With Windows Server 2003 service pack 1 imminent – a record 22 months after initial product release – Microsoft has outlined a release schedule for future versions of the server operating system.

Expect a Windows Server System revision every two years, Bob Muglia, senior vice-president

of the server division, told reviewers at a recent technical reviewer’s workshop in Redmond, Wash.

Two years after an initial release an interim version will be issued, currently dubbed Release 2, or “R2”, with added functionality.

Two years after that, the next full version of the operating system will emerge, and the cycle starts again.

“We want to deliver technology to customers on an ongoing basis,” said Muglia. R2 for Windows Server 2003 is expected in the second half of this year.

Service packs and patches will continue to come out as required, although, Muglia noted, Windows Server 2003 has been stable enough that customers deployed it before seeing the first service pack.

“It’s probably the first time that analysts and customers have recognized that a server product is stable enough to be deployed without a service pack,” he said.

Service Pack 1 is due for release at the end of March, and will contain significant security enhancements such as a boot-time security configuration for the Windows Firewall that plugs the gap during start-up when the Firewall is not fully functional, and the Security Configuration Wizard (SCW).

The SCW helps administrators build and manage security templates.

Other changes may impact server operations. For example, Microsoft has changed the way Remote Procedure Calls (RPCs) are handled, no longer permitting, by default, unauthenticated or anonymous access to RPCs. The Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM) security model has changed slightly as well, and now includes computer-wide access controls that govern all access to DCOM.

“The server business has been growing in the order of 12 –a 13 percent a year,” said Muglia, “and so that’s a good business opportunity for our hardware partners, a good business opportunity for us, and a good business opportunity for our other partners.”

Another area expected to be good business all around is the 64-bit Windows realm. Both Windows XP client and Server 2003 will be available in 64-bit versions in the first half of this year, and, Microsoft says, will provide improved performance for both 32 and 64-bit applications. This is thanks, in large part, to the increased address space provided by 64-bit systems; machines will support up to 1 TB of memory, with 4000 times the virtual memory address space of a 32-bit system.

Muglia cited internal server testing that demonstrated twice the throughput for Active Directory, 75 percent more users on a Terminal Server box and 111 per cent higher user capacity in file sharing. A 32-bit database enjoyed five per cent more throughput, and an SAP implementation supported 18percent more users on a single box.

John Borozan, senior product manager for the Windows Server Business Group, described beta customer results in which nine Active Directory domain controllers were consolidated down to four without sacrificing performance. The larger memory space allowed the directory to be entirely held in RAM.

Windows XP Professional x64 Edition targets high-end professionals and digital media enthusiasts. Built on the server code base, a single binary will support both Intel and AMD 64-bit processors. Both 32 and 64-bit applications will run natively on the new hardware, but there is no support for sixteen bit applications.

Currently, there is limited 64-bit desktop hardware on the market; Microsoft expects it to be standard in new PCs in 2006.

Pricing for 64-bit Windows XP will be comparable to that of 32-bit versions of the operating system.

Keeping those machines up-to-date will be the job of Windows Update Services (WUS), also due in the first half of this year. The successor to the much-maligned Software Update Services (SUS), WUS is supposed to address many of its shortcomings, while remaining a free download to licensees of Windows 2000 or 2003 servers.

It will provide automatic patching of both Windows and other Microsoft applications (at release, it will support Windows 2000 and XP, Office, SQL Server and Exchange), automatically downloading critical updates, security updates, service packs, and update rollups.

A “detect only” mode will permit auditing of systems for vulnerabilities. No packaging of the updates is required.

It will be able to target specific groups of machines through group policies or Active Directory, and, unlike SUS, provides verbose reporting capabilities.

A beta version of WUS is available for download and evaluation from the Microsoft Web site.

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