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What Will Microsoft Server 2003 Do for xSPs?

Microsoft's Server 2003 slogan "Do more with less" must be music to the ears of service providers for whom automation and efficiency is a way of life.

"This is very significant for service providers," Pascal Martin, Microsoft's general manager of platform and application hosting, told ASPnews. "They have large IT infrastructures and complex commercially available services. Microsoft's Server 2003 delivers better management of a larger number of servers."

In short — to use Microsoft's own words — service providers such as managed hosters can service more customers in a less hands-on fashion.

The Microsoft Windows Server 2003 operating system, which officially launched yesterday, integrates with the Microsoft .NET Framework to provide a foundation for distributed applications. Native integration with .NET is designed to shorten the time required to deploy new applications and other content.

Service providers, Martin said, need a shared infrastructure to host more complex applications as efficiently as possible. In the competitive hosting market, economy of scale is critical. "It's about manageability. Everything you can automate will benefit you by a thousand times over."

Of particular importance for service provides, Martin told ASPnews, is Internet Information Services 6.0 (IIS 6.0). Improvements in IIS 6.0 are designed to offer over better reliability, scalability and performance as well as offer simpler management and better security. For example, IIS 6 includes a new self-healing architecture and better monitoring and troubleshooting tools.

"We are better able to handle failures and manage all applications. If one goes down, the whole server doesn't need to be restarted," Martin said. IIS 6.0 makes it easier for providers to monitor service level agreements (SLAs) by offering an automated look at the health of a customer's environment, he said.

IIS 6.0 is also configured for maximum security out of the box with fault tolerance, requesting queuing, application health monitoring, automatic application recycling, caching, and more. "To address security lapses, we looked at all the source code," Martin said. "We tightened up the service through the installation process and turn on services you need, and turn off services you don't need. When you implement services you don't need, you open door to being hacked."

Martin said he has worked with hosting providers for four years and realizes that to succeed they must be able to manage large numbers of servers and applications. The two most important things for service providers, he said, are the quality of the services they offer and the efficiency of a shared infrastructure to automate operations.

Digex Inc., a Laurel, Md.-based application infrastructure and managed hosting provider, is among the first service providers to embrace Microsoft Windows Server 2003.

According Digex, it has worked with Microsoft for two years in a co-engineering effort with Microsoft's Joint Development Program. The fruits of integrating the Microsoft Windows Server 2003 platform include the following enhancements, according to the company:

  • Digex Windows Server 2003 Managed Platform, which includes automated builds designed to ensure consistent, reliable server deployments regardless of Digex SmartCenter location, while securely integrating servers into the global Digex Active Directory.
  • Digex SmartMonitoring, which is designed to continuously and automatically monitors key performance, reliability and security components within Microsoft Windows Server 2003 from the Digex Network Operations Center.
  • Digex SmartSecurity, which is designed to deploy the most current security patches, via Digex's SmartUpdate patch management capability, to all Microsoft Windows 2003-based servers.
  • Digex SmartBackup, which is designed to delivers continuous data backup of every Microsoft Windows Server 2003 server. The Digex SmartBackup guarantees every restore, regardless of size, begins within 30 minutes of initial request.
  • Digex Dynamic Fail-Over, which is designed to provide advanced replication and clustering solutions for Microsoft SQL Server deployed using Microsoft Windows Server 2003.
  • Digex ClientCentral Portal, which is designed to provide operational and performance statistics and reports for servers deployed with Microsoft Windows Server 2003.
"We have worked closely with Microsoft to understand the new architecture and features," said Joe Crawford, assistant vice president for engineering at Digex. "As a result, we were able to update all of our essential operations services to ensure that reliable backup, continuous security and integrated reporting would successfully extend to the Microsoft Windows Server 2003 platform on day one of Microsoft's launch."

With earlier offerings, such as Windows NT Server 4.0, service providers had some mixed experiences with Microsoft, Martin admits. "With service providers using NT 4.0, I'd go in to visit with an umbrella — and it wasn't compliments that were raining." That, he expects, will change with Microsoft Server 2003 "We are very bullish about this."

In addition to the general availability of Windows Server 2003, Microsoft also announced yesterday the launch of Visual Studio .NET 2003 and SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition (64-bit).

Digex and Microsoft are both listed by ASPnews as a Top 30 Service Enablers.

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