Datacenter Server Is Mostly a Mystery

Five months have passed since Microsoft Corp. announced what could be one of its most ambitious Windows NT designs to date, yet most details of Windows 2000 Datacenter Server remain secret.

Five months have passed since Microsoft Corp. announced what could be one of its most ambitious Windows NT designs to date, yet most details of Windows 2000 Datacenter Server remain secret.

Even as beta 3 testing for Windows 2000 is about to start, many in the industry still don’t know what Datacenter Server is or what capabilities it will include. Microsoft has said little to elaborate on its initial proclamation that Windows 2000 Datacenter Server would be "the most powerful and functional server operating system" it has ever offered.

The admission of a vice president of marketing with a major Windows NT and Unix server vendor, who asked not to be identified, typifies the confusion in the industry. "We’re not quite sure what [Datacenter Server] is," the executive says. He explains that his company is more focused on the release of the base Windows 2000 product. "We think that Windows 2000 is going to be able to deliver several capabilities that customers are looking for and that will really justify it’s place in mission critical environments."

Michel Gambier, product manager for Windows NT and Windows 2000 enterprise marketing at Microsoft, says the company is educating the vendor community about the contents and benefits of Datacenter Server, which is expected to ship 60 days after the general release of Windows 2000.

"We’re working right now on developing a different kind of relationship with our hardware partners for [Datacenter Server]," Gambier explains. "We’re talking about providing services and hardware platforms that are tailored for the data center, [which means] more management, more features for reliability and services that include 7x24 operations."

Microsoft is greatly limiting the hardware it will certify for Datacenter Server in an effort to provide a far more stable platform (see main story).

Some kernel-level enhancements across Windows 2000 will likely benefit systems that use Datacenter Server. For example, Windows 2000 will incorporate Intel’s physical address extensions to provide very large memory support for up to 64 GB of memory by expanding the number of bits that can be used to address memory from 32 to 36 bits. Windows NT 4.0 has a limit of 3 GB, even with the Enterprise Edition’s memory tuning enhancement.

Datacenter Server will ship with support for up to 16 processors in an SMP configuration, and will include load-balancing software and a "job object" API to let administrators assign job processes to specific processors in an SMP configuration. Gambier says Datacenter Server also will have additional clustering support, although he offered no details.

Even without a lot of solid information, Bryan Cox, product manager for future NetServer systems with Hewlett-Packard Co., is quick to seize upon the promise of Datacenter Server.

"Why put an eight-way kernel on a two-way machine?" he asks. "With the higher-level machines there’s more processes to keep track of, and so [Microsoft will] segment their operating systems into more granular versions capable of scaling more effectively."