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The Year of the Server ... The Longhorn Server

Looking ahead to 2007, it's hard not to see some patterns emerge in Microsoft's release schedule. Sure, Windows Vista, Office 2007, and Exchange Server 2007 just launched to businesses in late 2006. But that doesn't mean there aren't some earth-shattering Microsoft releases coming in 2007. In fact, I'd argue that 2007 will end up being far more important to Microsoft-oriented environments than was last year, and for reasons that include both software and hardware advances.

The crux of this change, of course, is Longhorn Server (or, as Microsoft current calls it, "Windows Server Longhorn"), which you can pretty much bet will be named Windows Server 2008 when it ships late this year. As with the Vista client, Longhorn will touch of a generation of related software upgrades, this time on both the server and the client, and these products, I believe, will impact far more people in the long run than Vista ever could by itself.

The first of these products, interestingly, is a major update to Windows Vista. Microsoft isn't talking about this very much, which is understandable since they're trying to sell you Vista right now. But when Longhorn ships in late 2007, it will be accompanied by Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1). And unlike most service packs, SP1 is going to be a major update, with a first-ever kernel upgrade that will bring Vista's underpinnings up to speed with the version Microsoft is preparing for Longhorn. Additionally, SP1 is supposed to bring with it numerous functional changes though, again, details are slim. You can expect, however, that Vista's instant search feature will work seamlessly across networks when Longhorn is on the other side of the wire.

As for Longhorn itself, this product is a revolution. You've probably noticed that the last two major Windows Server releases (Windows 2003 and R2) have been solid, evolutionary upgrades, and as IT professionals, you've probably even really appreciated the fact that the Windows Server team has now spent several years really honing the product and adding features in timely, measured ways. Well, expect a Windows 2000-style explosion of new, useful functionality with Longhorn. It's going to be a mess: A wonderful, disruptive mess. And yes, I mean that in the most positive way imaginable. From what I can tell, Longhorn should erase any final complaints about Windows not being ready for the enterprise, while simultaneously ratcheting up ease of use and pure feature set to new heights. Fear not, there'll be plenty of Longhorn discussion in the year ahead.

The foundation for the next decade of server computing, Longhorn won't stand alone. There will be Longhorn variants for small businesses (Longhorn SBS, codenamed "Cougar") and medium-sized businesses ("Centro"), storage, Web serving, datacenters, and even homes. (Though the first version of that oft-rumored product will actually be based on previous generation Windows Server versions.) Management will be improved with the introduction of the Windows PowerShell and its integration into future products, and of course the System Center family of servers is expanding both up and down the markets Microsoft addresses.

Finally, part of Microsoft's plan to expand Windows Server in the market place includes a potentially risky bet on the x64 platform, the 64-bit version of x86 pioneered by AMD and since adopted by Intel. X64-based servers will eventually offer the scalability benefits of Itanium, but at much lower cost, and with additional security features that integrate with functionality in Microsoft's operating systems. And they're true 64-bit platforms, with the resulting memory headroom benefits, which are fully compatible with their 32-bit x86 predecessors. Microsoft's upcoming server products will be x64-only, though the initial Longhorn version will also ship in 32-bit versions. It will be the last Windows Server version to offer that option. (Cougar and Centro are x64 only, as will be Longhorn R2, due in 2009).

What this all means to you is that it's time to start planning. Longhorn Server Beta 3, due in the first quarter of 2007, will be an obvious time to start evaluating a feature-complete version of the future of Windows on the server. But now is the time to plot your move to x64-based servers, on both the hardware and software sides. 2007 is the year of the server. And that server is x64, not a 32-bit relic from the past.

This article originally appeared in the January 2, 2007 issue of Windows IT Pro UPDATE.

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