MS getting .Net servers in line for next year

Microsoft, squirming under financial pressures it has not seen in more than 10 years, this week continued to shore up a new server line that will be critical to helping the company get back on track in the new year.

In what has become a parade of year-end server releases, Microsoft Tuesday sent off the final code of its new firewall and cache product to be prepared for distribution. It is the third server release in a month. The Internet Security and Acceleration Server (ISA) 2000 should be generally available in the next four to six weeks. It is one of seven .Net Enterprise Servers the company has vowed to ship before year-end.

The success of this line of server is critical for Microsoft, which is suffering under slower-than-expected sales of core products. The company is warning that it won't meet revenue and earnings projections this quarter and has already been hit by a nearly 59 per cent drop this year in its stock price.

"We are seeing Microsoft attempt to get everything out there so it can focus on selling it next year," says Rich Ptak, an analyst with the Hurwitz Group. "It's a scramble to finish with a bang given the bad news that has been coming from Wall Street."

ISA is the third .Net server since late November that Microsoft has released to manufacturing, which means code is complete and is ready to be burned onto CD-ROMs for mass distribution. The other two are BizTalk Server 2000 and Commerce Server 2000.

The flurry of activity this late in the year seems to indicate Microsoft is in a full-court press to meet its self-imposed deadline. It also means that Microsoft's mantra for 2000 of "we won't ship software until it is ready" will be heavily tested early next year when IT executives begin to evaluate or deploy these servers.

"This is an opportunity to test Microsoft at its word and see if they have put this software through adequate and thorough testing," Ptak says. Bug free and stable .Net Servers will be crucial for Microsoft because the servers are one of several product lines the company has targeted to help it regain its balance after a year that has included a federal antitrust ruling that Microsoft be broken into two parts.

In a memo to employees this week, CEO Steve Ballmer called out the .Net platform as one of seven business priorities for 2001, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

The .Net servers are part of Microsoft's thinly defined .Net initiative for creating a platform to run software as a service over the Internet. The .Net servers were unveiled in September, many of which were formerly part of Microsoft's now defunct DNA platform for building Web-based applications.

Of the .Net servers, Exchange 2000, SQL 2000, Host Integration Server 2000, Commerce Server 2000, BizTalk Server 2000 and now ISA are all available or have shipped as final code to manufacturing. A seventh, Application Center Server 2000, is in its second round of beta testing. An eighth .Net server, Mobile Information Server 2001, was announced in September and will ship next year.

All the servers run only on the Windows 2000 operating system. ISA is a firewall and cache server that provides access controls, traffic filtering, intrusion detection, bandwidth control and reporting capabilities. It also provides caching, which locally stores frequently accessed Web content, to boost Web site performance. The server replaces Microsoft's Proxy Server.

The server is intended to provide the security needed for the .Net platform, but critics say Microsoft has a long way to go to establish itself as a player in the firewall arena.

ISA's firewall features include stateful inspection, integrated intrusion detection and data-aware application filters. But Microsoft also has third-parties that will add such features as reporting tools and URL blockers. Also, ISA will rely on Windows 2000 for VPN and user authentication.

Microsoft officials say the integration with Windows 2000 also provides directory integration and bandwidth control.

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