Windows Server 2003 R2 Draws Applause

As part of the official launch last week, Microsoft announced the release to manufacturing of Windows Server 2003 R2 and Windows Storage Server 2003 R2.

Those enhanced offerings, along with Virtual Server 2005 R2, will be available in the first quarter of 2006. Windows Server 2003 R2 will be available to licensed customers beginning in February.

Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2, which will incorporate the upgraded Windows Server 2003 SP1 code and SQL Server 2005 Workgroup, will be completed as expected sometime in the second or third calendar quarter.

It is the first significant upgrade of the server code since Windows Server 2003 was released in April 2003. The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant released a security-enhanced service pack dubbed SP1 in March, but the R2 release offers many new features including better support for branch offices and Unix/Linux, as well as new directory federation features that will allow customers to set up trusted relationships with external partners.

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By far, partners were most impressed with the improved file replication and storage services, particularly the enhanced efficiency of file replication over the WAN. For example, in R2, only changes to a PowerPoint file are sent over the WAN.

Not only will this help customers support multiple branch offices, partners say, but it also will lower the cost of disaster-recovery solutions.

“If the replication features are strong enough, we won&'t have to go out and buy third-party software like DoubleTake or Legato,” said Tom Barnes, marketing manager at NSPI, Roswell, Ga. “Typically, that software can be $2,000 per server. If we could negate the need to buy that, it would be huge for customers.”

It also will reduce costs to support multiple branch offices, partners say, noting that many customers in the small and midmarket space operate more than one office. 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 multisite 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 server will also offer better support for Web services, .Net applications and mobile applications using the improved Internet Information Server 6.0 and Microsoft&'s recently released next-generation application platform, Visual Studio 2005, and SQL Server 2005. The server incorporates the .Net Framework 2.0 and ASP.Net 2.0 for advanced Web development.



Microsoft&'s road map for Windows Server and Client deliverables in 2006


>> First quarter: Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Storage Server 2003 R2, Virtual Server 2005 R2, Windows Vista Client Beta 2
>> Second quarter: Windows Small Business Server 2005 R2
>> Late in the year: Windows Vista Client

Partners lauded many of the new features as cost savers but some say they haven&'t seen much pent-up demand for R2. Still, the delivery of Microsoft&'s next-generation application platform last month will probably 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.

Meanwhile, the concurrent delivery of Virtual Server 2005 R2 and Windows Storage Server 2003 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 last week unveiled a special promotion that enables buyers of Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition to get Virtual Server R2 Enterprise Edition for only $99.

As for Windows Storage Server 2003, new features include single-instance storage and full-text indexing, Also added was a File Server Resource Manager, which lets administrators set storage quotas down to the individual user or groups through Active Directory. In addition, a data replication engine called Distributed File Systems ensures only changes to a document—and not entire documents—are replicated over a network, thus freeing bandwidth for other tasks, said Radhesh Balakrishnan, group product manager for the Windows Server division.

Don McNaughton, sales manager at HorizonTek, Huntington, N.Y., called Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 a pretty big upgrade, especially with features like single-instance storage. “When people learn what single-instance storage is, what it does, they know they have more available capacity and faster backups because they don&'t need to back up a file 50 times,” McNaughton said. “This is typically only available in higher-end products.”