Application Center Server Reaches Public Beta

Microsoft Corp.’s Application Center Server 2000 is expected to be released as a public beta this month.

Garth Fort, Microsoft’s ( lead product manager for Application Center Server 2000, says major coding was finished in January, but the product has been tested at only a limited number of sites thus far.

The company first discussed Application Center Server at a Windows DNA 2000 press conference last September. At the time it was referred to as AppCenter Server. Since then, however, Redmond has remained relatively quiet about the forthcoming product.

"Our primary goal is to take [Windows] DNA apps and make them scalable," Fort says.

Among the applications and technologies Fort referred to are: Internet Information Services 5.0, COM+, Message Queue Server, and Microsoft Data Access Objects.

The server includes a Single Application Image feature that enables customers to move data, much like database replication.

With Application Center, customers can deploy applications to an entire cluster, rather than having to install them on each system individually.

Quentin Clark, the product unit manager for Application Center, says that in the course of development, the company reduced a six-hour configuration task to two minutes with wizards.

Application Server also includes the component load balancing feature that was switched out of Windows 2000.

"We didn’t think it would get a lot of use within the OS," Fort says.

In addition to the scaling-out approach that Application Center promotes, Fort says it is important for customers to be able to scale down. Service providers, for instance, will sometimes take servers out of one cluster and reassign them to another cluster, if only temporarily, to maintain service level agreements as traffic dictates the need for more hardware.

The software also supports third-party load balancing. Fort says that Application Center is optimal for managing between 10 and 14 servers. He points out that for about 80 percent of the market that Microsoft is targeting, the 10-to-14 server range is the norm.

For companies that need to manage more servers, third-party options may be less expensive. Still, there are advantages to using Application Center. The software has monitoring capabilities, event detection, and is tuned to be self-repairing. If the server needs to be restarted, for instance, that can be done automatically, rather than requiring an administrator to drive into the office at midnight just to reboot the machine.

Clark says that this will most likely be the only beta, but the product won’t ship until it’s ready. Unlike API-rich products such as Windows 2000 and SQL Server, Application Center doesn’t have API’s that need to be exhaustively tested before the product is released.

"If there is significant feedback that we missed the boat on something we’re going to fix it, but other than that we won’t change much," he says.

General availability is slated for late summer or early fall. Pricing and licensing are still being determined.