More Functionality in Windows Server 2003, but at What Price?
Throughout the Windows Server 2003 launch last week, Microsoft touted the five flavors of its latest server platform as bringing abundant new features across management, security, networking, and communications. Just for starters, the parade of new features includes Internet Authentication Service (IAS), Configure Your Server (CYS) and Manage Your Server (MYS) wizards, and Group Policy Management Console (GPMC), a separate snap-in component for the Microsoft Management Console (MMC).
Microsoft officials are trying to cast the features and faster performance of W2K+3 as good medicine for bad financial times. Windows Server 2003 will let organizations "do more with less," contended Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, speaking at the main launch in San Francisco. Additionally, third-party vendors are already lining up with hardware products and software applications meant to leverage these new capabilities.
Not everyone, though, is convinced that Microsoft has a solid grasp of the financial realities facing systems administrators today.
Financial Realities of 2003
Many customers are carefully weighing whether to upgrade from existing Windows 2000 and NT 4.0 implementations, given the current state of the economy.
"Risk is the one factor that Microsoft fails to consider," argued an outside consultant specializing in Windows server implementations.
"It's risky to recommend the purchase of a new server platform to your company. What happens if things don't work out? A lot of people just don't want to put their jobs on the line right now."
Customers Weighing Upgrades
Still, many customers are taking a serious look at upgrades, especially those currently using Windows NT 4.0. Systems administrators say they're exploring what to expect from the various editions of W2K+3.
"We've heard that Microsoft might be offering lower licensing fees in some editions of the server," said an administrator from a New York City municipal agency. The organization is currently considering whether to upgrade from NT 4.0. Although W2K has been out on the market now for three years, about half of all Windows server licenses are still for NT, according to some industry estimates.
Lup S. Kong, systems analyst at the New York Branch of National Bank of Canada, said his branch of the bank is eyeing a possible migration from a current mix of Windows 2000 and Novell NetWare servers. "I'm mostly interested in the improved security," Kong added during an interview.
Ferreting Out the Features
Customers will have some work cut out for them just trying to ferret out the features, pricing, and availability of the five editions of W2K+3, let alone Microsoft's emerging applications servers for the 2003 platform. The five editions of Windows Server 2003 are Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition, Datacenter Edition, Web Edition, and 64-Bit.
According to information currently posted on Microsoft's Web site, Standard Edition is priced at $999 for the server product plus 5 Client Access Licenses (CALs), or $1,199 for the server product plus 10 CALs. Enterprise Edition is priced at $3,999 for the server product plus 25 CALs (user or device).
Datacenter Edition is available only through OEMs. Web Edition -- a "lighter-weight" OS seen by some as Microsoft's partial answer to Linux -- isn't available through all sales channels. Microsoft is estimating pricing as low as $397. Customers, though, are being advised to contact local systems builders, OEMs, or resellers for information on "actual pricing" and "how to purchase."
Moreover, each edition of W2K+3 has a different feature set. The new CYS and MYS wizards ship with all five editions, and GPMS works with all editions except Web Edition. IAS, intended to let administrators separate authentication and authorization during connection requests, is included in all editions except the Web and 64-bit products.
Meanwhile, upgrades to next generation application servers could bring additional costs. Some net managers have reported incompatibilities between W2K+3 and older editions of Windows app servers.
Administrators looking into W2K+3 will also encounter a raft of new third-party products meant to extend the platform's functionality.
Unisys' new ES7000/560, for example, is designed to run both 64- and 32-bit editions of Windows Server. Jeff Cohen, a satisfied customer from JetBlue, gave a video testimonial about the ES7000/560 with W2K+3 during last week's launch. The machine from Unisys combines 64- and 32-bit processors with PC blade appliances.
On the software side, Oblix is taking advantage of IIS Server 6, Active Directory, and the new Authentication Manager in its NetPoint software for single sign-on identity management, according to Prakash Ramamurthy, Oblix's VP of products and technology.
Burger King and CUNA Mutual are both using NetPoint on their portals. "Burger King wants to use its portal to teach employees at its thousands of franchises about company rules, for example. Fast food, though, is a high turnover business. So Burger King has rolled out our solution on top of Windows 2003 Server to keep IDs up to date and lower the administrative costs of managing security," Ramamurthy maintained during an interview.
First Virtual Communications' Click to Meet for W2K+3 will use SQL Server and the directory and presence engine in Microsoft's Real-Time Communications (RTC) server for combining instant messaging with multipoint audio, video, and data conferencing, said First Virtual CTO Dave Bundy.
Formerly codenamed Greenwich, Microsoft RTC Server 2003 Standard Edition is now slated to ship during the third quarter of this year.
W2K+3 does promise a large number of capabilities beyond those included in W2K, although some of this functionality will take time to realize. As the dust settles around last week's barrage of announcements, organizations will likely continue the process of analyzing whether buying into Microsoft's new server OS makes sense for them.