A vision of technology to come - April to June

Danny Bradbury looks at the IT roadmap for the spring and summer months of 2003. Microsoft unleashes its long-awaited Windows...

Danny Bradbury looks at the IT roadmap for the spring. Microsoft unleashes its long-awaited Windows Server 2003, Intel adds its heavy guns to the 64-bit market, and the latest version of Linux appeals even more to the enterprise.


April: Windows Server 2003

Originally meant to ship late last year, Microsoft's next-generation server operating system has also changed its name. Originally .Net Server, the product is now called Windows Server 2003, but Microsoft executives insist the company is not backing away from its .net web services initiative with the name change. Although it will include the .net framework, the real interest lies in the system's infrastructure, scalability, and security improvements.


The Active Directory system (think of it as an address book for all your computer resources and the people that use them) benefits the most from the changes. Traditionally difficult to implement, Microsoft has worked on making it simpler to manage. For instance, trust relationships can be built between "forests" within the directory structure’s hierarchy, which mirror the hierarchy within a global business


Replicating the Active Directory database ensures people at different offices can log into servers and access applications and data securely. But in the past this replication has been fraught with problems since the database often proved too large to copy efficiently over a network. Directory replication has now been made easier. First, users can copy it onto a CD-ROM or tape then install directly at a remote site. Another feature in Windows 2003 is link-value replication individual changes to a directory are copied across a network, rather than the whole directory.


In Internet Information Server 6.0, the company has worked hard to solve the security problems that plagued the Windows 2000 web server. Applications are now divided into their own memory spaces, with multiple application pools all running software independently. IIS is turned off by default, and only serves static content unless otherwise specified. Such things can be managed using an application management console now included in the system. The infamous buffer overflow problem that rendered the system vulnerable to Internet attacks has been addressed with the inclusion of a protective software marker on the stack that stops data sent across the Internet from being read into executable memory.


Expect to see management improvements including an emergency management service function to control a headless machine if it blue-screens. Hot-pluggable PCI and hot-addable RAM aim to minimise downtime, planned or otherwise. The Enterprise version of the server will scale to eight nodes in a single box, rather than Windows 2000’s four. If that's not enough power for you, clustering wizards are now included to make it easier to string machines together.



May: 64-bit server processors

Users can expect to see 64-bit computing to hit the headlines this month thanks to Intel's release of Madison, the latest processor in its 64-bit Itanium range. The chip is expected to have six megabytes of level three cache, compared with three megabytes on the previous McKinley Itanium 2 processor, and will run at 1.5 GHz.


With 4-500 million transistors squeezed on to a smaller 374 square millimetre footprint, the chip,promises to run faster than its predecessors and will be the latest salvo in Intel's war against rival Sun Microsystems, which has its own 64 bit UltraSparc architecture. Analysts at CPU market watcher Insight64 predict there will be a  50% performance boost.


AMD is releasing Opteron, its own 64-bit server-based processor, for release at roughly the same time as Madison. As part of the underlying Hammer architecture, AMD has introduced a technology called x86-84, which extends the existing x86 architecture to support instructions for 64-bit computing.


Opteron will also use HyperTransport, a very fast bus technology that AMD is pushing as an alternative to PCI. Supporting server configurations of up to eight processors, Opteron will sell into the enterprise server space, but also be available for low-end servers such as firewalls, and high-end workstation users.




June: Linux 2.6

While the latest version of the open-source Linux operating system is 2.6, some Linux high-ups have been debating whether to call it version 3.0 because of the breadth of new features it contains. This latest business-focused release promises faster data transfers to and from hardware such as CD-Rom drives and Flash memory.


Other improvements make it more scalable thanks in part to the inclusion of a replacement LinuxThreads library designed to improve multi-tasking. The operating system will include significantly better I/O performance, too. Other possible features for inclusion in the new version of Linux are dynamic system probes and an enterprise volume management system. Look out for a workload manager, too.


The end result of all these improvements is that Linux will be better equipped to climb up the enterprise ladder. It threatens Microsoft increasingly at the low end and, if the features described above continue to become stable part of the operating system, the low cost of Linux - along with Microsoft's increasingly draconian licensing policies - will be enough to drive more customers to consider the open-source operating system as a serious contender.


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