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Microsoft offers peek at future wares

May 12, 20033 mins
Data CenterMicrosoftSecurity

REDMOND, WASH. – Microsoft last week gave a glimpse, but few details, of two technologies that could help corporate users better manage and secure their networks.

At its annual WinHEC conference, the company demonstrated its Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), a self-managing environment, and its Next Generation Secure Computing Base (NGSCB), a combination of hardware and software for partitioning dedicated space on operating systems for secure execution.

The demonstrations proved that the technologies are evolving but also show that Microsoft has a long way to go in defining these plans and putting all the pieces in place. Experts say this will require cooperation from hardware manufacturers and software developers.

“This all seems like a huge undertaking [for end users],” says Jeff Allred, manager of network services for Duke University Cancer Center in Durham, N.C. “The idea behind Palladium [the code name for NGSCB] is a good one, but I want to see how it translates to shrink-wrapped products.”

Allred says there are few Microsoft customers that could think about putting DSI components into place because it would take retrofitting or replacing existing infrastructure.

DSI is Microsoft’s foray into utility computing, where it is trying to catch up with rivals such as IBM and Sun. The DSI architecture, which was introduced in March, includes System Definition Model (SDM), an XML-based technology that will let Windows-based applications, operating systems and management tools communicate with each other to keep a network running smoothly.

“DSI is very analogous to the early days of .Net,” says Dwight Davis, an analyst with Summit Strategies. “It’s a sweeping vision and it’s not really clear how you get from Point A to Point B.”

At the show, Microsoft displayed a software prototype called Dynamic Data Center (DDC) that uses SDM and is an extension of forthcoming provisioning technology called Automated Deployment Services. There, DDC was used to create a self-managing environment using HP Storage Works arrays, HP ProLiant Servers and HP ProCurve switches.

To roll out an application, DDC allocated servers, initiated an operating system installation, and configured the storage array and network switches as part of automating a process that could take days to complete manually, Microsoft says.

“This is our first proof of concept that shows how DSI plays out for the customer,” says Bob O’Brien, group product manager for Windows Server.

Microsoft gave a similar proof of concept with NGSCB. The company demonstrated its software called nexus, which creates a secure section on operating systems dedicated to single applications. The demonstration required emulation software to mimic the hardware requirements to support NGSCB, which include chips in development by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.

Microsoft plans to release an NGSCB software developer’s kit in October and have the technology ready for the Longhorn release of Windows, which is slated for 2005.

“The biggest challenge is for Microsoft to define what NGSCB is and what are the benefits,” says Chris Christiansen, an analyst with IDC. “It’s the equivalent of a hammer, and customers and partners have to figure out where the nails are.”

But Christiansen says the technology could have tremendous benefits for corporate security, especially securing endpoints such as laptops and other devices that are routinely entry points for malicious code.

“[NGSCB] is a breakthrough,” said Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chief software architect, during his keynote presentation. “It’s a breakthrough that will allow for privacy guarantees, will allow for document distribution control.”