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Web Hosting Through Windows

Microsoft announced the Microsoft Solution for Windows-based Hosting Version 3.0 on Tuesday, touting it as a flexible, modular platform with new out-of-the-box services that enable users to roll out hosted offerings faster and cheaper.

Microsoft also lowered the barriers for its Service Provider License in an attempt to encourage smaller companies to consider adding Windows hosting services.

"Version 3.0 is focused on being easy and fast to deploy," said Mark Jewett, product manager for Windows-based Hosting. "And it can apply to hosting providers of all different sizes, not just the large providers."

Windows-based Hosting Version 3.0 comprises eight modular components, each designed to easily integrate with existing environments, preserving investments while providing the flexibility to add new modules as needed. There are infrastructure modules for building, provisioning, patching and monitoring servers, as well as three new service components.

It also includes templates for service plans to let service providers quickly develop packages of features. There are three out-of-the-box hosted services components for Windows SharePoint Services, data hosting with SQL Server and Web hosting with Internet Information Services. The latter includes support for ASP.NET, SSL, FTP, e-mail and FrontPage Server Extensions.

Version 3.0 automates 85 percent of installation and maintenance tasks for the Microsoft Provisioning System (MPS) Deployment Tool, the company said, with upgraded documentation that includes both scenario-based and graphical-based navigation, demonstration videos and usability improvements. It includes scripts and framework necessary to perform an unattended installation using automated deployment services, which makes for shorter server building times.

The product is licensed under the company's Service Provider License Agreement, which Jewett characterized as aggressively priced and based on actual usage reported on a monthly basis, "so there's nothing sitting on the shelf."

Microsoft removed the licensing requirement of being a Microsoft Certified Partner; to take part in the program, hosting companies merely need to be a registered partner. "Essentially, it's an e-mail address," he said.

Although IT research firm Forrester expects only "modest" growth overall in hosting and managed IT services in 2005, Jewett said that Microsoft is seeing growth in Windows hosting that reflects analysts' estimates of 30 percent year-over-year.

"We're seeing tremendous growth in Windows hosting overall, in terms of revenues for services and server growth," he said. "Service providers are seeing that having a compelling Windows hosting offering out there is important and drives revenue."

At the same time, Microsoft is seeing strong competition from Linux server software. In an August report detailing second-quarter 2004 shipments, research firm Gartner found that, while Windows remained the operating system of choice, its share of the market dropped from 35.1 percent to 34.4 percent. At the same time, Linux shipments increased 61.6 percent and represented 9.5 percent of overall server revenue.

While Jewett denied that lowering the barrier and enhancing community features were specifically intended to combat the Linux threat, he said, "We want to make sure hosting providers have an easy way to meet the demand for Windows hosting. And we want to make sure Windows hosting providers are successful."

Support is based on the Windows Web Hoster Program launched 18 months ago. Its 3,500 members participate in online technical support webcasts, live seminars and bulletin boards. Free technical assistance is available at Microsoft's Windows Hosting Forums within the ASP.NET forums.

"Certainly in the open source world out there, one thing being done that's exciting is building community," Jewett said. "Microsoft is doing a good job of recognizing that we can build a community, support our products and get an excited community out there in much the same way."