WINHEC - Microsoft lays out Windows Server future

Microsoft last week laid out its road map for various versions of Longhorn over the next two years, including the elimination of 32-bit versions, and christened the new operating system Windows Server 2008.

In addition, company officials for the first time admitted they may have shot too high on the feature set for the Windows Server Virtualization (WSV) add-on to Longhorn, but said the remaining virtualization capabilities would still appeal to the broad market.

The announcements came at the company's 16th annual WinHEC conference and the last that will feature Bill Gates as its keynote speaker. In July 2008, Gates will become a part-time employee and focus most of his time on philanthropic work.

Company officials reiterated that Windows Server 2008 and Windows Home Server would ship this year. In 2008, Microsoft will ship Centro, the code name for a server for small and midsize businesses, and Cougar, the next version of Small Business Server, and the next version of Windows Storage Server. These servers will be based on Windows Server 2008.

In 2009, Windows Server 2008 R2 will be released in 64-bit only and the era of 32-bit Windows server operating systems will be over.

The R2 version of the server is part of an interim release cycle Microsoft established in May 2004 that called for a major operating system upgrade every four years with a lesser R2 release in between.

"I believe the future will be standard and widely available software running on industry standard hardware," said Bill Laing, general manager of the Windows server division, during his day-two keynote address.

Based on Microsoft's current release cycle, the replacement for Windows Server 2008 would ship in 2011. Laing did not mention that next release.

What he did mention later in an interview with Network World is why the company two weeks ago pared back the feature set for WSV, including Live Migration, which critics say was key for keeping up with competitor VMware.

In addition to Live Migration, which lets users move workloads between virtualized servers without any downtime, Microsoft also cut the ability to hot-add resources, such as storage and memory, and reduced the number of processors supported from 32 to 16.

Laing called Live Migration "a great demo feature," and said the company had focused too much education on it at the expense of detailing other migration features.

Critics of Microsoft's current Virtual Server software often cite its lack of live migration capabilities as one reason it is not ready to support performance sensitive or critical applications.

Laing said WSV will ship with a feature that lets users pause a virtual machine and restart it on another machine.

"Depending on the size of the virtual machine it is one to two minutes of downtime to move a virtual machine," he said. "I have not talked to too many customers who want to move a virtual machine while it is running."

Laing said the decision to cut the features came down to quality and the need to deliver a solid product out of the gate.

"We probably shot too high to do all these features in a version 1 in this new product," Laing said. "You can never go back and add in the quality. That factored into making these feature cuts."

During his keynote address, Laing said Microsoft will license virtualization based on running instances of servers and not installations. Instances are images and copies of the original software stored on a local or storage network.

Overall, he stressed that Windows Server 2008 is built on a foundation of management, including server core technology, security such as BitLocker drive encryption and read-only domain controllers, and performance, such as IPv6 capabilities.

He said in addition to the move to 64-bit-only servers, multicore technology is another important area of investment for Microsoft's server and tools division, which is an US$11 billion business for the company.

"I think we are going to start to see a significant move to 64-bit server software," Laing said, citing the availability of 64-bit apps such as Exchange Server 2007 and SQL Server.

Microsoft does not anticipate any driver issues such as the ones that have plagued Vista. "I don't know of any major drivers that will not be there and since they have to be signed drivers we think they will be of high quality," he said.

In terms of multicore technology, "Windows Server applications have always been designed for multiprocessing ... they are multicore-ready," he said.

Laing said Microsoft going forward will focus on servers ranging from small home servers to large enterprise-class servers. He showed a demo using an NEC dual-core server rack to highlight failover and auto-reconfiguring capabilities that have been a hallmark feature of mainframe systems.

He also pointed out configuration features in Internet Information Server 7.0, which ships with Windows Server 2008 and offers major performance enhancements.

Microsoft also is working in a number of other areas, including power consumption features to reduce the amount of energy required to run servers, and Terminal Service enhancements around remote application capabilities.

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