Microsoft has announced it will ship the first Release Candidate of its Service Pack 1 (SP1) for Windows Server 2003 by end of the year as well as a software developers kit for the High Performance Computing version of Windows Server in November.
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Amidst the typical collection of bug and security fixes, a new feature in SP1 is the Security Configuration Wizard, designed to help administrators define or redefine a specific role for a server, or a collection of servers that all do the same thing.
"This utility can allow you to go in on a policy basis and turn off protocols, services, and features at a much more granular level than you can today," said Samm DiStasio, a manager of Microsoft's Windows Server products
"The cool thing about the wizard is once you have configured a very specific role for a server, you can take that XML-based configuration and use policy or another distribution method to do it to hundreds of servers that fit that same role."
The other bug and security fixes in SP1 address many of the same problems that were addressed in the mammoth Windows XP Service Pack 2, although some of the security fixes in SP1 are tailored to address "server-specific functions", DiStasio said.
In the preliminary testing Microsoft has done on SP1, DiStasio and other company officials said there have been marked performance gains including a 50% performance improvement in SSL workloads and a 17% gain in running 32-bit data base applications.
Microsoft also said it remains on track to deliver Windows Update Services by the end of the first half of 2005, the first beta for which is expected in November, along with a version of Windows Server 2003 with 64-bit support.
And still on track for delivery by the end of 2005 is the High Performance Computing edition of Windows Server 2003, Release 2 of the Windows Storage Server, and the first solid beta of the server version of Longhorn.
Separately, Microsoft has struck a deal with Cisco Systems, under which both companies have agreed to share and integrate their security and health assurance technologies. One of the primary goals of the new alliance is to be able to deliver solutions that will help mutual corporate users by better addressing the threat of malicious software.
"When we announced network access protection in July, the overwhelming user request was to work with Cisco in order to build a complete solution, and Cisco was hearing the same thing. Once we started talking it was clear that if we both wanted to architect a complete solution we had to interoperate," said Steve Anderson, a manager with the Windows Server products group.
Microsoft said sales of Windows Server 2003 have now surpassed those of its Windows NT4 server base, and that new deployments of the server have grown by 375%. Company officials quoted market researcher IDC as predicting that Windows Server 2003 will overtake all other versions of Windows by the end of 2005.
Researchers at IDC acknowledged the fast uptake of Windows Server 2003, but said some of its success is tied to the company's priority for fixing and updating the product at the expense of others and some users who are locked into volume licensing deals.
"We are seeing a swifter than normal transition to Windows 2003, but this could be attributed to a number of things," said Dan Kusnetzky, vice-president in charge of system software research at IDC.
"Microsoft does seem to be delivering security and service patches to Windows 2003 while other products are not getting them. Some users are getting concerned about that. Another reason is some users are under contract to accept it as part of their Select Agreement," Kusnetzky said.
Ed Scannell writes for InfoWorld