Microsoft Touts Windows Server 2008

Microsoft releases its next-generation Windows platform, highlighted by Windows Server 2008.

Microsoft Corp., Citrix Systems Inc., Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), and a bevy of other industry heavyweights -- including applications giant SAP AG -- helped Redmond showcase its next-generation Windows platform, Windows Server 2008, along with Microsoft's Windows Server 2008-ready Visual Studio 2008, and SQL Server 2008 products.

Almost five years ago (April 2003), Redmond launched Windows Server 2003. That product arrived in a vastly different application ecosystem: virtualization wasn't the juggernaut it is now, and Microsoft's .NET vision -- embodied in its .NET Framework releases -- was still in development. Moreover, Microsoft and Win32 ruled the consumer and enterprise application roosts. Redmond is still the dominant force in consumer computing -- as well as one of a handful of forces-to-be-reckoned with in the enterprise -- but it's also been floundering recently.

The Windows Vista release, for example, has been called both bloated and kludgey. Microsoft's repeated hemming and hawing about virtualization -- which ultimately culminated in its decision to offer its Hyper-V Server hypervisor component separately from Windows Server -- has also been confusing. (see http://esj.com/Case_Study/article.aspx?EditorialsID=2901).

In other words, industry watchers say, it's a particularly fraught time for Microsoft and Windows Server 2008. It's on the virtualization front, in particular, that Microsoft's traditional hegemony is most imperiled, experts argue.

Five years after Windows Server 2003, says Charles King, a principal with consultancy Pund-IT, x86 chips from Intel Corp. or Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Inc. are the undisputed kings of both desktops and backend servers. The same couldn't be said -- in the latter case, anyway -- five years ago. But the ascendancy of x86 systems has also come at a price, especially in terms of real-estate and power and cooling requirements. The latter factors, in fact, have spurred interest in, and adoption of, virtualization solutions.

"In the nearly five years since Microsoft launched Windows Server 2003, much has changed in the server business. Scale-out systems based on Intel and AMD x86 processors have moved steadily from the edge of networks into company data centers, becoming a high-revving engine driving healthy server sales for vendors and ISVs," King comments. "Even as the capabilities of x86 servers have shined since 2003, helping them to play critical, valuable roles across many business processes, their shortcomings have also become increasingly apparent. The markedly low system utilization -- typically in the 5 [to] 15 percent range -- so common in single server/application x86 solutions is a mere fraction of that offered by highly provisioned enterprise servers."

King, for his part, thinks that product measures up pretty well, all things considered. "Compared to its 2003 predecessors, Windows Server 2008 aims to provide better management functions and features, improved security, enhanced use of IT assets via [Microsoft's] Hyper-V virtualization technologies, and the ability to leverage new Web-based and business intelligence solutions," he says. "In combination, Windows Server 2008, Visual Studio 2008, and SQL Server 2008 form the foundation of the Dynamic IT strategy that Microsoft hopes will expand the company's presence in IT infrastructures of every kind." That's the positive spin.

King doesn't anticipate completely smooth sailing, however. Virtualization, then as now, is a tricky navigational issue for Microsoft: "There will be challenges, of course, particularly for the company's virtualization strategy. Though Hyper-V is an assured step up from prior Microsoft offerings, delivery delays have let the company's chief virtualization competitor, VMware, become increasingly entrenched in the enterprise data centers that Microsoft covets."

Partner Support Critical

In the final analysis, Windows Server 2008's success could hinge on partner support. When Microsoft wanted to make the enterprise case for its Windows NT 4.0 operating system, for example, it enlisted enterprise heavyweights Tandem Computer Corp. (now HP), Digital Equipment Corp. (now HP), Unisys Corp., and HP itself to help burnish its fledgling NT 4.0 operating system with more than just a patina of enterprise legitimacy.

With Windows Server 2008, Microsoft again returns to its partner standbys, King argues. Both Dell and HP were on hand to tout their own Windows Server 2008-ready solutions, for example -- and both can be expected to aggressively push next-gen Windows Server to customers.

Both companies are also innovating within the context of the Windows Server 2008 launch. Consider Dell, which nominally touted the availability of Windows Server 2008 across its complete PowerEdge server line. There was more to Dell's announcement, however, as King himself points out.

"[W]hile Dell's announcement largely supports Microsoft's platform strategy, the company is also using Windows Server 2008 to extend its own initiatives. Dell's efforts to improve data center energy efficiency have been particularly aggressive, and its coupling of Windows Server 2008 features with its own Energy Smart solutions qualifies as a canny effort to build effective synergies," King points out.

"Similarly, the company aims to leverage Windows Server 2008 adoption to extend its Global Infrastructure Consulting Services. If the company succeeds, what is good for Dell by extension becomes good for Microsoft, too."

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