Microsoft Unifies Stack Behind Web Services

With the release of Windows Server 2003 and Visual Studio .NET 2003 on
April 24, Microsoft will bring two of the final pieces
of its .NET vision into play. Office 2003, slated for release later this
year, and the release of ‘Yukon,’ a forthcoming version of SQL Server, will
complete the stack of XML-geared software, which also includes Microsoft’s
previously released Windows XP.

Windows Server 2003 and Visual Studio .NET 2003 (previously known as
‘Everett’) are tightly integrated as part of Microsoft’s plan to create a
cohesive ecosystem on which businesses can build their Web services.
Windows Server 2003 fully leverages the .NET Framework, the platform
infrastructure that defines Microsoft’s Web services push. Meanwhile,
Visual Studio .NET 2003 is an incremental advancement to the company’s
integrated development environment (IDE), a developer tool suite which at
its core contains the vision of enabling development teams to share in
large-scale projects across the entire development life cycle, even when
mixing components of various languages and using a variety of deployment
architectures, from the Internet to Windows to mobile devices.


The new version of Visual Studio .NET will contain .NET Framework 1.1,
which will sport a unified programming model for building browser and smart
client applications for mobile devices as well as for servers and PCs.
Microsoft said it will also extend the security and deployment benefits of
version 1.1. The new version will also include ASP.NET mobile controls
(formerly the Microsoft Mobile Internet Toolkit) and the Microsoft .NET
Compact Framework (for mobile devices).

The company is positioning Windows Server 2003 as the perfect deployment
platform for applications built with Visual Studio .NET 2003 (though it
also plans to support Windows 2000 Server with the .NET Framework and
Windows 98 or later for the deployment of smart client applications).
Office 2003 will contain the tools necessary to create and consume XML
documents, while Yukon will embed the Common Language Runtime (CLR), along
with support for multiple programming languages, allowing developers to
work with whatever languages they favor. A new version of Visual Studio
.NET, currently dubbed ‘Visual Studio for Yukon,’ is likely to accompany
that release and will feature .NET Framework 2.0

“Microsoft is really moving toward unifying their applications onto a
single stack,” said Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst and founder of XML
research firm ZapThink. “With Windows Server 2003, they’ve really made it a
platform for the deployment of enterprise-class Web services.”

He added, “What they are going to be pushing is simplicity through a
unified, coherent commercial stack rather than an open stack. The
alternative is a jumble of products that may or may not interoperate.”

Laura DiDio, analyst with The Yankee Group, agreed, “Microsoft is now
telling us, ‘look, all of these product introductions are going to be part
of an overarching, integrated strategy.'”

Windows Server 2003 is integral to Microsoft’s plan because, as Schmelzer
puts it, “they feel the operating system really is the application server.
They’ve never had a separate application server product.” In a Web services
model, the application server, which handles all application operations
between users and an organization’s backend business applications or
databases, takes on much greater importance.


“They see every application that they’re going to build on top of Windows
Server 2003 as being Web services-enabled,” Schmelzer said. “It’s really
going to be a fully functioning citizen in the corporate architecture.”

The .NET initiative is a ‘bet the company strategy,’ as everyone from
Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates to analysts has
said. The question is whether the bet will pay off.


While Microsoft has placed XML Web services at the heart of its strategy,
customers may not yet be convinced of the business case for deploying them.

“What we are seeing here at Yankee Group, right now mainstream adoption of
Web services is at least two years away,” DiDio said. “We are seeing a
minority of customers that will absolutely develop a Web services framework
architecture this year and migrate to it in the next 12 months.”


That may translate into difficulties for Microsoft, at least in the short
term. A recent survey by Yankee Group, in conjunction with Sunbelt
Software, found that 50 percent of 1,000 IT managers and CTOs surveyed said
their companies had not yet determined whether they would migrate to
Windows Server 2003, and 15 percent said they would not. Of those who do
plan to migrate, Yankee found only 7 percent planned to do so as soon as it
ships, while 63 percent have no ‘definitive plans to migrate.’ DiDio said
that figure likely reflects the fact that so many IT budgets have been cut.

In addition, DiDio said Microsoft has “not seen as much deployment with
Visual Studio .NET as they would like to see.”

“Right now, the move to Web services by mainstream organizations is
somewhat phlegmatic,” she said. “Many businesses just don’t see a need. A
very significant percentage, I would say about half, are running standalone
Web services now [as opposed to Web services architectures like .NET
Framework].”

She also said Microsoft’s major competitor in the XML Web services space,
IBM , has been able to garner greater support for the J2EE
out of the gate. The Yankee Group estimates that for 2003
into mid-2004, IBM will lead the market with 40 percent share, Microsoft
will hold 20 percent and Oracle and BEA Systems will own 12 to 15 percent each. Sun Microsystems is expected to come in with about 7 or 8 percent of the
market, and other companies will round out the rest.


“Right now, at the present time, there’s two to three times the level of
activity for the J2EE environment,” DiDio said. “Microsoft been slow in
getting some of these new products out to market.”

The company had originally slated Windows Server 2003, then known as
Windows .NET Server, for release in 2001. But the company’s Trustworthy
Computing Initiative, launched in January 2001 as a response to Microsoft’s
reputation for being insecure, delayed the release for 16-18 months as the
company spent more than $200 million on a line-by-line audit of its code.

“Windows Server 2003 is the highest quality Windows server operating system
ever released,” Bill Veghte, vice president of the Windows Server Division
at Microsoft, said on March 28th as he announced that the code had been released to
manufacturing
. “It was designed and built with security as the top
priority.”

But Windows Server 2003 will have a lot to prove, according to a recently
released survey by Forrester Research . For its report,
“Can Microsoft Be Secure?” Forrester surveyed a very small sample of 35
software security experts, though each one came from a $1 billion company.

Forrester said 74 percent of the respondents indicated that they don’t
trust Microsoft security, though nine out of 10 also said they deploy
sensitive applications on Windows anyway. However, the report also noted
that Microsoft consistently releases patches for the top nine Windows
security flaws an average of 305 days before the major exploits hit.
Security experts say network administrators are often lax in
applying patches
.


In any case, Yankee’s DiDio believes Microsoft will begin to whittle away
IBM’s lead in Web services as it brings its installed base to bear.


“We do see, as all of the Microsoft installed base begins to migrate
upward, Microsoft will start to close the gap with IBM, though it could be
by 2005 a 30-30 split,” DiDio said. “Microsoft, what they’ve got going for
them, is that huge installed base. IBM has a huge global services
organization and has been very aggressive with its WebSphere product and
their toolkit.”

She added, “I expect Microsoft to close that gap considerably barring any
unforeseen or unintended stumbles with the product line.”

DiDio said she suspects that except for laggards still running NT 4.0, and
cutting-edge companies, many customers may decide to wait out the migration
until the next release of Windows Server, codenamed ‘Blackcomb.’ That may
come in 2006.

“Half of all businesses are now on a three and a half to four, five, or
even six year upgrade cycle,” she said. “You just can’t tell.”

She added, “These new products are recommended for the laggards. If you’ve
got Windows 95 out there and you’re still running 16-bit applications, now
is the time to toss them out. Microsoft has extended some of the support
for NT for the next year or so. If you’re seeing real signs of wear and
tear with those NT desktops or servers, you want to go to Windows Server
2003 and XP.”

The benefit of going with the more unified Microsoft stack is a lot more
plug-and-play right out of the box, DiDio said. “You’re not going to have
to rely so much on service pack this, or wait a year, year and a half or in
some cases three years to get them all work together. Additionally she
said, those electing to go with the Microsoft stack will have access to a
lot more architectural guidance, white papers and ‘how-to.’

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