Developers at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference receive a software developer's kit for the Windows NT clustering extensions known as Wolfpack.
The kit will be officially released in two weeks at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas, said sources close to Microsoft. Developers will receive the preview here as part of a package of several CDs being handed out to developers at the close of the conference.
Microsoft executives would not confirm the Wolfpack release date but said the kit would be released soon.
Clustering lets network administrators combine the processing power of separate servers so that they work together as one machine. It is often used as a less expensive and more flexible alternative to buying multiprocessor machines.
The Wolfpack clustering extensions have been in demand for some time. The tool will allow developers to add the clustering functions to Windows NT and to link two identical NT-powered servers together. Out of the box, Windows NT can support multiple processors in a single server but cannot interconnect multiple servers.
With the addition of Wolfpack and a bit of custom coding, an application running on one server can automatically fail over to a secondary active server in the case of a malfunction, with no effect on users connected to the application.
Analysts said it will help turn Windows NT into a true business production environment because network managers will be able to tweak applications running on servers with the failover feature offline.
"It's an administrator's dream," said Michael Goulde, vice president and senior consultant at the Patricia Seybold Group. "That'll be important for Windows NT to move upstream."
Russell Galvin, vice president of technology for consulting firm SRG Software of Toronto, Ontario, said he will evaluate the kit to create computing-intensive business applications.
"It looks good," Galvin said of the kit. "Load balancing is not included, but they're planning on supporting the APIs for that in the next release."
Sometime in 1998, Microsoft will release a distributed version of the application programming interfaces that will allow applications to run over more than two interconnected servers.
"The code is there for more nodes; it's just not tested," Galvin noted. "But if anyone can do it, Microsoft can."
Applications such as Oracle Parallel Server will be able to take advantage of multiple server nodes. The software includes a distributed lock manager that acts as a traffic cop for queries to prevent out-of-sync databases.
Oracle and Compaq Computer already sell a failover system consisting of two Windows NT-based servers and Oracle's database. Wolfpack will give IS developers the tools to cluster-enable most applications.
Microsoft has solicited the input of clustering veterans such as Digital Equipment and Tandem Computer in its Wolfpack effort. Partners such as Compaq are also playing an important development role.