Canadian users, partners eye Longhorn beta

Microsoft Corp. said the next version of Windows Server, code-named Longhorn, is on schedule for its release before the end of this year.

The Redmond, Wash-based company issued this assurance Thursday as it announced the public availability of Longhorn for Beta 3 testing.

The Beta 3 version of product comes packed with improvements in three key areas, according to Microsoft.
“This is our most customer-centric release aimed at improving administration, protection and flexibility,” according to Hilary Wittman, senior product manager, Windows Server, Microsoft Canada.

To enhance Longhorn’s administration controls, Microsoft has embedded Server Core, an operating system (OS) that enables role-based installations.
Server Core contains only a subset of Windows’ code base and allows administrators to create Web servers, file servers and print servers without extensive codes that bog down deployment, Wittman said.

She said Micorsoft’s PowerShell command line and scripting tool was also incorporated into Longhorn “to provide administrator with a more manageable interface.”

One Canadian analyst said traditional graphic user interfaces (GUI), while appealing to non technical users, can be cumbersome for administrators used to using command lines.

“Most administrators who build tools prefer to type out command lines rather than spend 10 minutes clicking on boxes and pulling down tabs,” said Vince Londini, research analyst, Info-Tech Research Group Inc., London, Ont.

Windows Vista’s Network Access Protection (NAP) feature was also built into Longhorn to allow users to protect private networks by enforcing compliance with computer health requirements.

For instance, NAP enables administrators to create customized health policies to govern access to or communication with the network. The application can automatically update compliant computers or confine non-compliant machines to a restricted area.

Londini said tools similar to NAP were developed by third party vendors in the past. “Now Microsoft has realized they can embed the feature into their product and offer greater value.”

Microsoft also released a Read Only Domain Controller which is designed to make it easy for organizations to host a restricted replica of the Active Directory services in locations where security cannot be guaranteed, said Wittman.

Prior to this release, users in a location without adequate domain security had to authenticate over a wide area network (WAN) – a solution that was not often efficient.

Wittman said a read-only database replica gives enables faster logon times but protects the active directory from unauthorized users.
To improve network flexibility, Longhorn was also equipped with a Terminal Server Gateway that provides remote device users centralize access to individual applications.

With this feature, applications running remotely on a user’s computer have the look and feel of local applications. Users can access these centralized resources from the Internet without using a virtual private network (VPN) or opening unwanted ports on firewalls.

The Longhorn improvements are targeted at organizations operating numerous remote locations, according to one Canadian construction company that has signed on for Microsoft’s early tester program.

“Longhorn’s design speaks to the needs of companies that need centralized deployment and control for multiple remote branches,” said Shane Crawford, manager, infrastructure, PCL Constructors Inc., in Edmonton.

For instance, he said, the Read Only Domain Controller will enable faster access to the network but cut the need for setting up extensive security structures. “We can provide fast access without the giving users too much authority.”

Another feature that Crawford favours is Longhorn’s ability to deploy applications and servers with minimal code work.

He said PCL operates more than 300 servers in some 150 jobsites across North America. Each jobsite can have one to two servers. The company deploys up to two servers every week and tears down servers at about the same rate.

Setting up a new server can take anywhere from three hours to two days when working from scratch.

“Longhorn has a suite of imaging tools that eliminates the need to enter new codes every time a server is rolled out,” Crawford said.

Many clients are demanding dependable imaging tools, according to IT integrator Compugen Inc., of Richmond Hill, Ont.

“Administrators want consistent and predictable deployment methods,” said Marty Grosh, director, enterprise solutions, Compugen.

PCL is currently using Windows Server 2003 R2 and will be working with Compugen on an eight-month program to test Longhorn.

Londini said Windows Server virtualization also appears to be on track for release after Longhorn’s rollout.

Virtualization is a technique that enables the creation of virtual versions of operating systems, servers, applications and devices. The technology makes it possible to run multiple versions of an OS on one server. Microsoft will add hypervisor technology to Longhorn.

“Hypervisor enables the same processor to run different operating systems such as Linux and Windows thereby allowing customers to ring out greater use from their hardware,” said Londini.

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