Microsoft's Windows Server Product Pipeline Is Full
by Alex Woodie
If the schedule holds, Microsoft will be issuing two new Windows Server operating system releases during the first half of 2005, along with three more in the second half of the year, and a beta of the "Longhorn" server sometime after June. The company recently hashed out its Windows Server System roadmap, which customers on Software Assurance contracts will want to check out.
In a Q&A with Microsoft's PressPass marketers, Bob Kelly, a general manager in the Windows Server Group, talked about the upcoming new releases of Windows Server operating systems, in addition to upcoming service packs, betas, and release candidates.
The conversation confirmed what most people had already assumed: that Microsoft programmers have their hands full with a lot of server OS work for 2005 and beyond. Of course, that isn't a big change from the way things have been, but the key for Microsoft will be its ability to hit its target release dates without succumbing to the types of delays and setbacks that the company experienced this year.
Windows Server 2003 has enjoyed tremendous success since it first shipped in April 2003, and Kelly says it has been deployed at a faster rate than either Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000 Server. Microsoft is currently developing the first major update to Windows Server 2003, called Service Pack 1, which will institute the same types of new security features and virtual private networking that we saw with the release of Windows XP SP2 in September.
The plan is for Windows Server 2003 to enter beta, in Release Candidate 1 form, next month. The roadmap currently calls for Windows Server 2003 SP1 to become generally available in the first half of 2005. However, if the changes to Windows Server 2003 with SP1 are as major as the SP2 changes were to Windows XP (and some analyst groups advised customers to treat XP SP2 as a major new release, not a minor service pack), then it wouldn't be out of the picture to speculate that there might be an RC2 release before general availability. But this product has already been delayed (see "Microsoft Delays Windows Server 2003 SP1 and 64-bit Versions") because of the changes with XP SP2, so maybe that was enough to get things on track.
Another factor to consider with Windows Server 2003 is the upcoming "Release 2" version of the product, Windows Server 2003 R2, which Microsoft still plans to ship in the second half of 2005. One of the major new features that Microsoft had targeted for Windows Server 2003 R2 was NAP, which Microsoft is working on with dozens of other vendors in order to create a framework for validating people trying to access a network. If somebody tries to access a network using a PC that is not fully patched or presents other security risks, full access to network assets won't be given until that person complies with the company's security policy (see "Microsoft Targets Network Security with ISA Server 2004 and NAP").
Microsoft no longer is targeting NAP for Windows Server R2, according to the PressPass interview with Kelly. Instead, R2 will focus on simplified branch server management, streamlined access management across security boundaries, and efficient storage management, Kelly says. NAP is now a feature to be expected with the server release of the Longhorn OS, which is one of the news bits gleaned from the interview with Kelly. Microsoft is still planning to have the first beta release of the Longhorn Server product out by the end of 2005.
Microsoft is planning to ship Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions in the first half of 2005. This is the release of Windows designed to work with the so-called "64-bit extension" processors from Advanced Micro Devices and Intel, which enhance the basic 32-bit architecture of X86 processors with the capability to run 64-bit applications. Windows Server 2003 x64 Editions and Windows Server 2003 SP1 were put on the backburner this summer, when Microsoft made its big push for Windows XP SP2 (except that back then it was called "Windows Server 2003 for 64-bit Extended Systems").
Microsoft is also moving forward with its high performance computing (HPC) initiative, where it trails ground to Linux on cheap X86 server clusters. Microsoft also wants to run Windows-based supercomputer clusters on cheap X86-based computers, which is the plan with Windows Server 2003 HPC Edition. The plan is to ship software development kit for Windows Server 2003 HPC Edition this December, which will be followed with the full HPC Edition OS in the second half of 2005.
This month, Microsoft plans to have a beta of Windows Update Services. Windows Update Services is the follow-on to Software Update Services and should provide a more automated and expansive update program, not just for Windows operating systems, but also for SQL Server, Exchange Server, and Office XP and 2003. The final Windows Update Services product should ship in the first half of 2005, according to Microsoft's roadmap.
Finally, Microsoft plans to ship the R2 release of Windows Storage Server in the second half of 2005.