Prove It Or Lose It

To protect market share and fend off Linux, Microsoft is betting the house on Windows Server 2003 and its beefed-up services

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

February 14, 2003

3 Min Read

Beyond improved security, what Conlon needs from Windows Server 2003 is better performance. As more consumers do business through Progressive's Web site, which runs on Windows NT servers, response time is a higher priority. "That's becoming more and more important," he says. Progressive plans to run performance, security, and integration tests on Windows Server 2003 when it's released and, depending on the results, deploy it sometime after that. In its own tests, Microsoft says Windows Server 2003 generally runs applications twice as fast as Windows 2000. Those results haven't been independently verified.

If there's one area where Windows Server 2003 is fundamentally different from earlier versions of Microsoft's server operating systems, it's Web services. The Simple Object Access Protocol; Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration; Web Services Description Language; and XML specs are built into Windows Server 2003, promising easier creation, management, and interoperability of software services. An integration layer, called the .Net Framework, supports rapid application development of Web services when used in conjunction with Microsoft's Visual Studio .Net developer tools. And a UDDI services layer is where newly generated Web services can be registered and made available to other applications. Together, the elements make Windows Server 2003 a foundation for Web-services deployment within Microsoft's .Net architecture.

So, with all the Web-services glue, why did Microsoft decide last month to drop the .Net name from a product that until then had been called Windows .Net Server 2003? Our survey gives a clue: Only 32% of companies that plan to adopt the operating system say Web services is driving them to do it. A greater number are interested in the operating system for more tactical reasons, such as better management tools and scalability. Microsoft managers might have realized they risked characterizing the operating system too narrowly as a Web-services platform, while many customers still grapple with some of the most basic IT challenges.

The change of heart was an embarrassment for the Windows Server team, which had already printed marketing paraphernalia bearing the short-lived name. Even as Ho bored into the details of Windows Server 2003 last month, flags bearing the Windows .Net Server insignia flapped outside the building.

Yet Microsoft might be excused for being overly anxious about the Web-services capabilities in Windows Server 2003. The fact is Web services fit into the longer-term strategies of businesses with no immediate plans to deploy them. Arch Chemicals is interested in Windows Server 2003 primarily as a replacement for its aging Windows NT servers and as a way to upgrade its directory services to Active Directory. But VP of IT Schmidt says Web services could eventually fit into the company's infrastructure. "You'll start seeing more business-to-business integration," he says. "And there are some internal applications where we'd like to go in that direction, too."

One way or another, it's just a matter of time before most of Microsoft's business customers find Windows Server 2003 in their IT environments. There are, after all, hundreds of thousands of NT servers in operation, and Microsoft won't continue to support them forever. "They're going to have to move at some point," says Richard Fichera, an analyst with Giga Information Group.

How quickly businesses do so will depend on how adept Microsoft is at addressing concerns about the cost, stability, and security of its new operating system. What's more, too many customers -- about 60% -- are wor- ried about compatibility between Windows Server 2003 and their existing applications, including other Microsoft products.

For Hilton's Bean, the choice of which operating system to run is simple enough. "I want the best operating system I can get my hands on," he says. Microsoft's challenge -- and opportunity -- is to prove that's what it can deliver.

Photo by Bill Cramer

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