Microsoft Releases Windows Server 2003 R2 To Manufacturing

Windows Server 2003 Release 2, which roughly meets the slated delivery date Microsoft announced last year, offers significant new features including better branch office support, integration of the WS-Management specification, Active Directory Federation Services and built-in Unix subsystem that runs Unix and Linux applications.

The software also offers native x64 support and improved web application server and web development capabilities, courtesy of the included Internet Information Server 6.0 upgrade, native support of .NET Framework 2.0 and speedier ASP.NET web server pages.

Microsoft said last year it would ship R2 by the end of 2005. While the code is finished and released to manufacturing this week, customers will see Windows Server 2003 R2 as part of the February 2006 Select CD kit. It will be widely available in the channel in February, company executives said.

"After months of testing, we're ready to release R2," said Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft's Windows Server Division. "We're bringing the code out of the development labs and giving it to you."

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Muglia said the platform will give customers the ability to build sophisticated applications using the new framework, connected applications and easily link to external suppliers and customers.

The federation services, for instance, make remote access easier by allowing customers to set up trust relationships with their external suppliers and partners. This will eliminate the need to support duplicate repositories of passwords, thus reducing the costs of identity management, Microsoft said.

Moreover, the integration of Windows Services for Unix will enable customers to run Unix databases and Linux applications on the Windows server. Its support for NFS will also enable Windows to run legacy applications and seamlessly operate in mixed environments. Previously, Microsoft sold Windows Services for Unix separately.

It is the first significant upgrade of the server code since Windows Server 2003 was released in April of 2003. The Redmond, Wash., software company delivered a security-oriented service pack dubbed SP1 in March but the R2 release encompasses a host of new features, the company said.

Partners lauded many of the new features as cost savers but say they haven&'t seen much pent-up customer demand for R2. Still, the delivery of Microsoft's next generation application platform last month may drive adoption of the Windows server update, they said.

"I've had a few client questions surrounding R2 but most of my requests the past few months have been focused on SQL 2005 and Visual Studio 2005," said John McGrath, a software licensing specialist at Bell Industries, Indianapolis.

Still, some partners expect some of the features of R2 will give SMB and enterprise customers significant value out of the box.

The improved replication features of the distributed file system, they say, improves the efficiency of data delivery over a wide area network and how it is stored. This will lower the costs for customers that have multiple branch offices, partners said. Microsoft claimed that feature alone will save the German Department of Justice $2 million annually. "We have a lot of customers in the medium business space with multi-site infrastructures that often have data they would like to replicate and standardize across locations. But that is somewhat difficult today because of the poor performance of the file replication services," said Michael Cocanower, president of IT Synergy, a Microsoft partner in Phoenix. "With these enhancements coming in R2 that will get much better and drive R2 upgrades for a lot of these customers."

The value of on-time delivery is also important to customers, said Jeff Price, a senior director of the Windows Server. Microsoft committed to shipping a minor upgrade to the Windows server every two years and a major upgrade every four years to help customers budget for their IT needs.

"The ability to have consistent delivery across the roadmap … customers love that ability to plan and predict what technology is coming from Microsoft," Price said.

It's not the only server delivery Microsoft announced on Tuesday.

The concurrent delivery of the related Virtual Server 2005 R2 and Windows Storage Server 2005 R2 will ease management and lower the costs of server consolidation, data center management and SAN support, the company said.

The upgraded virtualization server, for instance, offers clustering support to enable automatic failover and new licensing policies that allow customers to pay for virtual workloads that are actively running, rather than for all virtual machines created and stored on the network.

Microsoft announced the release to manufacturing of Virtual Server 2005 R2 in November, and this week a special promotion that enables buyers of Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition to get Virtual Server R2 Enterprise Edition for only $99.

The Windows Storage Server 2005 R2 was released to manufacturing with Windows Server 2003 R2 on Tuesday. Both will ship in the same timeframe as Windows Server 2003 R2, Microsoft said.

Microsoft estimates that roughly 60 percent of its customer base has moved to Windows Server 2003, and the rest are running Windows Server 2000.

Muglia emphasized that R2 is compatible with Windows Server 2003 and contains the SP1 code as part of the CD set. That will make it possible for companies running Windows Server 2003 or Windows Server 2003 SP1 to upgrade with no or minimal testing needed.

Yet Microsoft is depending on its ecosystem partners to make R2 valuable for each customer's unique environments, he noted. HP, for example, will support WS-Management in its Proliant servers to enable management of a Windows Server from standard consoles. Additionally, BMC, Citrix and Quest will extend the Active Directory Federation Services to heterogeneous environments, Microsoft said.

"This is an important release of the Windows server, but to Microsoft, it's just one piece of the puzzle," Muglia said. "We need hardware partners, ISVs, solution providers and system integrators that allow you to build systems that run your businesses."

One Microsoft integrator and system builder in Los Angeles said demand for the R2 release will likely happen after ISVs develop applications using Visual Studio 2005 and the .NET Framework 2.0. Or after SBS 2003 R2 ships.

The planned Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 -- based on the R2 code -- will be released to manufacturing at the end of the first quarter or early in the second quarter, said Price. He noted that Microsoft needs additional time to integrate SQL Server 2005 and Windows Server Update Services into SBS.

"I doubt any even have ever heard of any R2 release. So, no, there's really no demand coming from clients in the SMB," said Jeffrey Sherman, president of Warever Computing, Los Angeles. Typically, it is the application that brings small businesses ease, not the underlying operating system. QuickBooks or Act! Or even the shared FAX built into SBS makes their life easier. A better OS isn't going to have much of an immediate effect."