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What You Probably Don't Know About R2 (Part 2)

Last week I began a discussion about Windows Server 2003 R2 (for "release 2"), which is due in the coming months (see the URL below). This week, I continue this exploration of little-known R2 facts and features.

- Keep It Simple, Storage. Have you ever tried to configure a SAN? If so, then you know what it takes to make a grown man cry. In R2, Microsoft is providing a few tools that make SAN and storage configuration and management as simple as possible. This new push is part of a realization that business storage needs are growing almost exponentially, and that once you move past locally managed storage, the options get expensive and difficult to grok. The first tool, Storage Manager for SANs, is a familiar Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in that helps administrators easily provision storage in SANs. SAN storage units are logically identical to those that Fibre Channel and iSCSI use today, giving administrators a consistent interface.

R2 also includes a File Server Resource Manager toolset that makes it easier to apply quotas to storage units, prevent or allow certain file types from being saved, and provides comprehensive reports. The new quota functionality is interesting. You might recall that Windows Server 2003 provides per-user quotas, which are still available in R2. But R2 also adds per-volume and per-folder quotas for more fine-grained control over how much data you can store in specific locations.

- Availability and Licensing. When R2 ships later this fall, it will replace Windows 2003 in the channel and will be the only widely available Windows 2003 version. Therefore, users seeking a new installation of Windows will get R2, not the original version of Windows 2003 or Windows 2003 with Service Pack 1 (SP1). However, R2 is a superset of Windows 2003 with SP1, and most of the R2 functionality is optional (see the next section for details), so this move won't cause any problems for most customers.

Existing Windows 2003 customers will need to upgrade to--and pay for--R2 when it comes out, as Microsoft views the release as a new product version. But R2 won't reset the Windows 2003 support lifecycle, which is still viewed as having started in April 2003. Contradictory? Yeah, I think so. Note that business customers that have current Software Assurance (SA) contracts or Enterprise Agreements with Microsoft will get R2 as part of their subscription.

- Packaging. R2 will likely be the last major Windows release that ships only on CD-ROM. In fact, it ships on two CD-ROMs, like Windows XP Media Center Edition (XP MCE) does. The first CD-ROM is essentially Windows 2003 with SP1 slipstreamed, along with a few updated tools (such as MMC 3.0, which is a big improvement over 2.x versions). Disc 2 includes all the optional R2 code. But when you're prompted to insert Disc 2 after Disc 1 installation is complete, very little actually gets installed on your system. Instead, you must manually visit the Add or Remove Windows Components Control Panel applet to find the optional R2 code bits.

This system was devised because Microsoft's customers told the company that they wanted R2 to be as nondisruptive as possible. Unless you manually install specific R2 features, nothing surprising will be quietly installed on your servers. This was a smart move.
I have much more to say about R2, but I'll save it for my review, which I hope to have available on the SuperSite for Windows by the end of the month.

Microsoft Responds to My Itanium Doubts
Last week in Windows IT Pro Update, I gave my opinion about Microsoft's decision to scale Longhorn Server down so that it addresses just three core workloads: high-end databases, line of business (LOB) applications, and custom applications. Microsoft wasn't too enthusiastic about my characterization of its Itanium support in Longhorn Server, so I thought I'd present the company's side of the story this week. Frankly, what it says makes sense.

Microsoft raised three relevant concerns. First, the company believes that the Itanium does, indeed, have a long-term future. As Zane Adam, director of Marketing for the Windows Server Division told me, if the company felt that Itanium was a dead end, it would skip out on Longhorn Server for Itanium all together. "Think about it this way," he said, "Longhorn Server starts a new support life cycle for us. Enterprises are going to use it for several years, well into the next decade."

Second, Zane highlighted the fact that the three roles the company is targeting with Longhorn Server for Itanium are, in fact, the three roles that its customers overwhelmingly perform today on Windows 2003 Enterprise Edition for Itanium-based systems and Windows 2003 Datacenter Edition for Itanium-based systems. Plus, developing an Itanium-specific product aimed at high-end scalability and reliability is a serious engineering effort. "Optimizing for the high end is a lot of work," Zane said. "We wouldn't bother if the market wasn't there and if this wasn't important to us."

Finally, Microsoft doesn't believe that the three workloads it's targeting are niche markets but are instead core to the company's goal of migrating enterprise customers to Windows and are therefore strategic to Microsoft and its partners. Customers are beginning to migrate from proprietary UNIX boxes and other non-Windows hardware, and they have a choice now in the high-end market between signing up again with their proprietary partner or moving to Windows, the latter of which can be simpler because much of their infrastructure is already Windows-based.

I find Microsoft's position quite believable. I should note, however, that my opinions about the future of Itanium are colored by a few interwoven historical facts. First, after Microsoft first announced its Itanium product strategy several years ago, it proceeded to release a series of server and desktop products that were subsets of their 32-bit brethren and not the functionally equivalents I had hoped for. Second, Microsoft first scaled back, then abandoned its Itanium version of XP. Third, Microsoft has shown a willingness to abandon hardware platforms that don't reach mainstream markets: Over the years, the company has canceled Windows Server versions that ran on MIPS, PowerPC, and Alpha processors, all of which were technically superior in many ways to the 32-bit Intel platforms of the day, and, in their own way, tackled the high-end workloads that the 32-bit world was unable to target. That doesn't mean Itanium is a dead end. It's just something to think about.

Microsoft's Centro Plans
I had hoped to provide some information about a Longhorn Server-era product bundle code-named Centro, but I've run out of space. However, if you haven't seen it yet, check out my WinInfo news article about this development, which will bring a Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS)-style offering to midsized businesses in mid-2007. I'll have more information about this intriguing bundle soon.

PDC 2005 Blog
I'm currently in Los Angeles at Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) 2005. I'll be posting all the latest news and announcements coming out of the conference on my PDC 2005 Blog. Check out today's posting at the following URL:

What You Probably Don't Know About Windows Server 2003 R2 (Part 1)

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