Microsoft rethinks Win 2000 lineup

Microsoft Corp. is toying with ideas for the Windows 2000 product line that would give IT executives fine-tuned versions of the operating system geared toward specific computing and management requirements - such as Web farms or branch offices.

The current Win 2000 line includes Server, Advanced Server and DataCenter Server.

Microsoft officials said recently they want Advanced Server to be the enterprise standard, with DataCenter Server as its companion for high-end computing in a managed environment. That would leave the Server edition for unmanaged branch offices or small offices.

In addition, with the next release of Win 2000, code-named Whistler, Microsoft is contemplating adding Web Blade, a preconfigured operating system for supporting the front end of three-tiered Web applications. Enterprise customers could plug the server into a rack much like blades are plugged into routers and switches.

In theory, the blade could be stripped of unneeded features, installed as a "headless" system and sold to companies at an attractive price.

The Server, or standard version, of Win 2000 accounts for nearly 70 percent of sales, according to market research firm IDC, and is priced at least US$2,000 less than Advanced Server. The Server version, however, does not support more than two processors or clustering. But corporations are using Server as a Web server, which lets them take advantage of the stability of the platform without having to deploy Active Directory.

"Microsoft is trying to diversify the product mix," says Al Gillen, an analyst with IDC. "But in doing so, they will have to drive down the price points." He also says Microsoft may be lining up a lower-cost product to divert enterprise customers from interest in Linux as a Web server operating system.

During his keynote address at the recent Windows Hardware Engineering Conference, Brian Valentine, senior vice president of the Windows Division, said Microsoft is "looking very hard at having a Web blade or a Web-centric or a Web-server edition of the server also that allows you to build out that N-tiered architecture with Web servers on the front, application and Advanced Servers in the middle, and then DataCenter Servers to run your databases on the back end."

Valentine said the Server edition would be simplified for non-IT professionals, while further innovation would be added to Advanced Server and DataCenter Server. He acknowledged that pricing would have to be adjusted so enterprise users could be swayed to replace the Win 2000 Server version with the Advanced version.

Valentine declined to comment on the issues in his keynote.

A source close to Microsoft says the company was testing some new Whistler configurations based on buying trends and what the servers are being used for. The second beta version of Whistler, which is not replete with features yet, shipped at the end of March.

It is not certain that Microsoft will release a Web Blade, and Valentine's comments are a likely trial balloon with potential users.

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