The long march to Microsoft Windows Server 2003 R2 is over, as the company on Tuesday released to manufacturing the final code for this long-awaited server software, throwing in a $100 price cut on its Virtual Server for a little holiday bling and to get the cash registers ringing in a sluggish economy.
In a prepared Webcast that featured customer testimonial, Senior Vice President of Server and Tools Bob Muglia emphasized that while 2003 R2 packs plenty of new goodies, its still built on plain old Windows Server 2003 with Service Pack 1. Therefore, R2 wont throw enterprises for a loop with the need to test the heck out of a new beast.
“R2 is built entirely on Server 2003 Service Pack 1,” Muglia said during the Webcast. “It is literally the same software. … You can be assured complete compatibility with your environment. If youre deploying 2003 today, you can feel confident to deploy 2003 R2 without having to go through a long test cycle.”
In fact, this release fits in with Microsofts newly conceived roadmap, wherein major new releases will be out every four years, while minor releases will fit in between at the two-year mark.
“We want to provide releases of Windows and server software on a regular, particular cycle for our customers,” Muglia said.
R2 is in fact one of the minor updates, he said, although its compatibility surpasses that of a service pack update.
“Its more compatible than a service pack update would be,” he said. “In fact, our compatibility test shows we were 100 percent compatible with existing applications.
Muglias need to reassure on the compatibility front comes after Microsoft Corp. faced embarrassment with 2003 R1, which broke several key Microsoft and third-party applications after it was released in the spring.
Its client counterpart, Windows XP Service Pack 2, also misbehaved in the same manner when it was released earlier.
In the R2 Webcast, Muglia described the latest release as representing a large leap forward for the companys five Windows Server customer promises—areas in which Microsoft has committed to pushing through fundamental changes in customers infrastructures over the coming five to 10 years.
Those areas are branch management, virtualization and WS-management, storage management, Unix interoperability, and identity and access management.
When it comes to making it easier-to-manage branch offices, R2 features faster data replication and advanced compression technologies.
Such features are targeted at overcoming the WAN bandwidth issues that afflict remote offices and the limited IT resources under which they typically suffer.
Muglia pointed to a new set of algorithms in R2 that he said “dramatically” reduce the amount of WAN bandwidth thats utilized, by what can be many factors of reduction.
“Fifty percent is typical, but if you have a very large PowerPoint file, [say] you make changes to a few slides, you just have to send a few tens of K of data. So your costs go way down while the ability to manage this and control this go way up,” he said.
Muglia said that many beta customers have implemented R2s distributed file system in production and that theyre seeing “tremendous” results in bringing down costs in backup infrastructure with the distributed file system feature.
“We estimate that Windows Server 2003 R2 will eliminate the productivity losses caused by server downtime—worth an estimated $240,000,” said Craig Fletcher, IT operations manager for ARCADIS, a global engineering and construction company with 76 U.S. branch offices, during the Webcast.
“Companywide backup-related productivity savings amount to an estimated $222,383 per year.”
On the SMB Front
On the SMB front, Microsoft plans to release Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2 in the second quarter of next year.
New features will include automated, networkwide patch and update management; increased mailbox limits; SQL Server 2005 Workgroup Edition technology for SBS 2003 R2 Premium customers; and expanded client access license rights for access to additional Microsoft Exchange 2003 and SQL Server 2005 Workgroup Edition servers in the SBS 2003 R2 network.
Microsoft announced that, for a limited time, beginning March 1, customers who purchase SBS 2003 from an OEM or system builder can get their hands on SBS 2003 R2 for a nominal shipping and handling fee.
Virtualization in Windows Server 2003 R2 is another hot topic for Microsoft, and its also an area wherein the company announced a get-it-while-you-can bargain price.
Earlier, in October, Microsoft announced that Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition licenses will allow customers to run up to four virtual instances on one physical server at no additional cost.
The company had already slashed the price of Virtual Server R2 in November to help stoke the flames on adoption of virtualization.
The company cut the Standard Edition price to $99 and the Enterprise Edition to $199, both U.S. estimated retail prices.
The newly announced deal is that until June 30, when customers buy one license of Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition, theyll be able to license Virtual Server 2005 R2 Enterprise Edition for the reduced price of $99, although reseller prices may vary.
“Were essentially moving from a world where software is licensed for installation services to a world where its licensed to run on a machine,” Muglia said during the Webcast.
Dell Inc. also announced Tuesday that its offering customers Virtual Server 2005 R2 and Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition jointly with Dell PowerEdge servers.
“Virtualization is a key enabling technology for the scalable enterprise strategy and the data center of the future,” Paul Gottsegen, vice president of worldwide enterprise marketing at Dell, was quoted as saying in a release.
To jumpstart customers with virtualization, Dell is providing a complete Virtual Server R2 offering that features the PowerEdge 2800 Server, Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 R2 and the Windows Server 2003 R2 operating system, prepackaged as a virtualization platform.
R2 also includes support for WS-Management, a Web services spec that provides a common way for systems to access and exchange management information.
Hewlett-Packard Co. next year will enable its new Integrated Lights-Out 2 (iLO 2) management processor with continuous remote management and control of HP ProLiant servers directly through WS-Management, irrespective of the servers power or operating system state.
This capability builds upon support for in-band WS-Management delivered in Windows Server 2003 R2.
Also released to manufacturing on Tuesday was Windows Storage Server 2003 R2.
The dedicated file and print server has features including single instance storage, full-text search and built-in document collaboration with Windows AhrePoint Services.
In the first half of 2006, Dell, HP, Iomega Corp., LeftHand Networks Inc. and Tacit Networks Inc. plan to deliver NAS (network-attached storage) products with Windows Storage Server 2003 R2.
Also big in R2 are integration with .Net 2.0 and ASP.Net 2.0 as well as Unix interoperability, which the company talked up during LinuxWorld in August.
As far as identity and access management goes, R2 delivers single sign-on.
The company is also working with third parties to develop interoperability with its Active Directory Federation Services to extend AD identity services for Web single sign-on and identity federation.
Windows Server 2003 R2 will be generally available to customers within 60 days.
Windows Server 2003 R2 pricing is identical to Windows Server 2003s pricing.
Customers covered by Software Assurance and Enterprise Agreement plans wont have to pay to upgrade.
It will be available as a new server license for non-SA customers. Windows Server 2003 CALs are required (no R2-specific version).
Editors Note: This story was updated to include additional pricing information.