Windows 2000 is Microsoft’s most significant product launch to date; a multi-purpose platform that the software giant is counting on to both cement its position of dominance on corporate desktops and extend its reach into enterprise data centers.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, then, that Unisys – with its reputation for excellence in many of the same vertical markets and enterprise data centers into which Microsoft would like to push its next-generation operating system – will likely play an important role in driving Windows 2000’s acceptance in mission-critical environments. Unisys and Microsoft have collaborated on Windows 2000 development at a number of different levels. The result, both companies hope, is a Windows 2000 operating system that is ready to take on all comers in the enterprise.
Windows 2000 Datacenter Server
The foundation of both Microsoft’s and Unisys’ high-end strategy is the forthcoming Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, which is expected to be released approximately 120 days after Windows 2000 Professional, Server and Advanced Server are unveiled.
Alternately, both Windows 2000 Server and Windows 2000 Advanced Server – which, itself, is based on Microsoft’s erstwhile Windows NT 4.0 Enterprise Edition product – extend Windows NT’s conventional strengths in low-end transaction processing, file and print, and mail and messaging implementations, providing out-of-the-box licensing support for four or eight processors, respectively.
Moreover, Windows 2000 Advanced Server features an enhanced implementation of the original Microsoft Cluster Services (MSCS) that first shipped with Windows NT 4.0 Enterprise Edition, as well as the addition of TCP/IP load-balancing services. While Windows 2000 Advanced Server’s MSCS functionality is still limited to two-node, shared-everything failover, it now boasts support for a new API – ClusterAPI – that makes it easier for developers to write cluster-aware applications.
Its Datacenter Server, however, takes Windows NT/2000 to places it’s never even dreamed of going. With support for up to 32 processors, the Windows 2000 Datacenter Server purports to target the high-end transaction processing, high-volume e-commerce and consolidated application serving environments for which, because of reliability and scalability issues, Windows NT 4.0 has proved inadequate.
For its part, Datacenter Server includes all of the features found in Windows 2000 Advanced Server, plus the notable addition of support for four-node clustering, support for up to 32 GB of RAM (Windows 2000 Advanced Server is architecturally limited to 4 GB of RAM), support for up to 32-node network load balancing, a new Winsock Direct for faster I/O performance and a Process Control Manager to allocate system resources.
As Irv Epstein, Vice President of Windows 2000 Program Management with Unisys, tells it, Datacenter Server is going to be the magic bullet that lets Microsoft compete for the first time directly against high-end RISC/UNIX vendors.
"With the TPC/C results that we demonstrated with Datacenter Server on an eight-way ES7000 box during the Windows 2000 launch [48,767 tpmC – a single-node record for Intel hardware], you’ve got comparative results with the highest-end UNIX systems," Epstein says. "And we also demonstrated a 16-processor system at the Windows 2000 launch that offers near-linear scalability."
Designing a Scalable Hardware Base
As PC server hardware has improved over the course of the past two years, Windows NT’s performance has also steadily ramped up. Consequently, many pundits who once questioned the scalability of Microsoft’s would-be enterprise OS began to question the limitations of Intel hardware. Because of the constraints of Intel’s venerable P6 bus – which is limited to an aggregate memory bandwidth of 3 GB/s in today’s configurations – Intel hardware has difficulty effectively scaling beyond eight nodes.
Enter Unisys’ cellular multiprocessing (CMP) architecture, a technology that represents the coalescence of mainframe and PC server hardware designs. If the Windows 2000 Datacenter Server will make Microsoft’s next-generation operating system scalable and reliable enough for the most demanding of enterprise environments, then Unisys’ CMP architecture may very well do the same for Intel hardware.
The cornerstone of Unisys’ CMP-related endeavors is the E7000 server, a 32-way machine that can be outfitted with up to eight four-processor modules that can be plugged into or pulled out of a CMP system – even while the other pieces of the system continue to run. The CMP system is highly customizable, and can be divided into up to eight system partitions, each of which is capable of running either Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000 – and each of which can also host Intel-compatible flavors of UNIX. Most importantly, when Intel ships its 64-bit Itanium processors later this year, the E7000 will be able to mix and match 32-bit and 64-bit processors.
According to Unisys’ Epstein, the Windows 2000 Datacenter Server and ES7000 combination is a value proposition that will finally allow customers to leverage existing investments in Microsoft technology by consolidating multiple servers on a larger box and easing their overall management burden.
"We think that many of our customers have been waiting to leverage their investments in Microsoft technology, and they’ve been waiting for the scale-up solution that will be led by the ES7000 and also the Windows 2000 Datacenter Server edition," Epstein says.
Moreover, adds David Friedlander, an analyst with Giga Information Group, the fortunes of Windows 2000 Datacenter Server are quite possibly linked inextricably with those of Unisys’ ES7000 platform, so much so that most customers who choose to deploy Windows 2000 Datacenter Server will look to do so on ES7000 hardware.
"Our assessment is that Unisys has probably a six- to 12-month lead, minimum, on building this type of system on Intel for Windows 2000," Friedlander concludes.
It’s the Directory, Stupid!
Windows NT 4.0’s existing domain infrastructure is notoriously complex, and beginning with Windows 2000, Microsoft is shipping its first-generation Active Directory enterprise directory services. In addition to simplifying management in the Windows 2000 world, Active Directory should also open the way for directory-enabled applications that can enhance collaboration among users, as well as pave the way for advanced, directory-aware e-commerce solutions.
For its part, Active Directory is an advanced, hierarchical directory service that provides the administrative underpinning for Microsoft’s Windows 2000 operating system. Active Directory maintains a database of information about the network resources scattered throughout an enterprise, and can manage users, groups, servers, printers and even entire networks as objects with distinct or inheritable permissions.
Active Directory is LDAP-compliant, leverages the Internet-standard Domain Naming System and – as with most Microsoft solutions – is more-or-less proprietary. At the moment, Active Directory runs only on Windows 2000 and offers minimal interoperability with directory services from other vendors, such as the Novell Directory Services from Novell.
Active Directory’s current lack of interoperability with other platforms might not be as serious a problem as it otherwise appears to be, however. According to Al Gillen, a research manager for server infrastructure software with market research firm, International Data Corp., most organizations that deploy Windows 2000 and Active Directory won’t do so without first thoroughly mapping out their implementation plans.
"Don’t forget that this is going to be a long transition, and remember that even if Active Directory is unable to interoperate with NDS or other directories, [because of planning and migration problems] it’s going to be probably six to 12 months from now before anybody is really impacted by this issue," Gillen explains.
And thanks to the efforts of a variety of vendors, Active Directory won’t be quite so interoperable as it now appears. Novell, for example, is currently working on a tool – which it calls DirXLM – that will allow its NDS directory service to interoperate with and manage Active Directory objects. For its part, Microsoft plans to ship at least two NDS interoperability tools with its Windows 2000 Services for NetWare bundle, which is due out shortly after Windows 2000 ships. Finally, Cisco Systems plans to implement support for Active Directory in the Internetwork Operating System that today enables its routers.
A Tool for the E-Enterprise
Organizations that choose to deploy Windows 2000 and Active Directory will undoubtedly do so for a variety of reasons, its perceived manageability and scalability benefits foremost among them.
Active Directory should ease the management burden of deploying Windows 2000 in large environments, where the complicated trust relationships that let administrators define security permissions between domains can vex even the most seasoned of Windows NT system administrators. And while Active Directory probably won’t be able to scale to the level of Novell’s NDS – which today can manage over a billion objects – it should provide welcome relief to organizations that were seeing NT domains multiply like rabbits.
Because it can store almost any conceivable data about any of the objects in its database, Active Directory can also be a powerful aid to e-commerce, a fact not lost upon aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, which plans to implement a combined Windows 2000 and Active Directory solution as a means to equip more than 70 percent of its corporate desktops and servers for e-commerce.
"Active Directory is really one of our key interests in Windows 2000, as it will support our direction of performing electronic commerce in a consistent way throughout our corporation, so that we can increase our productivity and reduce our total cost of ownership," acknowledges Massimo Villinger, Chief Technology Officer at Lockheed Martin.
And, because of its Active Directory underpinnings, Villinger concedes, a Windows 2000 rollout is a very involved process.
"It is a very challenging undertaking and that’s why we’ve spent so much time and care with a team that was specifically put into place for that," he says.
Interoperability with Heterogeneous Systems
The current state of Active Directory’s "dis-interoperability" with other platforms and directory services notwithstanding, Windows 2000 actually has a pretty good interoperability story – especially vis-à-vis the UNIX systems that today populate the very same enterprise backrooms into which Microsoft would someday like to push its next-generation operating system.
As Microsoft Windows 2000 Group Product Manager Peter Houston acknowledges, customers aren’t going to want to adopt Windows 2000 if it’s incapable of interoperating with their other mission-critical, backroom systems.
"I believe that ultimately a lot more customers will take a look at Windows 2000 if we make it easier for them to deploy it with their existing systems," Houston concedes. "If you ask customers to make big jumps in order to embrace a new technology, they’re less likely to do it, and certainly interoperability lets them do this. If people can use and evaluate Windows 2000 in a NetWare or UNIX environment, then ultimately, they will pick Windows 2000."
Houston says Microsoft is providing a full set of Windows 2000 Services for UNIX. The goal? To make it easier for IT managers to implement newfangled Windows 2000 systems alongside existing UNIX systems in the enterprise backroom by bringing a UNIX-like look-and-feel to Windows 2000.
To this end, Houston says, the Windows 2000 Services for UNIX will comprise an NFS Client, NFS Server and NFS gateway, which will enable Windows 2000 servers to access files shared on UNIX file servers. Moreover, Houston adds, Windows 2000 Services for UNIX will provide native integration of several of the more popular UNIX shell environments – including the ubiquitous Korn shell – on Windows 2000 systems. Still further, Windows 2000 Services for UNIX will support at least 60 UNIX commands and utilities. Windows 2000 Services for UNIX will also include a Perl implementation, as well.
As far as Microsoft’s Houston is concerned, UNIX administrators should even be able to administer their UNIX systems from Windows 2000.
"If you’re an administrator who understands how to use the shell and these commands on UNIX, then you can go to Windows 2000 and administer the system using these same commands," he concludes.
All That and the Kitchen Sink
One of the reasons that Windows 2000 shipped as late as it did is that Microsoft attempted to pack as many features and as much functionality into it as possible. Consequently, Windows 2000 ships with a revamped version of the company’s Web server platform (Internet Information Server 5.0), a substantially enhanced version of Windows NT 4.0’s rather anemic Routing and Remote Access Tool and, most importantly, the robust set of storage resource management (SRM) services that had been conspicuously absent from Windows NT’s administrative portfolio since its inception.
Accordingly, Windows 2000 includes SRM components – engineered by both HighGround Systems and Veritas Software – that provide it with robust storage management services on par with UNIX offerings.
As part of Windows 2000’s SRM portfolio, Microsoft has implemented a new logical disk manager service, which itself is based on technology licensed from Veritas, that is similar to the Logical Volume Manager found on many UNIX platforms. The software giant is also implementing a tool to manage removable and hierarchical storage management (HSM) devices based on technology licensed from HighGround Systems.
"For the first time in the Windows NT operating system there will be a standard way to manage removable storage, and a standard way for backup applications and tape libraries to interface with the operating system," said HighGround Product Marketing Manager Tom Rose during an interview last year. "Windows 2000 will be the first operating system to have a standard interface with removable storage [and HSM]."