BitDepth 618 - March 11

Microsoft launches Windows Server 2008, Visual Studio 2008 and SQL Server 2008 in a Caribbean "Wave."
Microsoft updates the IT backroom

IT professionals at the launch of Microsoft Windows Server 2008 at the Hyatt Regency. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

The news that Microsoft was releasing a major upgrade to its operating system for servers isn’t the sort of thing that most folks would find exciting, but for a room full of IT professionals at the Hyatt Regency on the Port of Spain waterfront last week, it was the biggest thing they might have to consider all year.
“This is the most important technology launch in the history of Microsoft,” said George Gobin, Caribbean Territory Manager for the Redmond company said in his introductory remarks.
You might find it to be hyperbole, but there wasn’t a titter in the room as almost two hundred people waited to hear what the new version of Windows Server 2008, the first major update to that software since 2003, would have to offer them.

It’s worth noting that for most people who connect to a server, usually in an office environment, that experience is largely invisible. Servers act as a central repository for files which need to be accessed by working groups, a space to aggregate automated backups and a source of company wide services, such as a mail server like Microsoft’s Exchange.
Most people’s active relationship with a server is to experience frustration when “it’s down” or they are unable to access their e-mail or a pane keeps popping up on their computer screen insisting that it’s time to change a password.

What’s a server?
IT professionals don’t want to explain what a server is, what it does or get into the details of why there are problems. They get fewer trouble calls and more time to work on new projects in the backroom when server access is reliable and transparent to the user. Ergo the rapt attention of the folks at the Hyatt.
The server software introduction was accompanied by announcements of updates to Visual Studio, a programming system designed for building ad hoc software and rapid prototypes of software and SQL Server, an enterprise grade database system.
From Microsoft’s perspective, the launch was an opportunity to celebrate the users of these software products under the theme “Heroes happen here,” a way of shining a light on their least visible customers and the demos and videos paid lip service to the theme when they weren’t dense with technical details. That’s what happens when you’re in room with under appreciated and highly technical people who all talk the same binary language.

New features
According to Microsoft research, 80 percent of the work in the IT backroom is dedicated to maintenance and 20 percent is focused on new products and innovation. The various time and effort saving features of Windows Server 2008 propose to switch that ratio, giving IT professionals an opportunity to spend more of their time on developing new solutions for their companies.
The new product offers two key new features that will drive that kind of change.
Microsoft has redesigned the way it approaches security in the new server product, consolidating password control into more easily protected and managed systems.

Infotech’s Satish Ramadhan described this new approach as key to two major deployments of the new product at Home Construction Limited and PCS Nitrogen. Both clients had widely distributed access points to their computer networks which benefited from the new approach to password consolidation and management.
Sharp increases in mobile users of server systems have been matched with deeper control over how users connect to the new server software. Computers that do not match meet criteria set out by the administrators, such as the status of anti-virus software or a faulty firewall setting will be put in virtual quarantine, and the server can automatically repair settings which do not match corporate network standards.

At the core of the new server software is virtualisation, a concept that’s worthy of more space than I can give it here. The addition of virtual machine technology puts Microsoft in competition with VMWare, the market leader in this product segment, but the company has an interesting technology strategy for its implementation. 
Next week, virtual machines in Windows Server 2008 and on the desktop.

Product availability
Windows Server 2008 is available in several versions which include several enterprise iterations and versions for smaller business installations. Essentials Business Server is targeted at customers with 75-500 clients, and the Small Business Server is designed for installations with 75 or fewer clients. 

“We sell more enterprise licences than small business solutions,” notes Infotech’s Satish Ramadhan, “regardless of the company’s size.”
Microsoft’s George Gobin notes that the company is very flexible about its licensing for the product and additional services, such as SQL Server can be bundled with products as needed.
Visual Studio 2008 is shipping, and SQL Server 2008 will be available in the third quarter of 2008.
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