Microsoft: Big Things in Store in 2005

An updated SQL Server ("Yukon") and Visual Studio, plus a new edition of Windows Server 2003 are among the highlights from the software giant

This year is shaping shaping up to be a pivotal one for Microsoft Corp. The company is currently prepping several important deliverables, including its long-awaited update for SQL Server 2000—SQL Server 2005, formerly code-named “Yukon”—a reloaded edition of its Windows Server 2003, and an update for its Visual Studio development environment, among others.

First up is SQL Server 2005, which—like many highly touted Microsoft deliverables—is shipping somewhat later than first expected. After all, Redmond delivered SQL Server 2000 four and a half years ago—and by the time SQL Server 2005 finally appears, the software giant’s SQL Server 2000 database could assume legacy status, with more than five years in service.

Not that this has hurt Microsoft much, if at all. In fact, the software giant continues to gain database market share, and—according to market researchers International Data Corp. and Gartner Inc.—currently controls between one-sixth to one-fifth of the relational database market. SQL Server 2005, with its bevy of scalability and availability enhancements, not to mention its augmented business intelligence (BI) and data integration capabilities, should help make Microsoft even more competitive in this regard. It will almost certainly be Microsoft’s most important release this year.

Chief among SQL Server 2005’s enhancements is a revamped—and re-branded—ETL facility, dubbed SQL Server Integration Services. SQL Server 2000’s data integration component, Data Transformation Services (DTS), offered base-level ETL capabilities, but according to some users could be idiosyncratic in regular usage. “DTS has issues and the more I use it the more I tend not to use it,” said one SQL Server administrator last year. “[I] have had problems with jobs locking up after a few months worth of regular usage.”

Microsoft says SQL Server Integration Services is ETL and a whole lot more—such as support for RSS feeds and Web services. The upshot, says Alex Payne, a senior product manager on Microsoft’s SQL Server team, is that the new Integration Services offers faster, more reliable performance and a speedier implementation than its predecessor.

“Barnes and Noble … is implementing a very large BI data warehousing solution on SQL Server 2000. They actually are going to be going into production with the [second beta] of SQL Server Integration Services,” Payne said in an interview last year. “They had budgeted something like two and a half days, and after about two hours, they’d already done it. [T]hey get 400 percent performance improvement over what they were doing previously, so I truly believe that Integration Services is going to turn the industry on its ear.”

SQL Server 2005 will also feature a significantly enhanced version of Microsoft’s Analysis Services OLAP engine—believe it or not, Redmond has wrested the OLAP market lead from perennial front-runner Hyperion Solutions Corp.—along with a revamped version of the software giant’s Reporting Services offering. Reporting Services lets developers build end user and production reporting applications on top of SQL Server. SQL Server 2005 will almost certainly appear in the first half of this year.

Windows Server 2003 Reloaded

Microsoft released Windows Server 2003 nearly two years ago, in April of 2003. Since then, the software giant has delivered a Windows XP Service Pack (SP2) release that included a spate of new functionality—including an on-by-default firewall and an integrated Security Center—designed to make its Windows client more secure. The company also plans to bring some of the same features to its long-awaited Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 release, which is expected to ship in the first half of this year.

Customers have been promised that later in 2005 they'll see a Release 2 (R2) version of Windows Server 2003 that incorporates a few next-generation features originally slated for a version of Windows intended to succeed that product.

Of course, the appearance of Windows Server 2003 SP1 will in itself likely mark an important milestone. That’s because Microsoft has never before released a major version of a business class operating system—in this case, Windows Server 2003—without also shipping a service pack within 12 months of its release. Windows XP SP 1 appeared in September of 2002, for example—less than 11 months after that operating system first shipped. And Windows 2000 SP 1 was released in July of 2000—slightly more than five months after Windows 2000 started shipping. The company released the first Windows NT 4.0 Service Pack about a month after shipping that product.

The almost two-year delay between the release of Windows Server 2003 and the appearance of its first service pack offering is, then, unprecedented.

Microsoft says it has put that time to good use. Like Windows XP SP 2, Microsoft positions Windows Server 2003 SP1 as part of its "Springboard" initiative to improve security on key products customers already have installed. New features include a Security Configuration Wizard; porting of the Windows Firewall from Windows XP to Windows Server 2003; and a new quarantine function to make sure systems making RAS or VPN connections are up to date on patches and antivirus signatures. Microsoft also plans to improve security by implementing support for Data Execution Prevention—which was first introduced in Windows XP SP2—along with boot-time network protection for clean installs. SP1 is expected to ship early in the first half of this year.

Then there’s Windows Server 2003 R2—a product that’s supposed to ship in 2005, but which—given Microsoft’s history of lapsed product-delivery schedules—could possibly slip into 2006.

If the first R2 beta is any indication, the revamped Windows Server 2003 will consist of two discs. One will contain Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 with a few enhancements, while the other is loaded with optional components users can install as needed. Microsoft officials have argued that SP1 provides a secure and reliable foundation on which to base the R2 release. “This will be built on Service Pack 1. The good news about that is it will give a high degree of application compatibility,” said Andrew Lees, corporate vice president for Microsoft server and tools marketing, during his keynote address at the software giant’s TechEd technology symposium and user conference.

Not surprisingly, most of R2’s optional components will be pulled from the more than one dozen free feature packs Microsoft released with (or after) Windows Server 2003. Feature packs likely to ship with R2 include Windows SharePoint Services, Active Directory Application Mode (ADAM), Unix interoperability, iSCSI and the File Server Migration Toolkit.

Visual Studio Gets an Update

Microsoft is currently prepping Visual Studio 2005, code-named "Whidbey," for release early this year. It’s positioned as a tool to help developers leverage changes in the database, and—significantly—introduces team development concepts to help developers create applications that are automatically documented and more easily managed by IT administrators later in the lifecycle. In this regard, Microsoft is following the lead of development-tools vendor Borland Software Corp.; Borland markets a similar “team” offering.

Other notable Microsoft product releases in 2005 could include the first beta release of Windows "Longhorn" Server, the full-fledged successor to Windows Server 2003. Although details are still scarce, the first Longhorn beta is expected to include a next-generation Web services application platform and new role-based deployment technologies in the Security Configuration Wizard. Other features include support for new hardware and standards, support for PCI Express, and support for dynamic partitioning in high-end SMP systems. Longhorn Beta 1 isn’t expected until the second half of 2005—at the earliest.

Also highly anticipated is Microsoft’s Windows Update Services (WUS), a management tool for updating Windows clients and servers with patches and security fixes. Once promised for late 2004, WUS is now expected early this year.

Elsewhere, Microsoft will deliver versions of its Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition, and Datacenter Edition for the AMD64 and EMT64T-enabled Xeon chips from Advanced Micro Designs Inc. and Intel Corp., respectively. The x64 editions of Windows Server 2003 should ship in the first half of 2005. In addition, Microsoft’s Compute Cluster Edition of Windows Server 2003 is slated for the second half of this year. It’s designed for high-performance computing environments.

Finally, Windows 2000 gets an update—of sorts. Although Microsoft has shelved plans for a fifth service pack release for that operating system, it expects to release a roll-up of post-SP4 Windows 2000 "hot fixes" sometime this year.