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Windows calls on the enterprise

Microsoft officially launches its most ambitious operating system on Thursday, as the software titan looks to push aside Unix servers and mainframes.

Microsoft on Thursday will launch the most ambitious version yet of its Windows server operating system, as the company looks to push aside Unix servers and mainframes in the enterprise.
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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will officially launch Windows Server 2003 at a press conference in San Francisco. The company's customers have had the software since early April, when a code key capable of unlocking potentially tens of thousands of copies of the software leaked out onto the Internet. Microsoft released final, or gold, code at the end of March.

Also on Thursday, Microsoft plans to launch Visual Studio .Net 2003, a new version of its development tools, and a 64-bit version of its SQL Server 2000 database server software.

Microsoft will attempt to woo cash-strapped technology managers to Windows Server 2003 by touting the benefits of working with a single operating system, the advantages for server consolidation and the cost savings compared to Unix servers and mainframes. The Redmond, Wash.-based company plans to spend as much as $250 million over the next year promoting Windows Server 2003 in print, television, Web and outdoor advertisements.

The software has been a long time coming. From conception to release of final code, it has seen four different names and four release dates. In October 2000, Microsoft said the product would ship in the second half of 2001. But in April 2001, it pushed back delivery to early 2002. In March 2002, it again delayed delivery until the second half of the year. In November, the company

Potential buyers also will need to navigate a product lineup that is more complex than with previous versions. Windows Server 2003 is available in seven different versions. The main ones are Datacenter, for top-end machines with dozens of processors and high reliability requirements; Enterprise Server, for more mainstream multiprocessor servers; Standard Server, for low-end servers; and new Web Server for low-end machines used to send Web pages to Internet browsers. Microsoft plans to release a fifth product, Windows Small Business Server 2003, in the third quarter. Also available: 64-bit versions of Datacenter and Enterprise versions for Itanium processors.

Pricing for Windows Server 2003 remains largely unchanged from earlier versions, according to Microsoft.

No rush to adoption
Businesses evaluating an upgrade to Windows Server 2003 need to look beyond Microsoft's hype and carefully evaluate their needs, say analysts and companies that participated in an early-adopter program.

For many businesses, the move to Windows Server 2003 will be slow, in part because of the frequent delays in its debut.

Those delays have meant that customers such as Norwood, Mass.-based Analog Devices, which would have been a strong candidate for the new

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product, moved to Windows 2000--an older version of Windows--instead of waiting for Windows Server 2003. Analog Devices is near the end of a switchover from the 7-year-old Windows NT 4 Server, according to the company.

Peter Forte, data warehouse director for Analog Devices said, "We're just finishing up everything (on) Windows 2000. So we have some time before we bite off an aggressive plan to go to Windows 2003."

The company, which makes specialized computer chips, would likely "start to (switch to) Windows 2003 in nine to 12 months," Forte said. "I wouldn't say that Analog is on the bleeding edge of adopting the technology."

Analog Devices may provide a good representation of the market. IDC analyst Al Gillen estimated that "the majority of businesses would spend 12 months or more evaluating Windows Server 2003" before making the switch.

Still, analysts said there are three scenarios that might call for a faster switch: server consolidation from Windows Server NT 4; server consolidation to Itanium 2-based systems from Unix servers or mainframes; and installation of other Microsoft software, such as SharePoint Portal Server or Windows Rights Management Services, that requires Windows Server 2003.

Tough economic conditions and a large number of Windows NT 4 Server installations--about 35 percent of the total Windows Server-installed base--would help move along the most potential early adopters, say analysts. In both scenarios, server consolidation, either from Unix or Windows NT 4 Server, would be important factors driving new Windows Server 2003 installations.

Michael Cherry, an analyst with market researcher Directions on Microsoft, praised Microsoft's efforts to improve security in Windows Server 2003. Last month, Microsoft executives said the company spent about $200 million on the security overhaul, which involved extensive review of the software code.

"It remains to be seen whether or not the code review will lead to fewer patches," Cherry warned. Many Windows Server 2003 features are turned off by default, which improves security, but at a cost.

?Applications might initially fail due to tightened security, and other applications such as Exchange will require upgrades before they will run on Windows Server 2003," said Cherry.

Windows Server 2003 is better suited "to run large-scale, critical databases and applications" than earlier versions, Cherry said in a report. "This in turn will allow organizations to reduce overall cost of ownership by consolidating many smaller Windows servers onto fewer, more powerful ones running the new operating system." The downside: Companies generally would need to invest in more powerful server hardware to take advantage of Windows Server 2003's improved scalability.

Better PC management, which would let administrators manage thousands of Windows 2000 or XP desktops from one central location, is another appealing Windows Server 2003 improvement.

"However, to reap the benefit of reduced ongoing PC administration costs, customers will have to make a significant upfront investment to plan and implement a Windows Server 2003-based network infrastructure," Cherry noted.

Early test cases
Companies that have already taken the plunge and upgraded to the new version of Windows generally praised the software's scalability and reliability. Ahead of Windows Server 2003's launch, Microsoft conducted a beta program for larger businesses interested in using the software on production systems.

Chicago-based Information Resources provides sales and market research for companies selling consumer goods and pharmaceuticals. The company's 24,000-square-foot data center handles about 122 terabytes of information powered through mainframes, 115 eight-processor or greater Unix servers and 180 Windows-based servers.

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Information Resources is considering Windows Server 2003 in part because the company is moving away from 32-bit systems to 64-bit-based Itanium 2 servers. It is in the process of consolidating existing Unix servers onto Itanium 2 servers running the 64-bit editions of Windows Server 2003 and SQL Server 2000.

Marshall Gibbs, Information Resources? chief information officer, said the company might not be as quick to switch from Unix if not for the 64-bit option. "The 32-bit environment wouldn't let me scale the models and offer the products that we need to be able to offer," he explained. "We have a 32-bit infrastructure that lets me get part-way down the path, but it's Microsoft's commitment to an enterprise-scale environment that's driving a lot of our decision making here."

Gibbs said that he couldn't quantify the cost savings for two reasons: Information Resources is at the beginning of the rollout, and the company is adding capacity and power under the Windows setup versus the Unix environment.

Gibbs said Information Resources? new servers running 64-bit Windows are more capable than are previous Unix systems, so "it's an apples to oranges comparison in terms of cost." The greater capacity means "the number of databases I host on a single server (increases) by 200 times and at the same time (the company can) increase the number of users on that server...ten-fold."

Analog Devices also has found an important place for Windows Server 2003, even as the company focuses mainly on migrating existing servers from NT 4 to 2000. The semiconductor company used about six Windows Server 2003 systems to develop a business portal serving 8,800 employees.

"The portal project was really a proof of concept for us more than anything else on Windows 2003," Forte said.

New York-based JetBlue Airways could be the poster company for Windows Server 2003 and for standardization on Microsoft software. The airline is consolidating on Unisys 32-bit and 64-bit servers, with plans to run Microsoft software across the company.

JetBlue chose Windows over Linux for its computing infrastructure. "If tomorrow, I put Linux in my environment, I would have to hire server people to build, monitor, maintain and administrate those servers, and I would have to hire a development staff to develop applications under the Linux operating system," said JetBlue CIO Jeff Cohen. "I would need 50 percent more staff to run...operating systems (other than Windows)."

JetBlue sees the Unisys servers running Windows Server 2003 as a way of cutting costs, compared to previous setups used by the company, Cohen said.

"We truly try to run a 100-percent Microsoft environment to keep the cost down, but if there are applications that we buy from vendors, whatever the required database is, that's what we run," he said.