Microsoft is touting the launch of Windows Server 2003 and a 64-bit version of SQL Server as a de facto web services platform and evidence of the company's ability to compete with Unix vendors in high-end data centre computing.
The software giant has spent three years building on the experience of its first data centre product - Windows Server 2000 - and claims that the new release is the "most reliable and secure" operating system it has ever built.
Microsoft explained that its Intel-based server operating system can cope with mission-critical applications, claiming a 40 per cent improvement in stability and a 50 per cent reduction in total cost of ownership (TCO) for migrating NT4 users.
But, although analysts agree that Windows Server 2003 represents a significant and compelling improvement for users on older Windows platforms looking to scale up, they maintain that it is unlikely to dent the IBM and Hewlett Packard dominated Unix market.
"Windows Server 2003 will prevent a number of defections as it brings more developments on both hardware and clustering software that add to its overall stability and reliability," said Gary Barnett, research director at analyst Ovum.
"But I don't see many migrating from Unix to Windows. If users do upgrade off Unix I see them migrating in growing numbers to Linux."
Rob Enderle, senior analyst at Giga Information Group, admitted that companies which have the upgrade included in their volume licensing agreements are looking at Windows Server 2003, but that cost is pushing others to Linux.
"We have a lot of folks on enterprise agreements who have rights to the new server, and many have indicated that they are considering the move if they have the resources to do it," he said.
"For those not under Microsoft contract the recession and the promise of Linux makes the move for them much less likely."
Microsoft is showing off new users of the platform at the Windows 2003 launch, including the London Stock Exchange and transport and leisure services firm Sea Containers.
High street retail chain House of Fraser has also confirmed to vnunet.com that it is to use Windows Server 2003 as the basis for a new multi-channel customer ordering system in the autumn.
But UK users, especially those still on NT4, will need a lot of convincing that the pain and cost of upgrading is worth it, according to David Rippon, chairman of user group Elite and professor of IT at Buckinghamshire Chiltern University.
"People have been stuck on NT4 for a while and why should they move off it unless there is a compelling reason?" he asked.
But Dan Kuznetsky, vice president of systems software research at IDC, said that, while Windows Server 2003 does require hardware investment, it does offer significant benefits which lower the TCO.
"The value proposition won't be apparent up front," he explained. "But if you look at the TCO, staff-related costs such as support and administration add up over a five-year period to about 50 to 70 per cent of the cost.
"Microsoft will acknowledge the costs of extra hardware but the savings on staff will be significant and make it lower in cost."
The other strand of Microsoft's high-end enterprise pitch is the launch of a 64-bit version of its SQL Server database software, optimised for Intel's high-speed Itanium 2 chipset.
Microsoft will initially target companies that need massive memory and processing capability for large data warehousing applications.
But, although pricing is the same as the 32-bit version, SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition will require the Windows Server 2003 platform and a hardware upgrade.
Mitch Gatchalian, product manager for SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition at Microsoft, suggested that the scalability and performance improvements will prevent Windows customers moving to Unix when they scale up.
"It is an alternative to very expensive Unix systems that Windows customers would have moved to when they needed to grow. Non-Windows customers now have a choice. We have better economics," he said.
The final piece of the Windows Server 2003 launch jigsaw is the latest version of Microsoft's developer toolkit, Visual Studio.Net 2003, which includes features to enable developers to more easily build web services for mobile devices.
But this is more of an update to the original version released last year. Bloor Research analyst Tony Lock claimed that the next version of the toolkit, code-named Whidbey, will feature major changes that will tie in with 64-bit SQL Server and Microsoft's systems management strategy.
"When Microsoft starts with the next release of Visual Studio it will let developers put the necessary management hooks into the code instead of trying to sit management on top of the application," he said.
WINDOWS SERVER 2003
- Microsoft claims it is the "most secure, most reliable, highest-performing server operating system" it has built.
- The company hopes it will push remaining NT4 users to upgrade.
- Available in seven versions ranging from a standard to data centre edition.
- Includes new systems management features as part of Microsoft's Dynamic Systems Initiative.
- The release has been delayed three times over two years.
- A new modular approach means that some pieces will be made available over the next few months, such as enterprise instant messaging software and security policy technology rights management services.
- Unisys is the first manufacturer to build servers for the data centre edition, with its ES7000/500 product.
SQL SERVER 2000 ENTERPRISE EDITION
- 64-bit version of the database product, designed to run on a Windows Server 2003 platform based on Intel's high-speed Itanium 2 chip.
- Microsoft promises better performance than the previous 32-bit version for the same price, but this does not factor in the higher hardware costs needed to run it.
- The product will challenge Unix-based systems based on 64-bit SQL.
- Released benchmark results show that its power is only likely to be needed at the very high end.
- Analyst Gartner has advised users to wait for the first service pack update to iron out any security bugs.
VISUAL STUDIO.NET 2003
- Previously code-named Everett, this version of the developer tool kit is closely tied with Windows Server 2003 to try and boost the development of web services applications in .Net, rather than Java.
- Includes features to make it easier for developers to build web services for mobile devices.
- An incremental update of the original Visual Studio.Net product, the next version, code-named Whidbey and due next year, is expected to be a major release that will be more closely tied into the 64-bit SQL database.
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