Microsoft renames server platform

Highlights plan for delivering future OS upgrades

Microsoft on Wednesday dropped the .Net moniker from its line of enterprise servers and will now call the group of 13 products the Windows Server System.

The move not only signals the company’s attempt to clarify its disjointed lineup of server infrastructure products, but also reinforces the fact that in the future, Microsoft plans to deliver incremental upgrades to the OS to keep pace with development of new technologies that make WSS tick.

Last month, Microsoft executives said they were in the process of deciding how to deliver new functionality to the OS between the next two major releases, the first of which was originally planned to be client only (code named Longhorn) and the second that was server only (code named Blackcomb).

The plan for WSS reinforces the notion that Microsoft will have to deliver OS features between major OS upgrades. Microsoft is already committed to delivering functionality upgrades to Windows Server 2003 after it ships next week.

With WSS, Microsoft did not introduce any new technologies, or change pricing or licensing for its products, but will use WSS as a brand name in an attempt to erase confusion created when it lumped the servers under the .Net banner.

“.Net Enterprise Servers was never a brand, it wasn’t comprehensive,” says Barry Goffe, group manager of the server platform division at Microsoft. “We’ve been inconsistent about what is in and what is out of that lineup. We’ve done a lot of things seemingly in a vacuum.”

Goffe says Windows Server System is intended to help customers understand the Windows platform and where it is headed.

The idea of a “system” has also been attached to Microsoft’s Office. The company recently branded Office 2003 and a group of supporting products namely OneNote and InfoPath as Office System 2003.

“There are two things. We are making it crystal clear that Windows Server 2003 is our underlying platform for our overall strategy. And we want to clarifying our promise to IT that we will reduce cost and complexity of our infrastructure,” says Goffe. Intergration, interoperability and comprehensive infrastructure are the three main themes, he says.

The WSS family is made up of Windows Server 2003, BizTalk Server, Commerce Server, Content Management Server, Host Integration Server, SQL Server, Exchange Server, SharePoint Portal Server, Project Server, Internet Security and Acceleration Server, Systems Management Server, Operations Manager and Application Center.

The WSS lineup also will include technology that is nearing shipment or in development, including the Real-Time Communications Server 2003 (RTC); Automated Deployment Services (ADS) for automatically installing the OS on servers; Rights Management Services (RMS), and System Center, a combination of System Management Sever and Microsoft Operations Manager.

WSS also will encompass other initiatives such as Microsoft’s Jupiter project, an integration of BizTalk Server, Commerce Server and Content Management Server; and Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), which is focused on creating a platform to support a self-managing environment.

Microsoft says XML and Web services, which it positions under its .Net banner, will be the glue that provides interoperability to the platform.

The effort to create a comprehensive platform highlights the fact that Microsoft is headed toward a new era in delivering updates to its operating system.

“You are seeing changes in the way we introduce new features to the OS with ADS, RTC and RMS,” says Goffe.

That change is marked by delivering feature sets independent of a major OS upgrades, something Microsoft said it would not do when it first released Windows 2000 because customers were opposed to feature upgrades as part of service packs.

While those feature upgrades now may be key to evolving the WSS infrastructure they may also serve to put IT administrators into a cycle of upgrading operating systems on a piecemeal basis.

“Our research shows that it is about 40 months between major Windows versions,” says Michael Cherry, an analyst with consulting firm Directions on Microsoft. He says Microsoft will need to add functionality to the base platform on a shorter cycle, as evidenced by the Longhorn client version of the OS, which likely won’t ship until late 2004.

“Longhorn will change the file system and they will have to do something at the server level to support that,” says Cherry.

The same feature upgrades will be true in order to support development around management and real-time communications, says Cherry. Last month, Microsoft executives said the company is again considering a server version of Longhorn or an incremental upgrade to Windows Server 2003 to support new features in the Longhorn client.

The concern from IT may well be how much of a testing and deployment burden piecemeal upgrades present as compared to monolithic upgrades done at one time.

“You’ll have to judge it based on how many servers you have to touch to roll out new functionality,” says Cherry.

Microsoft’s Goffe says the other side of the coin is “do you want to wait three years for that one feature.”

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