MS rolls out server roadmap, pegs Longhorn Server

Microsoft Corp. Thursday for the first time announced the timeframe for shipment of its Longhorn Server and unveiled a partial list of its capabilities as part of a five-year roadmap that includes a plan to release feature-packed server updates between major versions of the operating system.

Longhorn Server will officially ship in 2007, according to Microsoft, and feature a Web services application platform including support for Indigo, a sort of Web services middleware being developed by Microsoft. Longhorn also will include new management capabilities that begin to support Microsoft’s ambitious Dynamic Systems Initiative, this will include allowing servers to be set-up for certain roles, such as DNS and IPv6 support, and run only the code needed for that task. Microsoft will extend scripting capabilities, and enhance automation, monitoring, diagnostic and settings management. The server, which will have its first beta next year and a second beta in 2006, will support new hardware and standards, which are not yet specified, dynamic partitioning of Windows mainframes, diskless blades and PCI-Express.

Microsoft first verified it was working on a Longhorn server more than a year ago after first saying no such server was in development. The server is now being developed in lock step with the Longhorn client, which will ship six to 12 months before the server, Microsoft officials said.

“We felt it was time to paint the picture for the roadmap versus all the speculation that was going on,” said Samm DiStasio, group product manager for the Windows Server division. “The timing is right in that we are figuring out some of the key things for the server.”

In 2008 or 2009, Longhorn will get an “Update” release, a set feature enhancements that can be added to the base platform.

The Update releases are a new concept for Microsoft and are an outgrowth of the current Feature Pack releases Microsoft makes available on the Web.

“These Updates are not as big and scary as replacing a whole operating system,” said Steve Kleynhans, an analyst with the Meta Group. “I think it is a good move for Microsoft. In the enterprise, people are really afraid of going back and revalidating the platform. If Microsoft changes the OS, the enterprise has to recertify that the server works with its applications.”

Microsoft has already shipped a number of Feature Packs for Windows Server 2003, including Windows SharePoint Services and Automated Deployment Services. Windows Update Services, a patch management tool, is the next Feature Pack and is expected to ship by year-end.

“We will start to roll Feature Packs into Server Updates,” DiStasio said. The first one is planned next year for Windows Server 2003 and will include security and workload optimizations. “Any given major release of the OS will have at least one Update release,” DiStasio said. Updates would not have a set timetable for release but would come out 18 to 24 months after the initial release of a server, he said.

Feature Packs will continue to be released individually on an incremental basis, and will roll up into the Update release along with some previously unreleased features, DiStasio said. Microsoft will continue its separate bug-fix Service Update and Service Pack releases.

The Updates will be made available to customers with Software Assurance contracts for free, but will be sold as a new platform to customers without maintenance contracts. However, despite being sold as a new platform, the Updates will be on the same support lifecycle path as the original platform, which is five-years of support from the day the server was first released.

While details on Longhorn were a highlight, the roadmap actually starts this year with the synchronized release of Service Pack 1 for Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2003 for 64-bit Extended Systems.

Service Pack 1 adds security features much like those found in Windows XP Service Pack 2, including blocking of RPC and DCOM traffic that could cause some application compatibility issues, and an isolation technology that will quarantine and check security settings before allowing computers using VPNs to get on the network. Service Pack 1 also includes a Security Configuration Wizard, a utility that lays out a detailed configuration of a server based on the task it will perform.

In 2005, the first Longhorn Server beta will ship along with Windows Server 2003 Update, which is codenamed R2. The Update will add support for wired and wireless connections to the isolation technology introduced in Service Pack 1. R2 is also the first release to include Trustbridge, a directory-enabled middleware that supports the federating of identities across corporate boundaries. Also included will be WAN utilization features, including tools to optimize branch office server deployments, and expanded use of Microsoft’s HTTP over RPC technology first introduced in Exchange Server to secure application to application communication.

In 2006, the second Longhorn beta and Service Pack 2 for Windows Server 2003 will ship and in 2007 Longhorn Server will be released, which includes all the features introduced in R2, followed by the first Service Pack in 2008 and the first Update likely in 2009.

Even though the years on the roadmap represent the first comprehensive set of server commitments for the next five years, Microsoft is still hedging its bets.

“These are the dates we are putting out, but customer feedback will still determine when something goes out the door,” DiStasio said.

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