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Application Center 2000 Beta Program Goes Public

Microsoft Corp. shed some light on the mysterious product that is Application Center 2000.

The problem Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) aims to tackle with the new server software is clear enough: IT administrators need help deploying and managing  their racks of Web servers and mid-tier application servers.

Microsoft had shared few specifics about Application Center 2000, and the product’s Beta 1 testing cycle reached only about 300 users. Microsoft broadened its test circle earlier this summer by distributing evaluation CDs of Beta 1 to 9,600 attendees at the Professional Developers Conference in Orlando.

Today, Application Center 2000 went into public Beta 2 testing with Microsoft opening the process to anyone who order the CD from the Web (www.microsoft.com/applicationcenter).

The main design goal of Application Center 2000 is to make managing groups of servers running as easy as managing a single computer. The product consists of a suite of deployment, management, monitoring, and diagnostic tools. Features include providing a single application image, application staging and deployment, application synchronization, real-time performance and health monitoring,  and high availability through clustering.

Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) officials currently expect final code to be available in the fourth quarter.

The product will follow Microsoft’s new per-processing licensing model. Microsoft will sell Application Center 2000 for $2,999 per processor.

A common model for server management software is client/server, with a master server distributing agents onto other servers. Application Center 2000 will instead load completely onto each server in a Web farm or cluster of application servers.

“By running it on each server, it allows you to get all the benefits on each server,” says Bob Pulliam, technical product manager for Application Center 2000.

From a licensing perspective, that model means that an IT shop using 10 single-processor servers in an application cluster would pay almost $30,000 for Application Center 2000.

Because the software loads on each machine, the footprint of the package is an important consideration, Pulliam says. Microsoft has not settled on a final footprint, although the Beta 2 version will eat up 100 MB of hard drive space.

Among the growing arsenal of Microsoft clustering technologies, Application Center supports one form and contains the debut for another. Network Load Balancing (NLB), previously known as Windows Load Balancing Service in Windows NT 4.0, is supported for Web server farmers managed with Application Center 2000. NLB is the technology in Windows 2000 Advanced Server and Windows 2000 Datacenter Server that spreads Internet client requests across up to 32 servers.

According to Pulliam, that number should not be a limitation for most IT shops running even large Web farms. “In the studies that we’ve seen, 90 percent of the Web sites are running on 10 servers or less,” he says. Even in extremely large sites where there are more servers, they are rarely all dedicated to one application. “Microsoft.com actually has seven clusters with approximately seven servers each running sections of the application,” Pulliam says.

New in Application Center 2000 is Component Load Balancing (CLB), originally a feature of Windows 2000 COM+ that was pulled out of Windows 2000 and into Application Center when the new server management product was pre-announced in September 1999.

CLB provides load balancing at the object level, allowing different application servers to tackle different chunks of an application for better performance.

While Microsoft talks about Application Center as being fault tolerant, the software does not include or manage the back-end failover clustering found in Microsoft Cluster Services and frequently used in database and file-serving environment. By fault tolerance in Application Center, Microsoft means the overall Web farm or application can survive the failure of any individual server within the cluster. – Scott Bekker

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.