. Microsoft is developing Windows Server 2003 x64 editions on the SP1 codebase. The same Microsoft x64 code will run either

the AMD64 processors, such as AMD Opteron, or the Intel EM64T-based processors, such as recent Xeons. The Microsoft x64 code will come in three editions: Standard, Enterprise and Datacenter.

These x86-based processors with 64-bit memory (x86-64) aim at a critical market for Microsoft. Bill Gates has called x86-64 the "simplest way for people to move up" and predicted that, by the end of 2005, all chips AMD ships and most Intel chips will be 64-bit capable. Given that the x64 editions are expected to run 32-bit applications as fast as the 32-bit versions of Windows can, the x64 editions could eventually become the default versions of Windows Server 2003.

When AMD introduced the x86-64 processors, the chips were considered to be a low-end 64-bit stopgap between 32-bit Intel Xeon processors and Intel's Itanium line of high-performance, pure 64-bit processors (which have an instruction set incompatible with x86). Now that Intel has jumped aboard the x86-64 train with EM64T-capable Xeons, the SMP scalability potential of the architecture is greatly increased. With a Datacenter Edition, Microsoft will have a server OS ready to accommodate 32- or even 64-processor SMP systems running EM64T-capable Xeons.

Windows 2000 Update Rollup
Windows 2000 will be five years old in February, but thanks to Microsoft's five-plus-five-year support policy, customers can depend on Microsoft extended support and security fixes until at least June 30, 2010. In the near term, company engineers are working on an Update Rollup for Windows 2000 Service Pack 4 to come midway through 2005.

Plans for a Windows 2000 Service Pack 5 have been shuttered, along with any chance of a Springboard-like retrofit of Windows 2000. Service Pack 4 will be a pre-requisite to installing the Update Rollup.

Going with an Update Rollup will require less pre-deployment testing than a service pack, Microsoft contends, because it will contain fewer fixes, many of which are already out in hotfix form.

Windows Server 2003, Compute Cluster Edition
Windows Server 2003 will consist of more than 15 editions by the end of 2005, including the three x64 editions due out at the beginning of the year. In the second half, Microsoft will add to the mix the Windows Server 2003, Compute Cluster Edition, for massively parallel computing. It first emerged in June as the HPC Edition (for high-performance computing).

The edition is designed to get Microsoft better visibility among the supercomputing set that does things like scientific research, mathematical computations and nuclear bomb blast simulations. Linux currently dominates the massively parallel market space, but analysts say Microsoft is eager to position itself for a potential explosion of commercial applications.

Windows Server 2003 "R2"
The highest-profile deliverable of 2005, if it makes it out the door by Dec. 31, should be Windows Server 2003 "R2." Current plans call for a two-disc set—one for Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1 and the other for a set of optional components.

In many ways, Windows Server 2003 was an unfinished product when it appeared in April 2003. Microsoft has posted more than a dozen free add-ons to complement the server, including:

  • File Replication Services Monitoring Tools
  • The Identity Integration feature pack
  • Windows SharePoint Services
  • Services for Unix 3.5
  • Windows Rights Management Services

Microsoft also plans to make Windows Server more branch office-friendly with the R2 release, making it easier to administer in locations without on-site administrators. These base operating system features will include a technology called Remote Differential Compression, which only replicates changes to files across the network rather than replicating the entire file. When R2 becomes available, it will be the version customers receive when they order Windows Server 2003. Customers with servers covered by Software Assurance when R2 is released will be able to upgrade to it at no additional cost. It will require the same version of client access licenses (CALs) as the original release of Windows Server 2003.

"Longhorn" Server Beta
The one other item on the roadmap for this year (2005)—the beta version of Windows "Longhorn" Server—is notable more for its interest value than usefulness.

Details are sketchy at this stage. But highlights include a next-generation Web services application platform and new role-based deployment technologies building on the Security Configuration Wizard to reduce maintenance and attack surface. The beta will also include support for new hardware and standards, PCI Express and dynamic partitioning in high-end SMP systems.

The WinFS (Windows Future Storage) component for unified storage is not scheduled to be included in the server OS. Microsoft took the feature out of the client version of Longhorn in part because customers said they needed the functionality in the server, too, for it to be of real use. Current plans call for delivery of WinFS as a feature pack after Longhorn ships.

Windows Longhorn Server is even less certain to arrive in 2005 than R2, but Microsoft is publicly saying we'll see the first beta in the second half. (A beta of the client Longhorn is supposed to be available in the first half).

Keeping Pace
So there it is; a series of significant changes, but no blockbusters.

"I don't think there's any one glaring omission that Microsoft has in its server lineup from a feature perspective," says Al Gillen, an analyst with IDC. "Are customers holding their breath for WinFS? I don't think so. Some of the things that customers are looking for are not necessarily features of the operating system itself. Microsoft needs to drive down the cost of ownership by improving management tools and use rights."

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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