Microsoft Teaches Longhorn New Configuration Tricks

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-06-13

Microsoft Teaches Longhorn New Configuration Tricks

Microsoft Corp.s "Longhorn" server will be a far more configurable system than past Windows releases, allowing customers to change the servers setup on the fly by selecting which components to load.

"We are in the final stages of preparing to ship the first beta; Longhorn Beta 2 is well-understood, so its in very solid shape," Bob Muglia, senior vice president for Microsofts Windows Server Division, said in an interview here at the Tech Ed conference last week.

The Longhorn server release, due to ship in 2007, will focus on a number of areas, including system configuration, management and health. It will also bring improvements in file and terminal services and on the application front, Muglia said.

Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., has been working on a new error-reporting feature known as Crimson, which reports on system health. Windows Server 2003 does not have clear models that define different health and transition points of a system as it moves from operating normally to becoming nonresponsive, Muglia said. That will be addressed in Longhorn.

"We think there are three states for a server: healthy, then where things are starting to go wrong and then plain unhealthy," Muglia said. "Understanding those states, the transition points between them, as well as monitoring and managing the error messages, is very important."

In Longhorn, Microsoft has built a health model for every service and role that defines all those states and the transition points.

"With Crimson, our new error log, we can place a lot more data in that error log and define these state transitions in a very systematic way," Muglia said.

"This will help us clean up the error logs we produce dramatically and move to a world where the error messages and the logs are by and large reflective of whats really going on and matters," he told eWEEK.

David Robert, a systems manager for a global consulting and engineering company in Cambridge, Mass., welcomes a greater focus on the internal health of a system. "This is a good thing. Microsoft Operations Manager [MOM], the current Microsoft framework for health monitoring, is a bear to set up and manage, so anything they can do to make this better is a good thing," he said.

Click here to read more about Microsoft Operations Manager 2005.

"Better logs will also be great, but I will have to see them first before I believe them. If you could determine from the log what the problem is without having to go to a Microsoft knowledge base or to the Web or to call up Microsoft Professional Support Services, then that is more than half the battle right there," Robert said.

Brian Riley, a senior programmer and analyst at a large U.S. health care services company, is also a fan of Crimson, "as long as they get it right. Our network faints at least once a month. When you put 3,000 or so people into idle mode for 4 hours, it does not make you look good. If Microsoft is writing code that lets you know this is about to happen, it is a big plus," he said.

In addition, Microsoft is working on intelligent distributed storage in Longhorn, through cached client storage, where the client would always work in a local state and replicate up to the server on an ongoing basis. "This is a big deal for us, and you will see it in Longhorn," Muglia said.

But, while some users, like John Persinger, an internal network administrator for Source4, in Roanoke, Va., are not sure they want all their files working this way, "its certainly a worthwhile approach, especially in the development community where that type of file management is done by another piece of software," Persinger said.

Microsoft also plans to build a set of services into Windows that would enable virtualization of operating system sessions, as both Intel Corp., with Vanderpool, and Advanced Micro Devices Inc., with Pacifica, are putting virtualization hardware into their chip sets next year, Muglia said.

Click here to read more about Vanderpool and Pacifica.

The virtualization technology will have two components: the underlying hypervisor software and the full virtualization stack that sits on top of that. Both components will be part of the operating system and will be released shortly after Longhorn as an update, but no pricing or packaging decisions have been made.

In line with Microsofts policy of integrated innovation, one set of components will piggyback on another set in another product, essentially requiring users to have them all installed. "Systems Management Server will manage the images for virtualization, [and] MOM will manage the monitoring, but some things are missing, like dynamically moving things, and that might be a separate product we might want to build as part of System Center," Muglia said.

Most of the functionality of the current Virtual Server 2005, which was built prior to this new hardware technology, will also become part of the operating system going forward, and Microsoft will then build management tools on top of that, he said.

Next Page: Benefits of virtualization.

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Having virtualization at the kernel level "should give you a system performance boost and also add to the security model, so yes, this is a good way to go," said Robert. "I believe the day is coming where someone will send you a fully configured virtual server as a file with, say, an application already preinstalled, and maybe even customized to your environment so all you have to do is plug it in and make it go and maybe make a few tweaks to the software," he said.

Persinger said that while this is a good concept, "there is too little information beyond the usual the next great revolution hype to really understand how itll be implemented upon actual release."

Riley was even more skeptical. "It sounds like [Microsoft is] trying to wipe out another add-on market. In the past, their track record for first releases has been really bad for that. Ask me again after it comes out," he said.

Even as Longhorns feature set is finalized, the Windows Server development team is already looking at features for releases beyond Longhorn, including Longhorn Release 2 and "Blackcomb," the version of Windows that will follow Longhorn and is expected to ship around 2010.

The focus in Longhorn Release 2 will be management, getting "Monad" technology—a new scripting/monitoring shell that enables command-line administration capabilities in a more automated way—integrated into the server system and improving the user interface, he said.

Blackcomb will be centered on model-based management, an area Microsoft is working on more and more. There will also be more integration of the companys Dynamic Systems Initiative and in areas such as defining models across the system, Muglia said.

Source4s Persinger agreed that more and better management should be a focus beyond Longhorn, but he sees the "Monad" command-line improvements "at least partially a style push for the Unix/Linux nerds. Obviously, Microsoft isnt going to openly admit theyve made a decision because of that, but its something I still find quite hilarious," he said.

Click here to read Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols column "No Monad. No Longhorn?"

For his part, Robert said he is a little tired of the back and forth between the GUI and the command line. "For years, the command line was the way to go if you really wanted to get under the hood and make things happen. Then Microsoft made everything easier with the GUI, so you didnt have to rely on the command line as much, so now they want to make the command line a focus again? I dont get it," he said.

When asked what he would most like to see Microsoft do with the next Windows, Riley replied tongue-in-cheek: "Release it sometime this decade."

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