Microsoft Tunes Whistler Server

Beta 2 enhancements focus on easing deployment of Active Directory.

Microsoft Corp., claiming to have learned from its mistakes, has added a number of features and enhancements to the second beta of its Whistler server operating system, which company officials said will make deployment far easier, especially for Active Directory.

"We didnt supply enough prescriptive guidance with the Windows 2000 server family," said Dave Thompson, vice president for Microsofts Windows Product Server Group, in an interview with eWeek here earlier this month. "We tended to describe the technology and then let people figure out what to do with it. But that was not what customers needed, so were now providing more prescriptive guidance, which should make it easier for clients to roll out Active Directory."

In the second Whistler server beta, which was recently sent to testers, attention was given to improving the deployment of Active Directory, which allows technology administrators to more easily manage resources on a corporate network and accelerate the handling of security access, Thompson said.

Documentation that shipped with Beta 2 lists a number of enhancements around Active Directory, including DNS (Domain Name System) configuration enhancements to its Installation Wizard.

Beta 2 includes several enhancements to LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) client and server implementation, such as support for dynamic entries, Transport Layer Security, Virtual List Views and Dynamic Auxiliary classes.

Microsoft is also providing experts to help with Active Directory deployment design reviews and will be stepping up special training for a broader set of partners and consultants both inside and outside the company over the next three months.

The Redmond, Wash., company has spent a lot of time talking to customers to escalate the next level of deployments and is adding features to Whistler to help make deployment "easier, more secure and more flexible in a broad range of scenarios," Thompson said.

As such, a range of enhancements has been included on the directory and security side, building on the functions and features found in the Windows 2000 code base. The ability to more easily join together independent forests has been addressed, with cross-forest support added to Whistler Beta 2.

Other additions include Cross- Forest Authorization and Cross-Forest Authentication, which enable secure access to resources when the user account is in one forest and the computer account is in another.

Bob OBrien, group product manager for the Windows Server division, said this was a significant advance, allowing easier administration of these forests. "We are not reintroducing the trust issue that came up with the old [Windows] NT system. We learned our lesson from that, and this has been thought out in this trust mechanism," OBrien said. "Two established directories and entities that want to communicate with one another, yet remain independent, can now do so."

But a consultant with a major New York financial institution, who requested anonymity, said that while this feature would be useful for large organizations with multiple trees, most organizations would not partition themselves this way. "As such, it will appeal to only a very small number of users," the consultant said.

OBrien said Microsofts IIS (Internet Information Services) 6.0, which ships with Beta 2, further builds on LDAP capabilities and provides customers with the tools needed to more easily migrate from other directories to a single directory structure.

The Beta 2 documentation says IIS 6.0 introduces a dedicated application mode, which runs all application code in an isolated environment, without the performance penalty of previous versions. "This mode provides the ability to isolate anything from an individual Web application to multiple sites in their own, self-contained Web service process. This prevents one application or site from stopping another," the documentation says.

OBrien said IIS 6.0 is more robust than Version 5.0 (found in Windows 2000 Server) and 4.0 (in NT). Customers also no longer have to shut down their system to get rid of a bad process, giving them more system reliability and greater control over system performance, he said.

However, the consultant said it appeared Microsoft was again trying to wean customers off other directories and onto Microsofts alone. "But, while the ability to avoid rebooting is fairly compelling, it is probably only useful for large IIS implementations," he said.

Beta 2 includes the SharePoint Web server found in Office XP. It allows a team Web site to be created in minutes, while integration with SharePoint Team Services enables information to be shared between Office XP applications and a team Web site. OBrien said this was for those companies that wanted "out-of-the-box" team Web sites rather than one large intranet.

While the Whistler server family has not been given a release name as yet, it is likely to continue the year-of-release-naming tradition and be known as Windows 2002 Server. It will consist of Windows Server, the entry-level file and print server; Windows Advanced Server, the midlevel symmetric multiprocessing offering; and Windows Datacenter Server, positioned as Microsofts mainframe killer.

OBrien said no final decision had been taken on whether a fourth "Web blade" edition for serving up HTML pages will be included. Such an edition would power those smaller servers that sit at the front end of Web applications.