What You Need to Know About Windows Longhorn Server

Windows "Longhorn" Server is well over a year away. It's always risky to start trying to plan definitively for the next version of a Microsoft operating system until the company starts releasing details on the record. Before that happens, too many of the features rumored to be on the way turn out to have been trial balloons or end up being too difficult for Microsoft to implement.

Over the last year, Microsoft released a few crumbs on Longhorn server, which is supposed to ship in 2007. Even though Microsoft released a limited Beta 1 of Longhorn Server in July, the company remained remarkably tight-lipped about most Longhorn server features.

Since then, Microsoft released another public build, 5219 at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference, and started communicating more regularly about features of the OS on its Windows Server blog. Here are the major features that are on the public record.

Server Core, Roles and GUI-less Windows

The most significant change to come to light so far for Windows "Longhorn" Server is revolutionary for a Windows product -- you'll be able to run Longhorn without a GUI. A Windows OS without Windows.

"We are making the server ‘compose-able’ at three different levels in Windows Server 'Longhorn,'" wrote Mark Aggar, senior product planner for Windows Server in an Oct. 14 post on the Windows Server blog.

The most distinctive level will allow Windows Longhorn Server to be installed in a mode that doesn't include a GUI. This mode is referred to sometimes as a "server core." It is a next step in Microsoft's ongoing effort to optimize Windows Server for distinct server roles (DNS, mail, database, domain controller, etc.), loading only those components necessary to support the role to improve performance and reduce the attack surface.

Writes Aggar of the GUI-less mode, "This reduces the server footprint quite dramatically, but only a handful of server roles can run on the box in this mode and there’s definitely a tradeoff from an administration [point of view]."

A second level of server modularity involves ensuring that only the bits needed to run the server are in the Windows directory. "We do this to some degree today with Windows Server 2003 (for instance IIS needs isn’t on the box after you’ve finished with setup), but we’re greatly expanding the scope of this for Longhorn.

Microsoft is also increasing the modularization inside the roles. Customers running Internet Information Services 7.0, for example, will have the option to install only those components of IIS that they plan to use, Microsoft officials say.

SMB 2.0

Server Message Block (SMB), the network protocol mainly applied to shared files, printers and used primarily by Windows, is coming in for an overhaul in the Longhorn server release.

To improve the scalability of the protocol, Microsoft is rolling out an SMB2 that will include:

  • an increased number of concurrent open file handles on the server
  • an increased number of shares that a server can share out
  • transaction support (two-phase commit transactional semantics)
  • client-side encryption for over-the-wire security
  • an extensible way of compounding operations to reduce round trips
  • support for larger buffer sizes.

    Limited Itanium Support

    Microsoft disclosed in September that when Longhorn server ships, Intel's Itanium Architecture 64-bit processors will only be supported in three roles: database workloads, line-of-business applications and custom applications.

    Microsoft plans to develop a "superior deployment experience" in Longhorn server for administration and management of the workloads the Itanium version will now support. The Itanium version will include underlying technologies to support those workloads, and it will support client-side functionality for administration, management and server utilities.

    The reduced focus for Itanium in Windows Longhorn is not surprising, but it is a far cry from Intel's original hopes for the high-end processor. Intel, HP, Microsoft and industry analysts once thought Itanium-based processors would be the widely deployed successor to 32-bit x86 processors.

    Virtualization Licensing

    A radical change in licensing of virtual machines will occur in the Datacenter Edition of Windows Longhorn Server, the company recently revealed. Users of the Datacenter Edition will be able to run an unlimited number of copies of Windows Server in virtual machines on top of the Datacenter Edition.

    The promotion builds on a similar licensing change in the R2 version of Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition. In that case, Microsoft will allow users to install up to four versions of Windows Server in virtual machines on the Enterprise Edition at no cost beyond licensing the host copy of Enterprise Edition.

    Dynamic Reconfiguration

    In mid-October, NEC demonstrated dynamic reconfiguration of CPUs and memory resources on Beta 1 of Longhorn server. NEC did the demonstration using an NEC Express5800/1320Xe, a mega-server that supports up to 32 Itanium 2 processors. Such dynamic reconfiguration has been a public goal of Microsoft's since it began supporting up to 32 processor systems with the Windows 2000 Datacenter Server release.

    Windows Server 2007?

    A number of industry observers are tossing around the name Windows Vista Server as a possibility for when Windows "Longhorn" Server hits the market. Microsoft flatly denies that Vista will be in the name, despite the PDC Build 5219, which carried the name Windows Vista Beta 2 on some screens.

    Microsoft product managers say the Vista names appear because of some tandem development efforts with the Vista (client) team. According to Ward Ralston, a regular contributor on Microsoft's official Windows Server blog, "As far as the name - our current intentions are to stick with the naming convention we have used in other server products." Ralston gave no specifics, but his comments certainly point to a Windows Server 2007.

    Broad Goals

    Broadly, Microsoft presents the design goals for Longhorn Server as a rock-solid server foundation that is more secure, manageable, responsive, interoperable and compatible than current versions; a platform for rapid delivery of smart and connected applications; and agility for increased operational efficiency and IT effectiveness. Microsoft also plans policy-based networking, branch management improvements beyond what Microsoft already plans to deliver in Windows Server 2003 R2; and end-user collaboration improvements.

    Specific features currently planned for the commercial release of Longhorn Server fall in several buckets. Microsoft plans to streamline server management and make the management process more task-oriented through centralized and filtered event logging, image-based setup and deployment, and make the Web application platform more manageable.

    To increase the robustness of the infrastructure, Microsoft plans Network Access Protection, reduced reboots, a smaller server footprint, and a transactional file system and registry. In the area of enhancing end-user productivity, Microsoft is enhancing Terminal Server management and usability and will go beyond current Windows SharePoint Services to make collaboration more sophisticated.

  • About the Author

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