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Windows Server 2003 Launch Focuses on Speed, Security and Customer Success

Windows Server 2003, Windows Server System family, make splashing debut, with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer focusing on security, management, and performance enhancements in the newest network operating

The rain didn’t keep several thousand people from attending the official launch of Windows Server 2003, which took place at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco yesterday. At the same time the company said it was making both Visual Studio .NET 2003 and SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition (64-bit) available.

In a speech dominated by the theme “do more with less,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the new OS has been deployed to 10,000 servers worldwide, in organizations as diverse as jetBlue, Honeywell, the Kentucky Department of Education, the London Stock Exchange, Fleischer’s Bagels, and Rentvillas.com.

The major points of the talk focused on security, management capabilities and performance in the new operating system.

Security improvements include a redesign of Internet Information Services’ architecture. Version 6.0, included in Windows 2003, provides 60 percent less “attack surface” by default, according to Ballmer. IIS won’t be installed automatically when the OS is installed; the administrator will need to specify installation. Likewise, most services in the Web site platform have been turned off by default and the services run at a lower privilege level on the network.

“Will there never be another [security] issue?” Ballmer asked rhetorically. “I can’t say that. We have built better processes to respond and help you respond to any issues that come about.”

Ballmer said Windows 2003 will increase IT efficiency by 30 percent, primarily through server consolidation and automated management functionality.

The Kentucky Department of Education, which serves 700,000 users in 176 school districts, is running 3,500 Windows NT 4.0 servers, in 300-plus separate domains. According to Tim Cornett, the district’s Active Directory Engineer, the state expects to consolidate 2,100 domain controllers to eight, which, he says, “aren’t big boxes—Dell 2600s with some RAM and hard drives.” Likewise, later this year when the state installs Titanium, the next version of Exchange Server, the IT staff expects to shrink its collection of 320 Exchange 5.5 servers by 90 percent.

Chuck Austin, the Kentucky Education Technology System Sr. Project Manager, said management improvements in Windows 2003 will enable the state to dramatically improve its change and configuration process. “In 2001 we got ripped apart by Nimda and Code Red. Dropped 160 districts flat on their face. We don’t have an automated patch management process in place.” The migration will take the complexity of services and “collapse that at a central site.” “We’ve done that to some degree, but with NT 4 we were limited to how much we could delegate down to sites.”

In his speech, Ballmer made a note of stating that the number one application for server use is as file servers. “Any new server release has got to bring something new to that constituency,” he said.

Yet what he espoused as new in this release in that regard—Windows Sharepoint Services—isn’t available in the shipping product. It will actually appear as an add-on to customers at an unspecified time in the future. According to Ballmer, Sharepoint Services is “designed to take the notion of file and information sharing and collaboration to next level by letting people communicate and collaborate in a different and richer way, but still allowing IT to provide access, security and protection of information.

A demo by Katy Hunter, Group Product Manager of Windows Server, showed two features of the new service. The first was the ability to recall a previous version of a file that a user has modified and saved via a “Previous version” tab in My Documents. The second was a portal interface that allows a team to work together on a project. The interface showed a list of shared documents checked out for revision by individual team members; upcoming events related to the project; tasks associated with it; and information important to the project derived from another source, such as business intelligence.

One launch attendee said he’d be interested in adding the Sharepoint Services portal to his clients’ Web sites. “But I would only want to do it in a way that all the clients I have feel that they could access their data quickly without needing another third-party product.”

Michael Nicol, who runs MikeNicol.com, a service integration/network consulting/asset liquidation firm in San Francisco, said he too was impressed by the portal service. “I want to do Web-based applications and hook that up with HTTPS and a site certificate server, to enable remote users to do an HTTPS connection and cut down on the number of remote site domain controllers.”

Michael Jones, an IT professional for DPR Construction, which has 1,200 users, said he was impressed by the Group Policy Management Console. It consists of a new Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in and a set of scriptable interfaces for managing Group Policy. The new console is currently available as a download from Microsoft’s Web site. It runs on Windows Server 2003 or XP Professional with the .NET Framework installed.

Jones said his company attempts to “mobilize everybody—just to give people access to their information.”

Over the last year DPR has moved off its Novell backbone and Windows 98 client platform and installed Windows 2000 throughout the organization, on servers and client devices.

Jones said for his company Windows 2003 would be at least a year off “because we put so much work and money into that. We can sit back and watch some of the bugs [get] worked out.”

Corporate Radar CEO Todd Wilson, who is a member of Microsoft’s partner advisory committee, as an emerging ISV, said new functionality in the OS is crucial to the success of his company’s latest release. Corporate Radar 5.0 combines portal, business intelligence and data warehouse technologies into a single application as a “business intelligence framework.”

“Things like the enterprise information framework, some of the performance enhancements, IIS 6.0 are key to our applications,” Wilson said. “One of the main things we were hearing from customers is that they had to restart IIS as part of their normal cycle of events. With IIS 6.0 being closer to the kernel mode in the operating system, it has autostart, so that is a tremendous advantage to our customers.”

He said his company has seen a 30 percent increase in application performance solely by moving from Windows 2000 to Windows 2003.

As it traditionally does, Microsoft took advantage of the launch platform to trumpet a new world record in transaction performance. In a joint announcement with HP and Intel, the company said it has surpassed the 600,000 tpmC mark, a first for non-clustered machines. The benchmark measures enterprise transaction order handling speed.

Intel President and COO Paul Otellini joined Ballmer on the stage to announce the new record of 658,277 tpmC. To the loudest applause of the morning, Otellini said, “This is the absolute fastest transaction machine on the planet. Bar none.”

The record was achieved on an HP Superdome with 64 processors running Madison, the next generation of Intel’s Itanium chip, with Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition (64-bit).

Although few organizations in the world require the high end systems that can handle that level of performance, the importance of the record can’t be underestimated, according to Group Product Manager Bob O’Brien.

“What’s important about it isn’t the business activity happening,” O’Brien said. “It’s the flexibility the customer has. The customer is looking at a common architecture, a common set of tools. I can redeploy for different business scenarios.”

Another advantage: “32-bit and 64-bit are priced exactly the same. It’s all even across the board.”

O’Brien acknowledged that the launch this time around was much more sedate than the launch three years ago for Windows 2000, which featured celebrities and a dramatic unveiling of a giant wall of servers running the software.

“Windows 2003 is the first time we’ve done a server-only launch. Windows 2000 was still the desktop and server. [Client launches] tend to have a much more flamboyant style. Here we’re talking to CIOs and CEOs—who are in business... As the product matures, you take on a more mature approach to how you present your products.”

Although it played a role in many of the customer migration stories shared at the launch, HP sees new business also coming from a different direction.

Rick Fricchione, vice president for Enterprise Microsoft Services in the HP Services division of HP, said he expects the new release to have great appeal for the small and medium business market. “The majority of those customers are still on NT 4. The support for that is winding down. The OS is getting tired, after five-plus years. What you’re finding is that customers are outgrowing what the OS can do for them.”

As he explained, those customers bypassed Windows Server 2000 because they only do a migration “once every four or five years.” For that reason, he said, he expects HP to get a lot of business in the SMB space.

Microsoft gave little attention in the keynote to the general availability of Visual Studio .NET 2003 and the .NET Framework version 1.1, though it played a major role in several of the Windows Server 2003 customer stories. For example, the London Stock Exchange, with the help of consulting firm Accenture, built its new system for feeding stock traders market information with the new development tools.

The company said registered users of Visual Studio .NET 2002 can acquire the release for $29. It’s also offering a limited number of ViewSonic V37 Pocket PC devices to customers who purchase and register their product by June 30.

Overall, whether it was the free handouts such as yo-yos and dashboard cellphone mats that Microsoft put in attendee bags, the prolific amount of free food it served, or the general excitement of being part of a launch event, attendees were enthusiastic about the arrival of Windows Server 2003.

As Carl Alexander, Chief Technology Officer for Trinity Web Services, who attended the event, concluded, “We’re moving in the right direction with [Windows Server] 2003, with a product that I believe is going to revolutionize the way that Microsoft fits into that space of scalability and doing more with less.”

About the Author

Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.

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