Microsoft said Tuesday it's completed work on an upgrade to Windows for servers, and the new version will be available to customers by early February.
The operating system, Windows Server 2003 R2, comes two-and-a-half years after Microsoft's last major update to Windows for servers, and more than a year before the next one, the "Longhorn" version of Windows Server that's due in 2007. Microsoft plans to release major versions of Windows Server every four years, with smaller update versions between them, says senior VP for servers and tools Bob Muglia. That can help businesses plan their upgrades, and lets Microsoft deliver new technology to market between large releases, he says. But IT departments' long testing cycles for server operating systems means "you can't do it much sooner than every 18 to 24 months."
The enterprise edition of Windows Server 2003 R2, which stands for "release 2", includes a new licensing plan that will let IT departments run up to four simultaneous sessions of Windows on the same computer, compared with just one in the current version of the product. IT shops are increasingly running "virtual" servers inside a single machine to reduce the amount of hardware they operate and to speed software development. About 10% of Windows servers run the enterprise edition of the product, which costs about four times as much as the standard version, according to Muglia.
The R2 release also includes features such as a new algorithm that can reduce the amount of data traffic flowing between computers for copying files from branch office locations.
Customers who have bought Microsoft's Software Assurance maintenance agreement will receive the R2 version of Windows, which Microsoft released to manufacturing Tuesday, as part of their contract, and computer vendors will include R2 on new machines they ship. Businesses that upgrade machines from the current version of Windows Server 2003 will need to buy a new server license for each machine they upgrade, but not new client access licenses. Microsoft will require CAL upgrades with the Longhorn version of Windows server, Muglia says.
Windows Server 2003 R2 will run on systems based on the IA-32 architecture, and on 64-bit computers that use "extended" 64-bit chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices that also run 32-bit apps without slowing performance. It won't run on Intel's Itanium processors, though Muglia says Microsoft plans an Itanium-compatible version of Longhorn.