Special Report: Whistler Server Takes Shape With Beta 2

As the Whistler/Windows 2002 server family takes shape with the recent release of the beta 2 version, it is becoming an operating system with a major overhaul of its Web serving capabilities and relatively modest improvements to deployment and management technologies.

Microsoft Corp. released the beta 2 version of Whistler Server this spring at the same time as the release of the client versions, Windows XP Professional and Windows XP Home Edition.

The client versions are planned for shipment later this year. The server versions, officially named Windows 2002 on Monday, won't ship until later, probably sometime in 2002.

At an estimated 20-24 months, turnaround on Windows 2002 looks like it will be quick compared with the four years between releases of Windows NT 4.0 Server and Windows 2000 Server. The speed is in line with Microsoft's plans to issue fix-only Service Packs for Windows 2000, with new features added in new versions of the operating system on a quicker release schedule.

Nonetheless, Microsoft will be pushing the new server release at an awkward time, according to IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky.

"I have to question their thought process because Windows 2000 is just starting to ramp up in its adoption. Why would you bring out and start talking about a new product before the previous product had a chance to develop?" Kusnetzky wonders. "What that says to people is, 'Don't continue your adoption planning. Stop.'"

Trying to prevent such reactions, Microsoft constantly says that the upgrade is almost a maintenance upgrade for corporations using Windows 2000, and vigorously encourages users to continue their Windows 2000 rollouts.

Mark Perry, senior director of Windows .NET Server Marketing, reiterated Microsoft's position with the Windows 2002 naming announcement. "We strongly encourage customers to deploy Windows 2000 today, so they can reap the benefits of increased reliability and flexibility," Perry said. "The Windows 2002 server software will be the logical evolutionary extension of the current Windows 2000 server family."

In addition, hype for Windows 2002 has been almost nonexistent. Usually chatty at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, Microsoft revealed relatively little new about its brand new servers that were just entering the beta 2 stage. About the only news Microsoft revealed about Windows 2002 at WinHEC was that a new mix was planned for its line of servers, with an increased emphasis on the Advanced Server version and a possible new version targeted for Internet data centers. (See story). Windows 2002 beta 2 is not feature complete.

Most Redmond-generated hype has been focused on Windows XP, the client version that unifies the Windows 9.x and Windows NT code base and is being positioned as a giant leap forward in stability for home users.

One surprise did come out of beta 2 on the server side: an overhauled IIS.

"The biggest news is IIS 6," Andrew Cushman, group manager for Microsoft's IIS, said in a press presentation on the Web server. "IIS 6 is a late edition to the server SKU," Cushman said. "It wasn't part of the original plan."

The beta 1 version of Whistler server went out in fall 2000 with IIS 5.1, a version Microsoft said little about.

Microsoft redefined IIS with the Windows 2000 release by integrating the Web server into the core operating system and shipping it in every copy of Windows 2000. IIS' name changed from Internet Information Server to Internet Information Services at that time.

Now, Cushman says Microsoft has rewritten the architecture of IIS to improve its reliability. Other enhancements were made to increase manageability and scalability. (See story on IIS improvements).

"In the enterprise, this is one of Microsoft's and IIS' strengths. What we've seen is that as customers move up the value chain, as their sites get more complex, the penetration of Windows and IIS increases," Cushman says. That statement is supported by recent ENT surveys of the Web sites in use in the Fortune 1000, and by Netcraft surveys of secure sites around the Web.

But Microsoft's place in the Web server arena is in no way secure. The open source Apache Web server provides a highly regarded and low-cost alternative, and the Sun-Netscape iPlanet Web server has greater mindshare at the largest corporate Web sites.

Both those products remain moving targets, another motive for Microsoft to channel its greatest server-side development energy into IIS. A beta version of the iPlanet Web Server, Enterprise Edition 6.0 became available in late February. The Apache 2 beta launched in March.

Many of the enhancements in Windows 2002 Beta 2 focus on easing the transition from Windows NT 4.0 domain structures to the Active Directory, a complex undertaking that appears to have kept a number of organizations away from Windows 2000 or at least from complete migrations.

One major area is DNS configuration enhancements in the Active Directory Installation Wizard to simplify debugging of incorrect DNS configurations and help with proper configuration of the DNS infrastructure.

Several LDAP enhancements are included, notably a virtual list view that allows client applications to more easily manage large result sets from overly broad LDAP queries.

A major area of concern for users was the inflexibility of an Active Directory structure once it had been built. This posed a special problem for companies that merged with other corporations, both with full Active Directory forests.

Prior to the Beta 1 release, Microsoft discussed adding pruning and grafting capabilities later in the beta cycle. While the company backed off of adding anything that comprehensive, Beta 2 does bring some cross-forest capabilities that make it possible to manage users in different Active Directory structures.

Microsoft created a new type of Windows trust called Forest Trust for managing security relationships between forests. Enabled, a Forest Trust allows all domains in a forest to transitively trust all domains in another forest. Windows 2002 Beta 2 also comes with a forest trust property page for managing Trusted Namespaces associated with Forest Trusts.

New to Beta 2 are Cross-Forest Authentication allowing single sign-on across trusted forests and Cross-Forest Authorization allowing administrators to include users and groups from trusted forests in local groups or Access Control Lists.

Also new to Beta 2 are Sharepoint capabilities, a small site Web server for Microsoft's next version of Office, Office XP. The capability is intended for intranet use for exchanging documents and other knowledge management functions.

Even as the server family takes shape with Beta 2, Microsoft is leaving many details out until Beta 3 or later.

Microsoft has not indicated how it will proceed on things like processor and memory support and clustering support. For example, decisions apparently have not yet been made on whether the SMP limit of 32 processors for Datacenter Server will increase or whether four-node failover clustering will work its way down into the Advanced Server version of Whistler. Scott Bekker

More Articles in This Special Report on Whistler Beta 2:
Microsoft Renames Whistler 'Windows 2002'
IIS Architecture Overhauled for Reliability in 6.0
Microsoft Looking to Shift Its Server Mix With Whistler
Beta 2 Distribution on a Much Bigger Scale Than Beta 1
Column: Don't Lose Sleep over Windows XP
ENT's Coverage of Microsoft's Beta 1 Release of Whistler

About the Author

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

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