With Windows 2000 now on the shelves, software users and developerswill be examining Microsoft's plans for the back-end software that complements it.
SQL Server, Exchange and Com (the company's component-oriented development platform) are critical aspects of many users' strategies, and they should not be ignored in the furore over the launch of the new operating system.
Microsoft has been putting some elbow grease into the development of SQL Server 2000 - codenamed Shiloh - which goes into beta two at the start of April and is meant to ship at the beginning of this year. Marina Stedman, Microsoft's SQL Server marketing manager, explains that the company has broken its development strategy for the product into four main areas.
One of these quadrants is the exploitation of the new features within Windows 2000. The product will support up to 64Gbytes of memory, and there will also be 64-bit operating system support, although you will have to use Datacenter 2000 for that.
Shiloh will offer four-node failover, and it will be integrated with Active Directory, which means that you will be able to track SQL Server databases anywhere in your domain.
The company is also implementing multi-instance support in Shiloh so that users can develop and test on the same server. Some ISPs have also asked for multiple instance capabilities on the same system, says Stedman. It is also set to announce performance improvements for back-up and enhanced replication facilities. Parallel index creation will be another key feature.
The second area in which the firm will enhance Shiloh is the scalability and reliability. The top request from customers has been for a cascading update and delete facility for referential actions, says Stedman, adding that the convention is to provide this function only when deleting data.
Microsoft is hoping to increase performance by pre-aggregating queries, also known as indexed views, for Olap cubes. The company admits that it is playing catch-up to Oracle in this area. "When you have commonly-asked queries, you can make them come up a lot faster using this feature," says Stedman.
The company will also introduce datamining capabilities in the form of some standard API extensions.
Developers are already working on the next revision of SQL Server, codenamed Yukon, as code development for Shiloh has stopped. Yukon will include more parallelism, says Stedman.
And SQL Server is not the only product designed to exploit Windows 2000-specific features. Exchange 2000 (codenamed Platinum) is being touted as the killer app for Windows 2000 because it integrates with Active Directory - a hierarchical directory service technology that traditional Microsoft network administrators will doubtless find daunting.
The latest version of Microsoft's messaging product will include a number of new features, including a facility for multiple message databases. This will be useful for larger firms that want to split huge logical message bases over multiple servers. It also makes for shorter back-up times and reduces the impact on the user base during repair operations, suggests the company.
Other features include distributed configuration, so that large (typically service provider) companies can host different aspects of Exchange on different servers. This means that you can dedicate a single server to the directory service, and another to the process control of your messaging system, for example.
Perhaps the most significant development as part of the technology surrounding Windows 2000 is DNA 2000. This is the grown-up version of the original Distributed Internet Architecture (DNA) initiative, released in early 1998
The biggest new product will be App Center Server, which will let you implement an Internet application across multiple servers. SQL Server 2000, Commerce Server 2000 and the e-commerce-oriented Biztalk Server will also be components of the strategy, as will Host Integration Server (the next version of SNA Server) and Exchange 2000 - codenamed Platinum.
Another feature that the company is promoting heavily within its DNA initiative is its XML application integration, which will be provided in the form of "mega services". This technology, which enables different application inputs to be pulled into a single point of access on the Internet, could be used in an e-commerce portal acting as a front-end to multiple back-end services. The portal would take instructions from the front-end user and then conduct XML-based transactions with multiple Web sites on the user's behalf. Such an e-commerce portal could scan several different travel companies' sites to find you the best deal on an airfare, hotel and car rental combination, for example.
One of the most important parts of DNA 2000 is Com+, the revamped version of Microsoft's Component Object Model (Com). This technology is closely integrated with different services such as MSMQ, and there is more support for queued components, alongside better clustering support. "These are all plainly things that reflect Microsoft's desire to grow further up the food chain in scalability terms," says Barnett.
Complementary to this is the tighter integration with the Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS) - the software that provides the communication functions between Com components. MTS is now the container for serverside Com+ components, managing policies that are now defined separately when components are built, and providing the threading framework. MTS also provides transaction co-ordination and core services, including security.
As always, the shipment date of these goodies is open to question. Microsoft was meant to have shipped Windows 2000 last year, but the product slipped, and there is also talk that its Biztalk Server has been retooled to include a new component, which has caused it to slip even further from its original beta date in mid-1999.
There is also a customer education challenge that must be met if people are to genuinely adopt the XML-based models that Microsoft is proposing rather than merely play with them on the development server. One thing is for sure - there will be enough technical toys over the next year to keep developers happy.
"From a commerce perspective, the difference between DNA 2000 and its predecessor is that all of the elements fit a little more snugly," says Ovum analyst Gary Barnett, who recently took part in a three-day technical forum with Microsoft software engineers in Seattle.
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