Microsoft Opens Windows Server 2003

UPDATE: CEO Ballmer makes his pitch for one of its most important software releases in the company's history. Windows Server 2003 Prepares for Grand Entrance Microsoft Unifies Stack Behind Web Services

SAN FRANCISCO -- After two years of delays, Microsoft Thursday embarked on one of the most important software releases in its history.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant officially unveiled its Windows Server 2003 operating environment, corresponding developer tool Visual Studio .NET 2003, Microsoft Exchange 2003, and a 64-bit edition of SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition (previously codenamed "Yukon'). The company is hoping the trio of products will establish a new standard in enterprise computing -- an area where it has traditionally lagged behind the more powerful UNIX infrastructure.

At the San Francisco launch party, CEO Steve Ballmer said the overall platform is a cornerstone of Microsoft's Internet-based .NET strategy and key to its entry into Web services .

"This is one of the most significant pieces that we've ever done and the most significant for IT professionals and data centers," CEO Steve Ballmer said at the San Francisco launch party. "It is not an incremental release, it is breakthrough in terms of what it will mean software developers and customers that want to collaborate and communicate."

The main launch event is being held in San Francisco with 150 regional launches taking place over the next few weeks throughout the world.

The release is significant primarily because of obvious threats posed by J2EE and Linux, but Microsoft is also extending its support for the growing market of 64-bit microprocessor architectures. The hope is that the server software will leverage the dominance Microsoft has on the desktop and extend it to the back office in high-end supercomputers, clusters, mainframes and storage.

Packaged with a familiar Windows XP interface, Microsoft is pulling together many of its previous technologies as a replacement for its popular but outdated Windows NT 4.0 server operating system.

According to some industry estimates, between 35 and 45 percent of Windows server customers still run Windows NT 4.0, with the remainder running Windows 2000.

Ballmer said the overall platform is a cornerstone of Microsoft's Internet-based .NET strategy and key to its entry into Web services .

"The challenge isn't just with cost reduction the challenge is to do more with less," Ballmer said.

Industry watchers are keeping a close eye on the release considering Windows operating systems and the hardware packaged with them accounted for about 27 percent of server sales in 2002, according research firm Gartner. UNIX systems still hold about 40 percent of the market. Deutsche Bank Securities calls the launch "critically important at driving increased sales of ancillary servers, enterprise agreements and establishing Microsoft in the back office."

Microsoft is putting on a huge marketing effort around this launch, as Windows Server 2003 is the first major architectural upgrade since it introduced the Win32 platform more than 5 years ago. The company says it will spend as much as $250 million over the next year promoting Windows Server 2003 in print, television, Web and outdoor advertisements.

Many Versions to Choose From
Formally known as Windows .NET Server, the company is releasing four separate versions of the Windows Server 2003 platform:

  • Web Edition - Web serving, Web hosting, E-Mail, Workgroup Functions
  • Standard Edition - Enterprise Applications, Middleware, Larger Workgroups
  • Enterprise Edition - Database, Large Enterprise Applications, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Scientific Computing and Modeling (SCM)
  • Datacenter Edition - Largest Databases, Largest Enterprise Apps, Corporate ERP and SCM, Server Consolidation

Each edition comes in versions to support both 32-bit and 64-bit architectures. For example, its Datacenter Edition supports up to 32-way SMP and 64GB of RAM (up to 512GB on the 64-bit architecture) and provides eight-node clustering and load balancing services as standard features, and on the 64-bit architecture it can support 64 processors.

The Visual Studio .NET 2003 comes in Professional, Enterprise Developer and Enterprise Architect versions.

Microsoft also announced new enhancements to the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) including five new Developer Centers including Visual Studio and the .NET Framework, and Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds. A dialect of XML, RSS lets developers receive notifications when new content is available on MSDN instead of checking a series of Web sites every day for the latest information.

The company has also taken great pains to make the server software usable right out of the box. In the case of its Web Edition, the software can also be deployed as a streaming media server since it already has the latest Windows Media encoder included.

Available later this year will be Microsoft's SharePoint Services Portal. The company said the file-sharing platform uses a Web browser interface with embedded multi-media applications like instant messaging and Windows Media player to share documents and track conversation threads. The platform also features a "Shadow Copy" function that keeps recently deleted files in a place in between the Recycle Bin and oblivion.

Addressing Security
Microsoft has been waiting for some time now to formalize its .NET strategy. Originally due out in 2001, the company put everything on hold while it spent more than $200 million and a lot of time on its Trustworthy Computing Initiative.

It remains to be seen whether the strategy will work given Microsoft's losing track record for security holes. However, Windows Server 2003 does include improvements on standard security technologies found in Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 such as Kerberos, Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) and Smart Card logon.

"Does that mean there will never be another issue? I can't say that," said Ballmer. "But what I can say is that there will be fewer issues and better processes to address when things come about."

The Encrypting File System (EFS) and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) have also been improved in Windows Server 2003. Microsoft also has included integration with Microsoft Passport for Web-based authentication and security.

Partners Rally Around
The releases also mark the return of the Wintel alliance. Earlier in April, Intel, one of Microsoft's oldest and most important partners, said Windows Server 2003 would 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.

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

Other key partners making their presence known at the event include, IBM , Dell Computer , Hewlett-Packard , Fujitsu, Unisys, Borland, SAP, Siebel, VERITAS, Accenture, Citrix, Legato and Crystal Decisions.

NEC , for example, said it would immediately offer its entire line of NEC Express5800 servers with Microsoft Windows Server 2003 preinstalled.

Also as proof of its mettle in the mainframe space, Microsoft and Intel boasted HP's latest Superdome is now the world's fastest single-system reaching a TPC-C (OLTP) benchmark result of 658,277 transactions per second running Microsoft's OS over Intel's Madison chips.

Ballmer was pleased with the result.

"This means no more toy operating systems," he said.

IDC Research Vice President Jean Bozman says the fact that Window Server 2003 can scale is proof that Microsoft has certainly made process in this space.

"But keep in mind that to hit that benchmark, Microsoft had to wait for Intel to build Itanium and HP to build its Superdome."

To help with the adoption, Microsoft is now staging an international road show in tandem with IBM, Dell, HP, Intel and others to convince IT managers to migrate from Windows NT and 2000 to the new server-based software.






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