Microsoft launches its “most tested” product ever, promises big benefits to IT

Turkish engineer Omer Celik survived a massive earthquake in Istanbul, Turkey in 1989 only to spend the next five days living on the street awaiting rescue crews.

It was an experience that he hoped other disaster survivors would never undergo.

So Celik created a robotic helicopter – dubbed RoboTurk – that rescuers could use to see video of disaster-torn areas and find out where help is needed the most.

When it was time to equip the helicopter with software that enabled such video catpure and streaming it back to command centres, Celik took advantage of Microsoft tools.

The Turkish engineer’s initiative was cited by Kevin Turner, chief operating officer of Microsoft Canada Corp. during his keynote at yesterday’s Canadian launch of Windows Server 2008, Visual Studio 2008, and SQL Server 2008.

It’s possible not all the IT professionals and developers present at the event would design a life-saving tool – as Celik did.

But Turner emphasized that they could use the same Microsoft products to advance their business.

Guelph, Ont.-based eMedia Interactive Inc. is one company that’s already committed to doing this.

The Web design company that serves clients such as hockey.com plans on adopting the new 2008 models of all three Microsoft products unveiled yesterday.

 “You get big benefits if you go end-to-end,” says Lance Mohring chief technical officer at eMedia.

 

And some of these benefits – Microsoft execs say – have to do with the fact that the new products’ design incorporates a lot of customer feedback.

“Windows Server 2008 is the most customer-driven and tested product we’ve ever released,” Turner says.

Waiting for Hyper-V

All that testing isn’t done quite yet.

Held back from launch with Server 2008 is Hyper-V, the server virtualization technology that will allow even multiple operating systems to run in parallel on one physical machine.

“The biggest reason [for the wait] is feedback from our customers,” says Bruce Cowper, senior program manager, security initiative for Microsoft Canada.

He says while a virtual machine might be easy to deploy, more work is needed to ensure the proper management tools are available to track performance and security.

Optimizing performance on 64-bit processors was also a concern.

The delay is a disappointment to beta-version user Etienne Tremblay, lead technologist with Plano, Texas-based EDS Corp. But as a self-described “virtualization aficionado” he is willing to wait.

“I’d rather they make it really, really well and we wait a few months or a few quarters,” he says.

Microsoft plans to release Hyper-V this year in the third quarter.

Cowper says Server 2008 users can expect a “consolidated services” approach that will save them a lot of time on IT tasks, offer greater access control, and more flexible Web management features.

Microsoft’s wizard approach to accomplishing complex tasks starts at install, he says.

“Awesome” automation

All the tools that required manual configuration in Server 2003 (such as IIS-based Web services and Active Directory) are packed into a single console.

Also, everything that an admin could do in the management interfaces can be scripted to become automatic.

“If you can cut down on key-strokes, or automate different administrative processes, basically IT guys like it,” says Warren Shiau, lead analyst of IT research at The Strategic Counsel, Toronto-based market research consultants.

The new Server Manager tool allows users to cluster together logical servers. Mohring’s company has many servers and he describes the tool as “absolutely awesome.

“We tend to do a lot of clustered stuff, as well as virtualized clusters,” he explains. “When one [server] goes down, you can bring another one back up and manage them carefully.”

The tool provides both a bird’s-eye view of a server and also drills down to very specific elements, Mohring adds. There is also a remote managing capability.

eMedia says the improved IIS Web functionality for controlling both file and media-specific servers is another big plus.

“We were really ecstatic about the idea of being able to strip it down right to the simplest parts like the old school Web daemon,” he says. Or go “all the way up to a full-on IIS implementation with all the bells and whistles.”

Microsoft has decided to use its own version of Network Access Control (NAC) with Server 2008’s Network Access Protection (NAP) tool. By administering access control through Group Policy objects, it has prevented compatibility with non-Microsoft machines.

In fact, NAP works only on Vista by default, and requires a TCP/IP stacks upgrade on XP, Cowper says.

“We’ll have to develop a roll-out plan” for Vista, Mohring says. The software upgrade will be done when eMedia does its next hardware refresh.

NAP users will benefit from upgraded security features of the new TCP/IP stacks utilized by the process, Shiau says. So it is not an issue for enterprise level clients.

 

Visual Studio 2008 offers split view, no code refactoring

As a part of the Microsoft technology adopter program, EDS has been testing Visual Studio 2008 alongside 2005, Tremblay says. The new program helped EDS cut down the time it takes to start a developer project from several days to hours.

Their automation in Studio 2008 has significantly improved a lot of tasks,  Shiau says.

Microsoft has listened to Web developers and embraced Javascript, Ajax, and Silverlight as coding languages, says Rini Gahir, senior product manager – developer platform for Microsoft Canada. In doing so, they’ve dropped Visual Basic and ASP.

JavaScript debugging capabilities had developers at EDS clamouring to use the new tool, Tremblay says. It vastly improves debugging script on the fly.

The new program helps coders see where they have a maintenance problem with a set of metrics that give the code a point of time. By tracking things like the number of IF statements and lines of code, it helps identify problem code before an application is run.

“The company that writes the most lines of code in the world should have the best developer environment,” Microsoft’s Turner says.

A split-screen design/code view and new CSS tree window-pane is a bid to do just that.

Visual Studio 2008 also breaks from Microsoft tradition by allowing compatibility with multiple versions of the .Net framework (2.0, 3.0 and 3.5). This is a way for Microsoft to keep customer loyalty, Shiau says.

“For Microsoft, they have a huge installed base of developers,” he says. “If you don’t do something to maintain the backwards compatibility, you tend to open up spots where you can lose people.”

Like the other newly-launched products, Visual Studio 2008 comes in five forms: express, standard, professional, enterprise and team system.

“In a nut shell, we have a solution for the hobbyist or student [with express] right through to the professional development team” as with the EDS case, Gahir says.

SQL Server 2008

For eMedia’s Mohring, SQL server offers the most exciting tools: transactional processing improvements, virtualization features, and built-in encryption. This all adds up to big benefits like increased security, he says.

Virtualization management features allow administrators to parcel out system resources to different users, Turner says. This means your in-house traffic can take a hit while your customers enjoy improved performance on the Web.

Transparent encryption means a key can be added quickly, with the click of a mouse, and resources better protected.

Microsoft is dropping certain capabilities depending on a user’s needs in order to cut back on the costs. But that doesn’t phase Mohring.

“We’ll go to the highest capabilities of it because of the nature of our business,” he says. “We have extremely large databases and extremely high scale interoperability needs.”

It will retail for $24,999 per CPU.

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