Microsoft releases key part of .Net platform

Microsoft yesterday released the first public beta of Application Center 2000, a server to manage and monitor large Web-server farms running applications built using COM+ technology.

Microsoft yesterday released the first public beta of Application Center 2000, a server to manage and monitor large Web-server farms running applications built using COM+ technology.

The server is a key component of Microsoft's .Net Internet platform, which was announced in June but will take at least two years to fully materialise.

Component Object Model (COM+) is Microsoft's way of building applications using software objects, or pieces of code.

Application Center 2000 provides management tools so that a cluster of as many as 32 Web servers can be maintained as if it were a single machine.

The server also is designed to insure fault tolerance for Web applications, most notably electronic commerce. It works in conjunction with the load-balancing features built into Windows 2000.

Application Center features a set of management, monitoring and replication tools, as well as a COM+ Component Load Balancing (CLB) service that was originally a part of Windows 2000.

Microsoft hopes to use the server to battle the likes of IBM, IPlanet and BEA Systems in the market of managing deployments of large, sophisticated Web applications.

"Microsoft needed this technology to compete in the enterprise," says Justin Mette, consulting engineer with Galileo International, which provides the travel industry with access to inventory, schedule, and pricing information.

"They had nothing that tackled management issues and technology issues like those solved by CLB."

The CLB service is a routing function to balance the COM+ components used in Web applications over a large number of servers and ensure peak performance. The key to the server, however, is the ability to manage server farms from a single console.

"The management functions are one of the sole reasons we are using the server," Mette says.

"With the single management interface, we can roll up events and performance monitoring into one console."

Galileo no longer has to individually manage each server in a Web server farm, which reduces management costs and saves a lot of time, Mette says.

The company is testing Application Center in the hope it will help support Web front-ends for its mainframe data. The company has already coupled Application Center with two Web applications it has built for travel services and COM+ access to its mainframe data.

From its console, Application Center can manage distributed applications, replicate services for components and files, monitor performance health, and set self-healing mechanisms for hardware and software.

It also has tools for threshold reporting and capacity planning, and application synchronisation to ensure an application's content, configuration and components are identical across all servers.

"Application Center is one of the three major products still on Microsoft's release schedule for this year," says Tony Iams, an analyst with D.H. Brown and Associates.

Iams says the other two are the DataCenter and Commerce Server. He says the trio is key if Microsoft wants Windows to match Unix-like reliability and scalability.

Application Center 2000 runs on all Windows 2000 servers, including the yet-to-be released DataCenter version. It is expected to ship by the end of the year. The price is $US2999 per processor.

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