Microsoft has launched new versions of Windows Server, SQL Server and Visual Studio in a drive to realise its dynamic IT vision.
Claiming it is the biggest enterprise-focused launch ever, Microsoft recently launched Windows Server 2008 (formerly code-named Longhorn), Visual Studio 2008, and SQL Server 2008 in a series of worldwide and online events.
Manoj Bhoola, the head of the Server and Tools division at Microsoft SA, said the launch is a "major milestone to help customers on the road to dynamic IT, Microsoft's initiative to help customers optimise their people, processes and technology, and in turn position IT as a strategic asset for their business."
He added that the new products help customers more efficiently and securely manage their entire infrastructure and move to a virtualised environment, while also delivering business intelligence and next-generation Web experiences to boost business results.
Windows Server 2008
For Windows Server, the talk centred on its HyperV virtualisation capabilities. Today, these ship with the server in beta form, and will hit general availability within 180 days of the beta launch (which means early August). The technology will enable customers to virtualise Windows as well as non-Windows operating systems, relatively inexpensively.
The basic licence for Windows Server 2008 will enable one instance of Windows Server to be virtualised, while the Enterprise Edition enables up to four instances, and the Data Centre Edition as many as you like. The fee goes up with each edition, of course.
Gareth Hall, Microsoft technology strategist, told us that Microsoft "wants to be the best platform on which to virtualise Windows and other operating systems, and also be the best guest operating system virtualised on other platforms."
At launch, the beta version of HyperV will virtualise just Windows Server 2003 and Server 2008, but Hall said the company plans to add numerous other Windows and non-Windows operating systems. Its previous Virtual Sever product could virtualised 29 Windows and non-Windows operating systems, of which nine were Microsoft platforms.
Aside from virtualisation there were numerous other enhancements to Windows Sever. New tools like Internet Information Server 7.0 (IIS7), Windows Server Manager, Server Core, PowerShell, Windows Deployment Services, and enhanced networking and clustering technologies offer more control and streamline, configuration and management tasks. Advanced security and reliability enhancements like Network Access Protection and the Read-Only Domain Controller harden the operating system and protect the server environment.
Server Manager integrates server role and feature addition, removal, and configuration into a single Microsoft Management Console (MMC). Windows Deployment Services (WDS) is a suite of components that work together on Windows Server 2008 to provide simplified Windows operating system deployment to clients and servers.
The Windows PowerShell command-line shell and scripting language helps IT professionals automate common tasks and more easily control system administration and accelerates automation, even in remote locations such as branch offices. PowerShell uses existing investments by retaining compatibility with existing scripting solutions.
Server core is a new installation option for selected roles that includes only the necessary subsystems required for those roles. Server core can create a more reliable and secure server that requires less patching and servicing.
Microsoft says Windows Server 2008 is the most secure Windows Server ever. Its hardened operating system and security features, including Network Access Protection, Federated Rights Management, and Read-Only Domain Controller, provide enhanced levels of protection for an organisation's data. Server 2008 helps organisations to prevent data theft with Rights Management Services, BitLocker, and Group Policy technologies.
Research provided by Microsoft shows that early adopters of the technology are already seeing big benefits. Researchers at consulting agency Capgemini looked at companies and institutions in the financial services, education, retail and high-tech industries using Windows Server 2008 in a mix of geographic regions. They found that the new operating system quickly adds value to IT operations through enhancements to management, security and reliability. Deployment duration was reduced by up to 60% and IT reduced costs by hundreds of thousands of rands per year. Cost reductions resulted from a wide range of areas, including the recovery of five IT staff hours per server and 91% less downtime.
Gartner research vice president, John Enck comments: "Windows Server 2008 is a collection of many features and updates. Different organisations will be attracted to it at different speeds - and some not at all. There is no single compelling reason for a business to start running Windows 2008 server this year."
SQL Server 2008
Meanwhile, on the SQL Server 2008 front, Keith Burns, database architect for Microsoft in EMEA, told ComputerWire there are a number of key enhancements. Policy management has been added so companies can stipulate how individual databases should look and be populated, something he says is unique to Microsoft, at least at the database layer.
There is a resource governor that helps manage workloads from different applications or users in order to maximise efficiency and reduce bottlenecks, and there is encryption capability too. Microsoft has also added geo-spatial capabilities so any data with an address element can now be analysed geo-spatially, integrating with Virtual Earth in order to overlay the data on maps.
There has been more work on data warehousing, analytics and the report-writing capabilities, Burns told us, and it goes without saying that the firm is claiming scalability and reliability improvements too.
Microsoft SA partner, iSolve has already deployed SQL 2008 on a Windows Server 2008 foundation at RCI.
Himal Ramjee, MD of iSolve is impressed with the improvements in SQL Server 2008. "From my experience to date, Microsoft put an emphasis on in refining three focus areas in SQL 2008, namely security, manageability and scalability.
He continues that many previously manual security processes are now automatic and many auditing requirements have been included. From a manageability perspective, Ramjee says he gets more meaningful information about almost anything, faster.
"From a scalability perspective, we try to push the envelope with RCI with respect to things like data compression and back up speeds, for example. Data compression ratios have come down by around 35%, with the related savings in storage and backup times."
"We achieve these figures and we have not even updated our hardware yet," adds Peter Oeschger, head group IT Africa RCI Group. "RCI is happy with the new system, simple security features that took us two months to put in place in SQL 2005 are now simple tick boxes."
Oeschger is also impressed with the business intelligence (BI) functionality improvements in SQL 2008. "With 2008 they have refined every BI product extensively. That is critical for us as we monitor performance on the hour."
RCI has migrated from the three versions of Cognos tools it was using, consolidating onto the Microsoft BI platform. The process took only five months.
Visual Studio 2008
Visual Studio 2008 was available in late 2007 to boost Microsoft's vision of 'smart client applications'. The applications are based on delivering advances for developers on three primary pillars:
* Rapid application development.
* Effective team collaboration.
* Breakthrough user experiences.
Lillian Serobatse, product marketing manager for the Developer and Platforms Group at Microsoft SA, says VS 2008 delivers on the three pillars through the following six technology areas.
Developing Smart Client applications
Visual Studio 2008 delivers new and easy ways for developers to build smart clients. It provides a comprehensive set of tools and classes that simplify integrating smart clients with new or existing Web applications, and it enables local data caching for disconnected scenarios.
Creating Microsoft Office applications
Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO) is integrated into Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition.
Building Windows Vista applications
Developers can use new platform technologies by incorporating new Windows Presentation Foundation features into both existing Windows Forms applications and new applications.
Handling data productively
The introduction of Language Integrated Query (LINQ) and other data-access improvements enable developers to apply a consistent programmatic approach to data handling, perform data access with new data-design surfaces, and use built-in classes for the occasionally connected design pattern.
Enabling new Web experiences
Improving application life-cycle management (ALM)
ALM features in Visual Studio provide support for managing the entire software-development life cycle, but also for critical interaction with an enterprise application's final end-users and IT stakeholders.
"IT professionals and developers tell us they spend too much time and money managing existing systems and not enough investing in new capabilities that create strategic advantage," said Bhoola. "That feedback is at the core of the innovations in this new wave of products. Already, the overwhelming response from thousands of IT professionals and developers around the world is that this is the most secure enterprise platform we have ever delivered, and that it will simplify management and enable them to focus more on driving their businesses forward."
Microsoft desperately needed this launch to claw back some mind share from the likes of VMware in virtualisation, and keep up its pressure on commercial and open source database and operating system firms. Not least MySQL, the open source database firm just bought by Sun.
Like so many areas, Microsoft has a strong position in all of these camps already. To give some idea of the interest in Windows Server 2008, it has seen four million downloads of the beta version already, compared to a million downloads of the beta version of Windows Server 2003 before its launch.
The company also likes to point out that it ships more databases than Oracle and IBM put together, though it concedes that shipping numbers are not the same as who makes the most money from them.
Microsoft claims to have around 70% of the server operating system market, which equates to 1,8 million server instances in the UK alone. The latest enhancements are likely to help to maintain its current position, though we must question whether the firm has done enough to stall the rise of rival commercial and open source operating systems and databases. But with its current market shares in each of its sectors, it does not need to kill too many competitors to maintain a pretty decent business of its own.