Microsoft releases Longhorn for public testing

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Microsoft Corp. announced today the first publicly available test version of the next edition of Windows Server, code-named Longhorn.

The final version of the product is on track for release to manufacturing in the second half of 2007, the Redmond, Wash-based company said.

It said the Beta 3 version of the product – released for public testing today – features improvements in three key areas: administration, protection and flexibility.

“This is our most customer-centric release [to date],” said Hilary Wittman, senior product manager, Windows Server, Microsoft Canada.

She said to enhance Longhorn’s administration controls, Microsoft has embedded Server Core, an operating system (OS) that enables role-based installations.

Server Core contains only a subset of Windows’ code base and allows administrators to create Web servers, file servers, and print servers without extensive coding that bogs down deployment, Wittman said.

She said Micorsoft’s PowerShell command line and scripting tool has also been incorporated into Longhorn “to provide administrators with a more manageable interface.”

One Canadian analyst said traditional graphic user interfaces (GUI), while appealing to non-technical users, can be cumbersome for administrators accustomed to using command lines.

“Most administrators who build tools prefer to type out command lines rather than spend 10 minutes clicking on boxes and pulling down tabs,” said Vince Londini, research analyst, Info-Tech Research Group Inc., London, Ont.

Windows Vista’s Network Access Protection (NAP) feature was also built into Longhorn to allow users to secure private networks, according to Wittman.

She said NAP enables administrators to create customized policies to govern access to or communication with the network.

The application can automatically update compliant computers or confine non-compliant machines to a restricted area.

Londini said tools similar to NAP were developed by third-party vendors in the past. “Now Microsoft has realized they can embed the feature into their product and offer greater value.”

Microsoft also released a new Read Only Domain Controller (RODC), which makes it easy for organizations to host a restricted replica of the active directory services in locations where security cannot be guaranteed, said Wittman.

Prior to this release, she said, users in a location without adequate domain security had to authenticate over a wide area network (WAN) – a solution that was not often efficient. A read-only database replica enables faster logon times but protects the active directory from unauthorized users, the Microsoft Canada executive said.

She said to improve network flexibility, Longhorn features a Terminal Server Gateway that provides remote device users centralized access to individual applications.

With this feature, applications running remotely on a user’s computer have the look and feel of local applications. Users can access these centralized resources from the Internet, without using a virtual private network (VPN) or opening unwanted ports on firewalls.

The Longhorn improvements are targeted at organizations operating numerous remote locations , according to one Canadian construction company that has signed on for Microsoft’s early tester program.

“Longhorn’s design speaks to the needs of companies requiring centralized deployment and control for multiple remote branches,” said Shane Crawford, manager, infrastructure, PCL Constructors Inc., in Edmonton.

For instance, he said, the RODC will enable faster access to the network but cut the need for setting up extensive security structures. “We can provide fast access without the giving users too much authority.”

Another feature Crawford favours is Longhorn’s ability to deploy applications and servers with minimal code work.

He said PCL operates more than 300 servers in some 150 job sites across North America. Each job site can have one to two servers. The company deploys up to two servers every week and takes down servers at about the same rate.

Setting up a new server can take anywhere from three hours to two days when working from scratch, Crawford noted. “Longhorn has a suite of imaging tools that eliminates the need to enter new codes every time a server is rolled out.”

Many clients are demanding dependable imaging tools, according to IT integrator Compugen Inc., of Richmond Hill, Ont.

“Administrators want consistent and predictable deployment methods,” said Marty Grosh, director, enterprise solutions, Compugen.

PCL is currently using Windows Server 2003 R2 and will be working with Compugen on an eight-month program to test Longhorn.

Londini said Windows Server virtualization also appears to be on track for release after Longhorn’s roll out.

Virtualization is a technique that enables the creation of virtual versions of operating systems, servers, applications and devices. The technology makes it possible to run multiple versions of an OS on one server. The technology, according to analysts, is ideal for today’s data centres.

Microsoft will add hypervisor technology to Longhorn.

“Hypervisor enables the same processor to run different operating systems, such as Linux and Windows, thereby allowing customers to ring out greater use from their hardware,” said Londini.

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