Windows 'Longhorn' Server Update

With Windows Vista freshly into Release Candidate 2 stage, Windows Longhorn Server remains a blip on the delivery horizon. However, details of the next version of the Windows server are a lot more solid than the last time we looked.

Longhorn is currently scheduled for a second-half of 2007 delivery. Microsoft first started talking about that timeframe in April of this year. That Longhorn has been pushed into the second half of 2007 is hardly surprising, given the many slips in the delivery schedule of its fraternal twin – the client OS Windows Vista. The recent RC 2 makes it look as if Vista will be completely ready for Microsoft's current general availability date of early 2007. Even without further slips in the Vista schedule, the second half of 2007 schedule for Longhorn is hardly set in stone. While Microsoft is publicly saying 2H of 2007, remember that 2008 or later is never out of the question.

Longhorn has several compelling new features. On one score, it will be unlike any previous Windows operating system in that Longhorn can be run without "windows." With the Beta 2 release of Longhorn, Microsoft introduced new functionality called Server Core. The functionality allows administrators to install Longhorn with a very limited set of services turned on. At that point, administrators can choose one of four roles – DHCP, DNS, file server or Domain Controller. Once the role is chosen, the server installs only the services necessary to perform that function. Nothing else, including the graphical user interface, is included. Administrators control the box via a command line. The idea is to reduce the footprint, improve the performance and, above all, increase the security of the server. The fewer services available to the server, the fewer attack routes available to hackers. Server Core, of course, is only an option. Most installs of Longhorn will have all services available for the administrator to enable or disable.

Another new area in Longhorn is Network Access Protection (NAP), a secure networking framework that Microsoft has been building toward for several releases. Microsoft describes NAP as a framework to define security requirements for the network and to restrict computers that don't meet those requirements. Administrators will be able to use NAP to set security policies, such as requiring all computers connecting to the network to have the latest Windows patches applied. While NAP is interesting on its own, much excitement surrounding the initiative has to do with Microsoft's commitment with Cisco to make NAP and Cisco's Network Admission Control (NAC) interoperable. The two companies reiterated the commitment in a Sept. 6 announcement. One notable area of cooperation – both companies will present ISVs with a single API for writing secure applications.

Terminal Services is another major area of improvement in Longhorn. Once known by the code-name "Bearpaw," a series of Terminal Services enhancements once slated for a Windows Server 2003 feature pack or R2 release eventually slid to Longhorn. Nonetheless, the improvements planned for the server operating system remain interesting. There are two main new technology areas in Longhorn – Terminal Services Gateway and Terminal Services Remote Programs. The gateway allows users to access remote terminals and remote terminal programs from a Web browser across a firewall. By using RDP over HTTPS, the setup allows users to proceed without the need for a VPN. The remote programs feature will allow users to access remote programs that behave as if they are running on the end user's local computer.

Other major areas of improvement include a more componentized Internet Information Services 7.0, a new Read-only Domain Controller setting and an updated version of Remote Installation Services called Windows Deployment Services. For more details on upcoming features, see Microsoft's Longhorn overview page.

Still up in the air is how Microsoft will pull its virtualization technologies into the operating system in the Longhorn timeframe. The company has talked about its plans on that score several times, but there are aspects of how virtualization will affect Microsoft's licensing and revenues that make it far more than a technical question and virtually guarantee that the last word on Longhorn's virtual capabilities will come very close to the operating system's release. Microsoft has held out the possibility that virtualization's integration in the Longhorn OS will come in an R2 release.

While the Longhorn wave roadmap for many of Microsoft's other products remains unclear, Microsoft has committed to a few products. A new version of Internet Security & Acceleration Server (the first under the Forefront enterprise security brand) is planned to go with Longhorn. Microsoft also plans to release a version of the server for mid-market customers, code-named "Centro," and a Longhorn version of Small Business Server, dubbed "Cougar."

About the Author

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

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