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The traditional demo gremlins once again made an appearance at Microsoft's launch of Windows Server 2003 in London yesterday.

Things were going swimmingly until Microsoft staffers tried to show how the addition of Automated Deployment Services with Windows Server 2003 made it far quicker to deploy an operating system image on 29 Dell PowerEdge servers.

Despite the eyebrow-raising comment by Paul Randle, Microsoft server systems marketing manager, that Win 2003 promised 100 per cent "dependability" and no downtime, two of the 29 servers failed to load properly.

The snag failed to faze Redmond's finest, who continued the presentation without missing a beat.

True pros.

Faster, stronger, fatter

Much of the detail of the new features in Windows Server 2003, who release was accompanied yesterday by the launch of Visual Studio .NET and a 64 bit version of SQL Server, are already well known. Going from yesterday's presentation, Win Server 2003 can be thought of as the next step on from Windows 2000, promising improved performance, ease of deployment and reliability.

Microsoft's essential pitch is that customers can "do more with less" using Win Server 2003. By this it means, productivity gains and reduced total cost of ownership. There's four threads to this broad push: productivity, dependability, connectivity and economics.

According to Microsoft, customers can run their server infrastructures 30 per cent more efficiently using Windows Server 2003 than would be possible using Windows NT 4.0.

Persuading the large installed base of NT users to leapfrog up to Win Server 2003 was a key theme of the presentations yesterday, which featured endorsement from early 2003 adopters including the London Stock Exchange, Tesco.com and a number of Universities and smaller educational institutions.

Alongside Visual Studio .NET, Windows Server 2003 brings improved Web services support and easier development promising an out of the box Application Server.

Compared to Win 2K there's improved storage management and clustering support alongside Microsoft's first serious attempts to make its software secure (by design, default and deployment). Whether these improvements will be enough to have Win2K users, who've already brought on board Active Directory, remains to be seen.

There's numerous flavours of Win Server 2003: Datacenter Edition (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition, Windows Server 2003 Web Edition were all released yesterday. Windows Small Business Server 2003 is slated for delivery in Q3 2003.

According to Mike McNamara, chief technology officer at Tesco.com, Windows 2003 offered a 20 per cent improvement in speed compared to Win 2K. He reported an absence of server crashes, partially backing up Microsoft's claims of improved reliability.

However the software giant technical representatives wisely distanced themselves from the 100 reliability claims on their marketing execs, whose unsustainable claims on this point we're happy to dismiss as over-excitability. The architecture of Win Server 2003, better memory management and improved resilience to peripheral failure were cited by Microsoft's techies as reasons behind improved reliability. The idea is that individual components can fail but a service would still remain available.

Data centre push

The push to get users to upgrade to Windows Server 2003 from Microsoft's previous server operating systems, is accompanied by Microsoft's continued attempts to make serious inroads in the data centre.

With the introduction of a 64 bit version of SQL Server, Microsoft's pitch in this regard starts to become more credible, according to its hardware partners.

Chris Franklin, Itanium marketing manager at HP, said the introduction of 64 bit functionality with the Data Centre version of Windows Server 2003 made the "more mature" OS more suitable as a platform for enterprise applications, such as SAP. During its presentations, Microsoft execs (eventually) succeeded in moving a SAP/R3 database over from a 32 bit Xeon system to a 64 bit Itanium 2 system from HP.

"Windows has been around for a few iterations during which scalability and reliability have improved. Whether users deploy Unix or Windows is down to their preferences, rather than which OS is typically used in a particular environment," Franklin said.

He is noticeably less enthusiastic about Linux: "Linux is the new guy on the block, which is having an impact in tech computing and the Web environment." ®

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