.NET server strategy revealed

The enterprise server market is evolving – and only through a collaborative effort will the IT industry achieve the goal of cohesive management of servers across the enterprise, Microsoft Corp. said at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), held last month in Seattle.

The annual industry conference detailed Microsoft’s strategy for hardware running its Windows operating systems.

“We want to be more transparent – we have conferences like this to tell you exactly what we’re doing,” said Jim Allchin, platforms vice-president for Microsoft.

Allchin implored developers to take a more “holistic” view of the technical, business and human factors in the product design process. Developers need to focus on improving PC diagnostics and move towards self-configuring and self-tuning systems, Allchin said.

“We’re investing quite a bit of resources to try to work with a set of partners to try to address the virtualization of the storage space. And when we take it from being extremely proprietary and knock it back a little bit so a lot of you can play in areas that the PC industry hasn’t been able to play in. So the result for consumers and the data centre is going to be dramatic,” Allchin said.

Be it high-end 64-bit or rack-mounted, the industry needs to collectively develop the “right sized” server, Allchin said, adding that dense form factors, robustness, interoperability and easy deployment are goals hardware makers should strive for.

“Automation is key to data centre agility…together we need to work on resiliency, security and reliability,” Allchin said. “We’re adding the ability to add memory in Windows .NET server but there’s a lot more to do if we want hot swapping of the CPUs in the other markets.”

Microsoft Windows Server vice-president William Veghte said the .NET enterprise server strategy builds on the Windows 2000 Server family of operating systems and centres around the evolving role of the server and its potential to quickly Web-enable the enterprise, Veghte said.

Microsoft’s investment in the .NET framework, Visual Studio and platform development tools require developer community support to ensure rapid development of new Windows-enabled solutions, Veghte said.

“The relationship where there are many servers participating and working together…that’s where we want to go,” Veghte said.

The industry needs to collaborate on developing technologies (network attached storage and virtual private network appliances, Web blades and ultra-dense servers) that enable more manageable systems and bring appliance-like features (watchdog timers, boot failover) into systems design.

The wireless market, and its anticipated growth, was another topic highlighted at the conference.

“There needs to be simplicity in wireless LAN and WAN,” said Pradeep Bahl, product unit manager for Microsoft. Bahl noted the goal for wireless should be “ubiquitous, hassle-free connectivity for the user.”

Microsoft announced that the successor to Windows XP (code-named Longhorn) is slated for release in late 2004. Bahl revealed that Microsoft is also developing PC technology that would extend wireless networks, adding the current Windows XP’s zero-configuration model is awaiting vendor support.

Wireless technologies such as LAN, WAN, and PAN (personal area network) are emerging, Bahl said, noting that as prices drop, there has been rapid LAN Wi-Fi (802.11) adoption in the enterprise space.

“The price points for access points and cards is dropping, Bahl said, adding that Microsoft recently deployed more than 31,000 clients over 3,000 access points.

“The industry momentum is with Wi-Fi…most PC OEMs are embedding 802.11,” Bahl said. Faster .11g and .11a technologies are on the horizon and will allow backward compatibility and dual mode for easy roaming, he added.

In the wireless PAN market, Bahl recognized that Bluetooth adoption has been “shaky” but noted the cable replacement technology and migration towards IP has allowed new devices to appear.

Future scenarios for wireless include OS power optimizations, improved Windows control over network adapters, and inter-enterprise roaming agreements, he added.

Bahl admitted that it would be awhile before “seamless” connectivity between wireless protocols becomes a reality. Applications will need to be able to adapt in order to enhance the user experience, he noted.

Design requirements for wireless include zero-configuration, tight security, and “always connected” capabilities, Bahl said, adding that future applications hardware designers will need to focus on creating products that feature a standardized security model and support strong authentication schemes, including single backend authentication for WLANs and WWANs.

IT departments demand easier management and diagnostics regardless of which network, Bahl added.