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Microsoft Primed for a 'Hyper' 2008

Like a kid who's overdosed on Christmas cookies, Microsoft looks like it's going to have a hyper 2008.

Like a kid who's overdosed on Christmas cookies, Microsoft looks like it's going to have a hyper 2008.

That's because of the introduction of Redmond's first enterprise-class virtualization product, christened "Hyper-V." Formerly codenamed "Viridian," Microsoft hopes Hyper-V will be able to compete more directly with products from industry titan VMware and gaining-steam XenServer, which started life as XenSource before its recent purchase by Citrix.

In fact, Microsoft was so anxious to get Hyper-V out the door that it took the exceedingly rare step of releasing a beta ahead of schedule. Hyper-V's first public beta came earlier this month, when it was originally promised to ship with Windows Server 2008 in Q1 of next year.

Hyper-V is a true "Type 1" hypervisor; that is, it sits directly atop the hardware in a server, and handles traffic between the operating system above it and the physical machine underneath. As such, it should be much faster than Microsoft's current server virtualization product, Virtual Server 2005, which sits on top of an operating system, creating another layer to slow things down.

Microsoft said it will have the final version of Hyper-V available within 180 days of Windows 2008's launch. Given the excitement surrounding the virtualization market, with a proliferation of new vendors and products, it's not surprising that Microsoft decided it needed to make a much greater commitment to virtualization or risk getting left at the starting line, watching competitors zoom down the track.

While Hyper-V may be Microsoft's most exciting release of 2008, it won't be its most important. That honor goes to major version releases of two flagship products, the aforementioned Windows 2008, and its database server, SQL Server 2008.

Those two programs will share the stage (literally) with Visual Studio 2008 during a huge product launch on Feb. 27, which Microsoft has labeled a "Global Launch Wave." It could be an anticlimactic wave for VS 2008 however, which has been available for more than a month now.

Windows 2008 marks the first major revision of Windows Server since 2003, and includes a number of new features, including:

  • Server Core. Server Core provides task-specific servers which are smaller, lighter and more secure than a full Windows Server 2008 installation. Examples could include an IIS Web server, DNS server or printer server. It answers the cry of those who complain of more feature bloat.
  • PowerShell. Windows PowerShell is a scripting environment that allows virtually every aspect of the Windows Server environment.
  • Network Access Protection. A key security component, NAP will restrict computers that don't meet the security requirements of an organization from joining that organization's network.

Windows 2008 also marks the end of an era, in that it will be Microsoft's last 32-bit server OS. Beginning with Windows 2008 R2, currently scheduled for a 2010 release, it will be available only a 64-bit configuration. Note that this is not the case with Windows clients.

VS 2008 is the first major update since VS 2005. Key features include:

  • LINQ. Language Integrated Query (LINQ) is the most-anticipated new feature of Microsoft's next IDE. LINQ will make access to databases and XML faster and more efficient.
  • .NET Framework 3.5. The .NET Framework run-time system is currently at release 3.0, and its inclusion in VS 2008 will be the debut of 3.5.
  • Tools for Microsoft Office. Programming for Office 2007 will be enhanced with new tools.

Like VS 2008, SQL 2008 is the first new version in three years. This will be the last of the trio to be released, and the only one likely to be unavailable at launch time; Microsoft has targeted a Q2 release. Key features include:

  • IntelliSense. This technology auto-completes program elements and source code such as T-SQL into an application, rather than requiring developers to recall or find the various attributes. It's been expected for years; in fact, it was supposed to appear in SQL 2005, but missed that product completely.
  • Charting. Charting natively adds charts to the reporting-services component of the database.
  • Automatic Page Repair. Page Repair constantly monitors consistency of primary and mirrored database, enhancing mission-critical availability.

Those are the major server releases. Some smaller, but still important, servers are also expected to ship:

  • Windows Essential Business Server. It's a mid-market server for companies that need more than Small Business Server offers, but aren't large enough to bear the cost and complexities of full-blown Windows server deployments. Essential Business Server works best for companies with between 75 - 250 desktops.
  • Windows HPC Server 2008. Based on Windows 2008, it's a version tuned to run on large clusters. Microsoft has yet to reveal many specifics, but did list a number of key features, including a service oriented architecture (SOA) job scheduler; support for partners' clustered file systems; better failover capabilities; more efficient and scalable management tools; and high-speed networking. It's something that will be considered by ultra-large enterprises like universities, with scientists that need serious number-crunching power.

On the client side, the big news is service packs: SP1 for Windows Vista, and SP3 for the venerable Windows XP. Vista SP1 is at the release candidate stage, and the final version is expected to be released about the same time as Windows 2008. Among the changes it will contain is new desktop search functionality, allowing competing products from Google and other third parties to more easily be used as the search tool. That change was made following a complaint of anti-competitive practices from Google.

Microsoft undoubtedly hopes that the first service pack provides a much-needed boost to Vista sales; in its first year of release, it hasn't performed up to expectations. Since businesses often wait until the first service pack release to begin rollouts of a new OS, Redmond could be counting on a similar bounce for Vista.

It's unknown at this point, however, if even that rock-solid trend will continue. Witness the continued strength of Vista's predecessor, Windows XP, which continues to outperform expectations, even more than six years after its release.

That longevity is almost certainly one of the chief reasons for the development of SP3, for which the first release candidate is now available. Microsoft set availability in the first half of 2008, a timeframe that appears to be very achievable with the RC release.

Besides the plethora of new product releases and refreshes of key programs, 2008 will also see a major shakeup in Redmond: Bill Gates, the co-founder and public face of the company, and its visionary since the beginning, will step down from day-to-day operations mid-year. How Microsoft handles the transfer of power will have far greater ramifications for the company than its execution of any initiatives in the coming year.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization Review.

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