Application Center 2000 Increases Scalability, Availability

Youre-business Web site is starting to take off. You’ve got everything runningsmoothly on your powerful Sun Web server. Customers are flocking to your site,buying like there’s no tomorrow. Then your lone server crashes, and it is outof commission for most of a day. Customers go elsewhere.

That’s ascenario Microsoft is trying to plant in your head, and a main reason for theexistence of Application Center 2000.

ApplicationCenter 2000 is Microsoft’s clustering/load-balancing product that aims to keepWindows 2000-based Web servers up and running and to make adding servers acrossthe cluster simple.

The genesisof Application Center 2000, according to Bob Pulliam, technical product managerat Microsoft, was customer input. “It started out with a customer study donewithin the IIS (Internet Information Server) group. We found that customerswanted to scale out and increase the capacity of their sites by running on morethan one server.”

Running onmore than one server eliminates the single point of failure. But adding servershas never been easy. It’s usually time consuming and labor-intensive.

But Pulliamsays use of Application Center 2000 on reduced the time it takesto add a Web farm server by 85 percent. Data Return, a managed hosting servicescompany and one of Microsoft’s early adopter partners, has been runningApplication Center 2000 since Nov. 14. Jason Lochhead, Data Return’s CTO,agrees that it has been easy to add servers to the cluster.

“There [hadbeen] a lot of manual steps” for adding a server, Lochhead explains. “Youcreate a virtual server, copy over COM objects, etc. Now, [with ApplicationCenter] you just point at server and say ‘add to the cluster.’“

Administratinglarge server clusters and the applications that run on them is not for thefaint of heart. But Application Center 2000 makes the entire cluster appear asif it were one server, significantly simplifying administration.

Anotherchallenge of a cluster is synchronizing the information on each member.Application Center 2000 automatically or on demand replicates systemsettings, content, and applications across the cluster. That content can bedeployed within a cluster or to another cluster. “It’s surprising how much work you go through todeploy changes to a Web application,” Lochhead says. For the three Web serverson which he deployed Application Center 2000, replication has “been workingvery well.”

ScottTurner, managing engineer at the hosting company Digex, singles out ApplicationCenter’s content management features for special praise.

In thepast, he says, there were many errors made when moving content from thecompany’s development environment through its staging environment, then intothe online production environment. “In the past, it was easy to miss [content]and have stuff left behind as you go through that process. [Application Center2000] dramatically reduced the amount of issues you have with content not beingpushed correctly or application settings not being set correctly,” Turner says.

Loadbalancing is a critical component of any clustered environment, and Application Center2000 enables Network Load Balancing and Component Load Balancing on Windows2000 server products.

ApplicationCenter 2000 sits on top of Windows 2000 Server, Advanced Server, and theextremely high-end Datacenter Server. Pulliam says that technical issues keptit from being developed for Windows NT.

Microsoftexpects to start shipping Application Center 2000 the first quarter of 2001,pending feedback from early adopter partners. Pulliam says it is a standaloneproduct, not bundled with any operating system, and will be priced on aper-processor basis.

Lochheadsays Application Center 2000 has delivered on its promises so far. In fact,he’s starting to spread the word around. “We’re actually recommending it tosome customers now,” he says.

Turner, whosecompany is running Application Center 2000 on a number of clusters, includingone six-server node, is just as happy. For a hosting company, downtime isunacceptable. He says that “with this product and the Windows 2000 platform,we’ve seen tremendous gains in availability and stability -- to be there 24x7.”


MicrosoftCorp., Redmond, Wash.,

DigexInc., Beltsville, Md.,

DataReturn Corp., Dallas,