Microsoft Slaps Itself into Shape with R2

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2005-12-06

Microsoft Slaps Itself into Shape with R2

Many are gleeful.

Tuesdays remarkably on-schedule release of Windows Server 2003 R2 represents the first fruits of Microsofts effort to shape up on delivering Windows products on a regular basis, with much-improved security, in a form that doesnt break applications.

"Were pretty happy here," said Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Server and Tools, in an interview with Ziff Davis Internet News following the Webcast announcement of R2s release.

"R2 was a big commitment by us on delivering Windows on a regular basis."

Analysts and beta testers share the joy. Laura DiDio, an analyst with Yankee Group, said the nicest thing about R2 is that its finally here, given that people have been waiting a long time.

Whats also nice is that Microsoft dropped the price, Didio said, leaving R2 pricing at the same level as Windows Server 2003 and cutting the cost on Virtual Server by $100.

"Its to indicate, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, whatever," Didio said.

Santa Claus and dreidels aside, the price cut also amounts to a recognition of two things, Didio said. One, the economy is in the doldrums. Two, Microsoft is facing stiff competition.

And despite what you hear about Linux, Didio said, the truth is that most of Microsofts competition comes from itself.

"The biggest competition they face is older Microsoft products," she said. "Theyre competing against themselves, so they need pretty compelling arguments."

Luckily for Microsoft, analysts and beta customers do find compelling arguments to upgrade in R2.

Richard Fichera, an analyst with Forrester Research, said that improvements in Active Directory, along with new data services—particularly replication—will help to answer his clients needs.

Bill York, director of Network Technical Services for CB Richard Ellis, said that data replication is indeed the No. 1 feature hes interested in.

The company deployed R2 in its central data center and, initially, in one branch office.

The company also moved backup responsibility to the data center and began replicating data from the branch office, thus eliminating the need for backup hardware at branch offices and gaining abilities to better regulate server files and to manage disk quotas.

"We have 80 field offices in the United States, and we have smaller satellite offices where its not really been feasible to place file servers there because of the lack of IT staff in the office," York said in an interview with Ziff Davis Internet News.

"What [R2] allows us to do is to put together a small server bundle and have it on-site and centralizing backup functionality. Were replicating all the data back to a large server in our central office, and thats backed up to tape on a regular basis."

Read more here about Windows Server 2003 R2.

CB Ellis is also implementing volume shadow server to keep snapshots of the file server available locally.

The IT staff takes snapshots twice a day so that if they receive a request from a user in the field office to restore data, they can go back to the snapshot.

The company can keep 20 to 30 snapshots without having to revert to tape.

Thus, the central office server acts as a disaster recovery system if the whole remote server were to go down.

Thats important in a remote office that typically doesnt have a local IT person on-site, York said.

"Without having somebody dedicated to IT, its not a reliable process to task an office manager with swapping out tapes," he said. "If tapes dont get swapped out, you may or may not be getting backups, and they may or may not be historical backups."

Next Page: Rich new features.

Rich New Features

Beyond new replication capabilities are a host of rich new features and services that Microsoft has been touting for a long time, including identity and access management, storage management, and better application development inside and outside an organizations traditional boundaries.

On top of the rich new feature set, Microsoft has gotten "much, much better" in terms of deliverables to customers, lack of notable bugs and general hardening of security, Didio said.

"[Customers] like the hardened security," she said. "They like the patch management schedules. Youre getting the stuff once a month. Its not an onerous, confusing, painful task that it was this time two years ago."

Microsofts documentation has also improved, Didio said—a factor whose importance shouldnt be overlooked.

"You cannot overstate the importance of good documentation: going up on the Web, being able to get good white papers," she said. "[Plus] the fact that Microsoft has also strengthened a number of compatible hardware devices, peripherals, that will work with this. That will help."

Not that R2 is bulletproof, Didio said. Customers would love the search capabilities of the Mac operating system, for example, or to get their hands on Windows File System.

As it now stands, Windows Longhorn Server, which is due in 2007, will bring a range of developer-focused technologies such as Terminal Services, networking, management and storage, including the transactional file system, which is an update to NTFS.

But all in all, R2 is a no-lose situation, particularly given that its based entirely on Windows Server 2003 SP1, Fichera said.

"R2 is additional functionality, so theres no requirement for people to load it," he said.

"I think they took a pretty intelligent approach to regression testing. Nothing in R2 interferes with the base functionality."

What that means is that R2 wont break applications like its ancestor, 2003 R1, and its client counterpart, Windows XP Service Pack 2, which both broke several key Microsoft and third-party applications when released.

Muglia said that the breakage was caused by the need to trade off: In return for lost application compatibility, the software received better security, he said.

But now that customers have experienced the pain of SP1s breaking applications, theyre over that hump and wont have to endure it with R2, Muglia said.

"The concern customers were having with SP1 is really a non-issue with R2," he said.

Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.

Rocket Fuel