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Gate's open - Windows Server 2003 has launched

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Following three delays of it's release, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer released the much anticipated Windows Server 2003 today. The four versions initially available are DataCenter, Enterprise, Standard, and Web Editions, with two types of Client Access License (CAL)schematas available - either user based or device based. The Small Business Edition will be released at a later date....

Ballmer claims that Server 2003's uptime is 8 times that of 2000's, while at the same time achieving twice the performance of Windows Server 2000, in a bid to encourage product upgrades in an environment that still has NT4 representing more than a third of all installed Microsoft server based platforms.

Change is expected to be slow, however, since Windows 2000 is a well understood business factor with respect to both it's shortcomings and strong points. Still, with the cost and interdependancies involved with third party software, many companies are merely breathing new life and performance benchmarks into their NT4 networks simply by upgrading to newer hardware platforms and taking full advantage of their existing licenses.

Part of the problem appears to be the collateral costs involved in upgrading - Backup software solutions as well as Microsoft's own Back Office products in the Mail and Database arena present forced migration issues that many find exceedingly confusing and cost prohibitive in a server product line that has traditionally been considered extremely buggy in it's initial release versions.

Although Microsoft claims to have addressed several security issues in this newest release, their legacy of poor, and according to many, arrogant attitudes in addressing those security flaws has most of the industry circling in a, "Wait and see" pattern over the new landscape.

For a substantial share of the market, NT4 more than satisfies the customer base with it's domain logon security, file and print services, and existing family of SQL and Exchange server products. Forcing Active Directory o­nto installed customer bases of 50 to 100 client stations doesn't make sense for many, and the added budget expenses involved in retaining qualified administrative personnel in these small environments just isn't justified in an already sluggish economy.

On the surface, the pricing model appears inviting, yet when the basic needs of even the smallest of business environments are added up the licensing fees can become daunting. The Enterprise Edition of Windows Server 2003 is priced initially at $2,288, while the Standard edition, the model that most companies will gravitate toward, is $704. CALs are priced at just $29 each for both the User and Device variations.

While o­n the surface this sounds inviting, when a purchasing officer or IT director looks at the total budget required to implement or upgrade to the newer server platform, additional costs are also required that can deplete a departmental budget rather quickly.Backup software, something that even the smallest company should not neglect to integrate, will cost upwards of $1,000 for a single server installation. This would include open file and disaster recovery options which many consider a requirement in any implementation. If other Back Office products are part of the enterprise, such as SQL Server or Exchange, additional modules are also required for the backup software solution as well.

One of the real hidden costs, is something that many executives may not at first be aware of. In todays business environment, the majority of companies depend upon IP connectivity to the Internet for their daily business activities - including, and sometimes especially, email.While the costs of actually securing a circuit and connecting to the Internet have decreased dramatically with the proliferation of business DSL and Cable Internet services, this availability is offset to some extent when the cost of connecting a Microsoft network to the Internet. Licensing for Microsoft External Connector (was called Internet Connector) is currently priced at $1,960.

Costing comparisons for a typical 10 station Local area network with mail and web services might typically look something like this:

Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition:                       $  704.00

Microsoft External Connector:                                                      $1,960.00

10 Client Access Licenses for Workstations:                                 $   290.00

Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server:                                                 $1,299.00

Exchange 2000 MLP w/5 CALs:                                                  $   439.00

Exchange 2000 MLP w/5 CALs:                                                  $   439.00

Veritas Backup Exec 9.0 Single Server Edition:                             $   795.00

Veritas Backup Exec Intelligent Disaster Recovery Option:            $   495.00

Veritas Backup Exec Open File Option:                                        $   895.00

Veritas Backup Exec Exchange Server Agent:                               $   995.00

Total:                                                                                            $ 8311.00

Estimated time to install and configure with user and exchange roaming profiles = 35hrs.

Stability = Typically Average, but the server platform is still untested in real life, field production environments. Stability will typically improve with time as Microsoft releases new service packs and o­nline updates.

Performance = Microsoft is claiming a performance increase of 8x over that of Windows 2000. In reality, performance of Microsoft servers has typically been considerably less than that of UNIX installations o­n comparable hardware installations.

Of course, this doesn't include any included hardware costs, such as the Server itself, the tape drive, etc.. For practical reasons we will assume that the hardware for both variations is identical so that costs can be effectively compared against each other.

Also, we should stipulate that since most employees are familiar with Microsoft or Microsoft based software products, that the client workstations in both scenarios are identical, and that the desktop operating environments for this Local Area Network with Internet access and services is Microsoft XP Professional.

From the users perspective, there is absolutely no difference between a UNIX installation o­n the back end or Microsoft Windows NT based installation - They get the same domain login prompt when they start their desktop workstations, and navigating their network neighborhood is identical to an NT Domain environment.

There is o­ne noteworthy difference, however. If there are also Novell servers o­n the network, implementing the Novell clients is a breeze since it's supported under UNIX. With Microsoft, the preferred way of dealing with Novell is to install GSNW and map a drive o­n the NT box, which creates a bottleneck at the Windows Server instead of having the user access the NetWare box directly.

Scenario II:

UNIX Operating System (FreeBSD, Linux, NetBSD, or OpenBSD):         $0.00

SMTP Mail Server (MTA = Exim, Postfix, Qmail, or Sendmail):                 $0.00

Apache HTTP Daemon (WebServer):                                                        $0.00

SAMBA Server (NT Domain Controller & File and Print Services):            $0.00

Netfiler statefull inspection packet filtering firewall with proxy services:         $0.00

System wide Backup and Restore Services (tar):                                         $0.00

Total:                                                                                                          $0.00

Estimate time to install and configure with user roaming profiles = 8 to 18hrs typically.

Stability = Excellent. UNIX has been powering the typical Enterprise for over twenty years without a hiccup. Most of the problems o­ne is likely to encounter result when a new kernel is installed - because it requires a reboot of the system. Since UNIX machines often run continuously in the real world for several years without being rebooted, this is the prime opportunity for a hard disk to die by just not spinning back up from a cold boot.

An even more common problem results not from anything to do with the OS or equipment, but poor documentation and the deadlines often imposed by upper managment upon the MIS department. As employees and administrators come and go over the years, many of them that install new services and daemons neglect (for various reasons) to configure the appropriate startup scripts for those services at boot time.

This becomes apparent when the system is rebooted years later, the employee is no longer employed by the company, there isn't any documentation explaining what was done, and the service doesn't start because no o­ne ever configured the corresponding init scripts.

Because these machines rarely need to be rebooted, the omission is forgotten and life moves o­n. Installing and starting the daemons was performed manually, and people have been using it ever since without ever realizing that it hasn't been configured to start o­n reboot.

Performance = Excellent. Even when running serveral daemons (Server Services) o­n a single machine. UNIX easily outperforms Microsoft operating systems even o­n less robust and slower hardware, and integrates well into Novell and Mainframe server environments, instead of just providing a solution designed as an upgrade path to endless and expensive licensing restrictions.

We also included a Carrier grade enterprise firewall solution in this second scenario, since it o­nly takes about ten minutes to configure a firewall in UNIX.

In fact, with a Cyclades T1 or DS3 router card that includes a DSU/CSU, this machine can also serve as your Internet router as well as your firewall, obviating the perceived need to buy a Cisco router. for those installations where DSL or Cable Internet Access is used instead, no additional hardware needs to be purchased to acheive the router and firewall functionality - but by comparison, the Cyclades PCI router card retails for about $800.00 which is about a third of the cost of a Cisco router that IS NOT comparable in performance or capability.

For those who insist o­n having collaboration software like the first scenario implemented with Exchange (although we o­nly configured that exchange server for mail and didn't implement the additional capabilities with MS Office o­n the desktop), IBM has a Notes/Domino solution for UNIX as well - If you're a Notes/Domino person, that's even more reason not to implement the Microsoft solution.

Whereas UNIX has been the obvious choice of large scale enterprises and  service providers for a few decades now, there remains the stigma of the popular myth that implementing a robust UNIX backbone into a small business enterprise comes with a big business price tag - especially where contracting the networking professionals that perform the service is concerned.

Notthing could be further from the truth, yet in reality, all of the paper MCSEs and shadetree hacksters with limited literacy will say it is true. The facts are, that if a business owner hires someone with questionable qualifications and capabilities to install their Microsoft network, they are most likely going to get what they paid for anyway - disaster looming o­n the horizon and support personnel that has no concept of how to fix it when the disaster strikes anyway.

By the same token, o­ne would be ill-advised to hire a an unlicensed plastic surgeon who dropped out of medical school to peform a facelift. The resulting, "new look" that the patient is left with might resemble that of Frankenstein, with the expense of correcting the botched surgery through a reputable surgeon being several times more costly and painful than simply doing it correctly the first time.

Conversely, when a competent UNIX engineer is contracted to implement a network and supply support services, these professionals usually are somewhat ambidextrious with respects to the UNIX vs Microsoft worlds, and a smooth integration between the two, or a migrations from o­ne to the other is certain to save the client money while at the same time leaving a rock solid network in place humming along.

Nothing is a substitute for real world experience, and the paper "CNE" phenomenon continues to plague the small business with incompetent service personnel while promises of cost savings often skyrocket the business owner into virtual insolvency. 

Microsoft's attempts to take o­n Enterprise giants like Sun Microssystem's Solaris include strategic development alliances with some of the largest vendors in the industry, including Intel and Unisys. Likewise, Sun continues to attack the traditional Microsoft house by supporting the smaller scale architectures typically filled by lower end Intel machines and embracing Linux and the open source movement.

With it's recent release of the Opteron chip, AMD's "Clawhammer" and "Sledgehammer" 64 bit architectures have beat Intel again - and this time with the porting of the x86 based platform to the mid-range market. Judging by the smearing rhetoric that Microsoft has been unleashing at their recent TS2 seminars, if you read between the lines it may very well be Sun with it's Solaris operating system, AMD with it' s new 64bit x86 chips, Apple with it's BSD UNIX based Darwin /OS X, and IBM, that are constructing a maginal line of open source embraced wastelands, halting Microsoft's advancing tanks and forcing the Seattle marketing giant to dig in for an ensuing trench warfare.

In the meantime, we'll be here selling tickets and popcorn for the event.