Get ready for Windows .Net Server

Windows .Net Server, scheduled to ship in the second half of this year, was code-named Whistler and went by the working titles Windows 2002 and Windows XP Server, until Microsoft Corp. decided to add the .Net label to most of its products as part of its strategy of promoting Web services.

Thus, the biggest change in Windows .Net Server, compared with Windows 2000 Servers, is that the new product ships with embedded Web services technology. Specifically, .Net Server will be the first server operating system from Microsoft to ship with native support for .Net Framework, a set of infrastructure tools needed to run .Net applications.

.Net Framework, which shipped as a separate software package early this year, is required for running .Net applications. It includes the common runtime library to run code in multiple languages, including C#, C, C++, Visual Basic and COBOL. .Net Framework also provides a set of class libraries for building Web services.

"Windows .Net Server is just part of the bigger .Net umbrella, which we're excited about," says Brian Farrey, president of TMP Technologies, the IT unit of TMP Worldwide, which is the parent company of the Monster.com job board.

Monster.com is beta-testing Windows .Net Server on about a half-dozen of its several hundred Windows servers, as part of an effort to build Web services to which business partners can connect, for a fee, for instance, to build applications that automate uploading resumes.

The framework will be available as an add-on for other versions of Windows, but its inclusion in Windows .Net is expected to drive further acceptance of .Net applications. Over time, as Windows .Net becomes the standard Windows server platform, developers will be able to assume its presence when they write applications for Windows, analysts say.

The .Net Framework on Windows .Net Server will likely provide better integration, robustness, reliability and performance than running the framework on other servers, says Alex Feinman, senior software engineer for Corrigo of Redwood City, Calif., an application service provider that's beta-testing Windows .Net Server.

Beyond Web services

Windows .Net Server is not just dedicated to Web services. It will be a fully functional server operating system, hosting applications and Web sites, and running file and print services. And it features improved manageability, stability and performance.lInternet Information Services (IIS) Version 6, which is included in Windows .Net Server, has a new process model. "It allows you to fence off processes, so if you have a process or application that is behaving poorly, you can take the process or application down without having to bring the entire Web site down," says Bob O'Brien, group product manager for Microsoft Windows .Net Server division.

"In cases like memory leaks, IIS can cycle itself down gracefully and bring up a new instance. You don't have to have someone in the network group go out and reboot. That is a great advantage," says Christopher Bowen, principal software engineer at Monster.com.

-- The operating system also improves management of Dynamic Link Libraries, to avoid so-called "DLL Hell" problems, where conflicting DLLs result in application errors, he says.

-- Windows .Net Server does not require a hardware upgrade when migrating from Win 2000, says Dustin Sauter, enterprise systems engineer at Wells Fargo. "We're not seeing a real performance hit, which is kind of nice, because normally a server upgrade requires a hardware upgrade as well." The minimum requirement for the latest beta version of Windows .Net Server are a 133-MHz processor, with at least 550MHz processor speed recommended; 128M bytes RAM minimum with at least 256M bytes recommended and 1.5G byte disk storage available for setup.

Sauter says that Wells Fargo is primarily interested in Windows .Net Server to improve its Active Directory deployment. Current versions of Active Directory have a limit of 5,000 users per group. The company, with 120,000 users, has Windows .Net Server installed on about 55 servers, including 20 Active Directory Domain Controllers and the rest hosting applications such as file and print servers, Web servers and SQL Server.

-- Windows .Net Server offers improved performance over Win 2000, Corrigo's Feinman says. Simply transferring code from Win 2000 to equivalent machines with Windows .Net Server resulted in a 15 percent to 20 percent performance improvement using Windows .Net Server Beta 3.

"That was pretty strange to see because it was prerelease code. I wasn't expecting it to be optimized. Which means that when they release it, it will be even faster," Feinman says. Corrigo has about 20 servers, 18 of which run Win 2000, and has been beta-testing Windows .Net Server on about a half-dozen machines.

-- Windows .Net Server adds new functionality designed to improve availability. The operating system supports hot-swap memory, memory mirroring and HotPlug PCI to allow replacement of networking, storage and other PCI components without taking down the system, Microsoft says.

Windows XP linkage

Until now, Windows XP has been primarily a consumer product; Microsoft has not been pushing it for corporations. That changes with Windows .Net Server, which has functionality that works best with XP on the desktop.

XP with Windows .Net Server will let network administrators set policies and manage user desktops in groups. And systems administrators can disable software remotely and prevent it from running on an end user's PC, Microsoft says.

Shadow Copy Restore lets end users keep older versions of files on the server. Users who make changes to a file can go back and restore an older version. That functionality requires XP on the desktop.

Windows Media Player, which is Windows .Net Server functionality designed to stream multimedia over a corporate intranet, will provide XP users with instant-on playback, eliminating the initial buffering delay, Microsoft says. That feature is not available on other clients.

Slow deployment

But for all its new features, Windows .Net Server deployment is likely to be slow. Most users have not yet finished deploying Win 2000, says Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at IDC. "It's unlikely that people not even finished deploying Windows 2000 are going to stop what they're doing and start over again with the planning and testing of a new product," he says.

GetSmart.com of New York, a division of Workflow Management, which owns Standard Forms, is beta-testing Windows .Net Server but is in no rush to deploy it.

"In the last year and a half, we went from NT to 2000 to XP and now .Net Server. It's too much to swallow," says CIO Mark Resh. "We'll take our time and do it as we need it."

Many companies, such as Toyota Motor Sales USA of Irvine, Calif., will wait a while to be sure Windows .Net Server is stable. "A bleeding-edge environment has its pain," says David Nelson, national manager of enterprise architecture for the company.

Microsoft says companies that have deployed Win 2000 initially should consider using Windows .Net Server in spots where its functionality is needed, such as for Web services, Active Directory or streaming multimedia.

Licensing issues

One feature of Windows .Net Server that could mean problems for some companies is the product activation. Windows .Net Server will incorporate the controversial product-activation mechanism that's in Windows XP. To prevent piracy, Microsoft Corp. will let users who don't have a Windows volume license use Windows .Net Server for a trial period and then require them to obtain an identification number from Microsoft to continue to use the software. The operating system tracks the configuration of the server it's running on, and deactivates if it's copied to another, unlicensed server.

A problem can arise if a user makes extensive hardware modifications to the server running Windows .Net Server: The software might think it's been copied to another server and deactivate its license. Microsoft assures users that, in that case, the users can contact Microsoft to obtain an additional license number at no additional cost; but some customers are skeptical.

Companies with volume licenses will not be required to use product activation.

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