LOS ANGELES—Some of the changes in the upcoming release of Windows Server 2008 are a response to features and performance advantages that have made Linux an attractive option to Microsoft customers.
One of these is the fact that Linux has less of a surface area, which led customers to believe that Linux is inherently more secure, Bill Laing, the general manager for Microsofts Windows Server division, told eWEEK in an interview at its annual Windows Hardware Engineering conference here.
Surface area is the term IT managers use to discuss the overall resource footprint of a computer operating environment, including the amount of code, features, ports and other network resources that offer potential avenues for security attacks.
“Having less surface area does reduce the servicing and the amount of code you have running and exposed, so we have done a lot of work in 2008 to make the system more modular. You have the server manager; every role is optional, and there are more than 30 components not installed by default, which is a huge change,” Laing said.
“We also have server core, which doesnt have the GUI [graphical user interface], so I would say that is a response to the options people had with Linux that they didnt have with Windows,” he said.
There are also several computing tasks in which Linux is particularly strong, Laing said, pointing to compute clusters as one. Microsoft has responded to this factor with Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, for which all the third-party applications are now being moved across, he said.
Another area of competition from Linux was on the Web serving front, particularly Internet-facing Web servers and hosting, and that was the drive behind Microsofts push to significantly improve IIS 7 (Internet Information Services).
“We did a lot of work over the incremental work done in [Internet Information Server] IIS 6 and giving the tools to hosters so they had packages. But, really, the thrust behind IIS 7 was to respond to Linux and I think we have had an effect if you look at the data on Internet-facing Web server numbers,” Laing said.
Iain McDonald, the managing director for Windows Server, is also not worried about the competitive threat posed by leading Linux distributor Red Hat.
“I am not particularly worried about Red Hat, which makes a product—or rather gets free development groups to make a product—that they sell for about the same amount of money as Windows Server. Its not the biggest worry area for us. Frankly, Im more interested in solving customer problems than worrying about what theyre doing in a certain space,” McDonald told eWEEK.
Asked about the delay in Microsofts hypervisor technology, code-named Viridian, and whether this was a competitive disadvantage, McDonald told eWEEK that doing it right was more important than rushing something to market.
Keeping Up with Linux
“No one remembers a delay a couple of years down the line the way they do if it has quality problems. Today, less than 5 percent of servers are virtualized and there is a tremendous opportunity still sitting out there in the market,” he said.
“There are a number of hypervisors out there and there are some things that work in ways we agree with and there are other things that work in ways that we dont. For example, there is one company that builds a pretty fat hypervisor that has a bunch of driver model stuff in there. We think that doesnt really belong in a low-level piece and we think that the hypervisor should be out of the way as much as possible.”
Microsofts Laing also noted that the company has a strong virtualization product already in the market: Windows Virtual Server 2005. Microsoft knows from telemetry generated from the beta program how many people were running their beta in virtual versus physical environments.
“We can tell which hypervisor they are running on and to be honest, I see zero on Linux. We see VMware rather than Xen because its not really out there in production versions of Red Hat and SUSE. But the long-term issue around virtualization will be who had the best management tools,” he said.
McDonald said that in the end, it all comes down to building products with the right level of technology.
“I dont want to have a discussion with a customer where we have a problem with a low-level quality product. It hurts you and always comes back to bite you. I am the least apologetic person about product delays as there are, at least 90 percent of the time, for good reasons,” he said.
Asked if Windows was lagging behind Linux on the virtualization front, McDonald said: “I cant think of a time when anybody in production with a lot of virtualization has said to me that Linux is better than Windows in this regard.”
Jim Fister, the lead technology strategist at Intel, agreed, telling eWEEK that he had a lot of discussions around virtualization and had also not heard anyone claim that Windows was inferior.
When asked what the biggest areas of concern were for him, McDonald said that the model had changed, and a lot of the functionality was now moving into the cloud, and that how Microsoft works in that environment will be very important.
There is also a decentralization trend in a lot of ways, and how Microsoft responds to that trend and does the right things for its customers in that area is also important, McDonald said.
Another key issue is how Microsoft will enable “people to be able to manage many servers as one. They are the big things we have to achieve and solving those things is much more important than worrying about someone with whatever percentage of share,” he said.