UPDATE: Microsoft

It took three years, 10,000 developers and testers and 50 million lines of code for Microsoft Corp. to develop Windows Server 2003. On Thursday, the company finally unveiled this product in what it called its largest product launch ever.

The much-anticipated Windows Server 2003 was kicked off in 173 countries Thursday including a Canadian launch in Toronto spearheaded by Frank Clegg, president of Microsoft Canada, along with Microsoft’s equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners, including Intel Corp. and Hewlett Packard Co. At the same time, Microsoft is launching Visual Studio .Net 2003, and a 64-bit SQL Server Enterprise Edition.

“Since the dot-com boom, companies are experiencing IT fatigue,” Klegg said, explaining that companies don’t want to jump on every new technology that comes along – they want proof the product will strategically benefit their organization before they make an investment.

Five editions of Windows Server 2003 will be available – the Datacenter Edition in both 32-bit and 64-bit; the Enterprise Edition; the Standard Edition; the Web Edition; and the Small Business Server Edition. So far, the feedback from both analysts and users has been positive.

“In the sense that if you consider it from an architectural perspective, [Windows Server 2003 is] not what you would call a major upgrade,” said Peter Pawlak, lead analyst, server applications at Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm that focuses solely on Microsoft, in Kirkland, Wash.

“But on the other hand this is a very important product because of all the things that happened with trustworthy computing. It’s much [more] secure than any previous version. It’s been very picked over, and in terms of code stability and code security, this should be a big step upward,” he explained.

Its enterprise customers agreed. Philip de Connick, systems architect at Intrawest Corp., based in Vancouver said Windows Server 2003 is much more secure right off the bat than Windows NT, which was running on 400 servers in his organization.

Intrawest runs resorts across North America, including Mont Tremblant in Quebec, and Whistler/Blackcomb in British Columbia, and has offices across the continent and in Europe.

“Windows NT is installed by default in an open format,” he said, explaining that a server is susceptible to attacks until it is locked down. By contrast, Windows Server 2003 is installed in its most locked down form. And administrators can assign a server a role, such as file and printing, and Windows 2003 would automatically open up the necessary channels to run it.

Bruce Campbell, director of relationship management at Intrawest in Vancouver, said the company has grown through acquisitions, and as a result had many disparate networks. He said the company wanted to clean up its NT environment, which was starting to become unmanageable.

Intrawest considered migrating to Windows Server 2000, but realized that by the time implementation was completed the technology would already be old news. So it instead decided to hold out for the 2003 release, de Connick said.

Right now, the company is using Windows Server 2003 to run its domain controllers, which was made up of 153 servers. It has reduced that number down to 30.

Yet, de Connick said Active Directory 2003 was the primary factor that enticed Intrawest to Windows Server 2003. By helping the company standardize management of servers and its network, its support and administration costs were reduced.

Another customer, Vancouver City Savings Credit Union (VanCity), based in Vancouver also wanted to centralize and consolidate management using Active Directory, and Windows Server 2003 gave it a 25 per cent increase in IT efficiency and an 80 per cent reduction in hardware spending, the company said.

With Windows Server 2003, Microsoft is really going after the Enterprise Unix space and the Linux space, analysts say.

“Microsoft is really delving into the enterprise. With this latest iteration of their operating system they’re improving security, improving availability and [adding] the Web services aspect that will enable companies to populate their data centres and their enterprise infrastructure solely on Microsoft platforms,” said Alan Freedman, research manager, infrastructure hardware at IDC Canada Ltd., in Toronto.

Clegg confirmed this. “We can handle any workload, in any configuration, in any environment…with partners like Intel and HP”, he said.

Notable upgrades to Windows Server 2003 include the addition of the Internet Information Server (IIS) 6.0 – for Web Services capabilities and added security – as well as the integration of Visual Studio .Net, and support for 64-bit, including Intel’s Itanium 2, and Advanced Micro Device Inc.’s Opteron.

According to Lenny Louis, product manager, Visual Studio .Net, Microsoft Canada in Toronto, the release of Visual Studio .Net 2003 can reduce time to market for developers significantly. It supports more than 24 programming languages and allows applications to be designed for not only Windows environments, but also for Internet and mobile environments.

Three versions will be available. First is the Enterprise Architect that is for building large-scale applications for infrastructure development, and it retails at $3,989. Next is the Enterprise Developer that enables rapid construction of XML Web services and enterprise applications – it costs $2,869. Finally, the Professional Edition allows developers to build XML Web services and applications for Internet devices and is priced at $1,729.

In terms of 64-bit, “I think that…is one of those areas that if you’re going to claim to be able to support the enterprise in the very highest levels of scalability, you’re going to have to do that,” Pawlak said.

While Microsoft has traditionally performed very well in the small- to medium-sized enterprise space, it has yet to crack the enterprise Unix core. Pawlak, however, thinks with this release it has a better shot due to Windows Server 2003’s increased security and reliability.

The company is also going after the Linux space by trying to convince prospective buyers that they can get better stability, better performance and less bugs than with Linux.

The question is, will consumers buy it? Pawlak says Windows Server 2003 has increased performance across the board including file and print services, Web services as a foundation for underlying applications such as SQL server, and networking and disk storage.

When asked if consumers would trust Microsoft to deliver a secure product with its less-than-stellar historical performance in security, Pawlak said that while customers are still wary, perceptions are already changing.

“The way that people get convinced is through experience, ” he said. “People are much more comfortable today running applications on Windows than they were two years ago. And the perception is that they’re still not up at the same level that Unix is. That perception is slowly changing – this [Windows Server 2003 family] will help change that, but it’s not going to change overnight, and there’s practically nothing Microsoft can do about it.”

Pawlak also predicts there won’t be a huge surge of users rushing out to deploy Windows Server 2003, and the target market are those currently running Windows NT because the life-cycle of NT is coming to an end.

To date, Microsoft says it has distributed about one million beta copies of Windows Server 2003. Also, through Microsoft’s worldwide Rapid Adoption program about 155 customers have deployed 9,493 servers running the operating system.

In addition, last week Microsoft announced it is dropping the name .Net Enterprise Servers and putting the products under the same umbrella as Windows Server 2003 – the Windows Server Family.

Included are products such as BizTalk Server, Commerce Server, Content Management Server, SQL Server data management software, Exchange Server, SharePoint Portal Server, Project Server, its management and security server software and its upcoming Real-Time Communications Server.

With 61 the company says 220 applications for Windows Server 2003 will be available at launch time, with only 50 of them being certified after 90 days, but Microsoft projects 1,500 apps will be available six months after launch.

For more information visit www.microsoft.ca.