Q&A: An Ambitious Vision for Windows Servers

REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 2, 2001 — When Cliff Reeves began working in the software industry, Richard Nixon was in the White House, computers were exotic beasts served by a relatively small coterie of cognoscenti, and the personal computer was not even a pipe dream. In an industry where even a decade of experience makes one a veteran, Reeves is practically a founder.

Cliff Reeves, Vice President of Marketing Windows.NET Server Product Management Group

Reeves, who joined Microsoft early this year and holds the title of vice president for the Windows.NET Server Product Management Group, began working as a programmer in England in 1971 and has held a wide range of software product development roles for databases, applications, and communication and messaging systems. He was influential in the industry adoption of object-oriented technology and was a 30-year veteran of IBM, where he was most recently senior vice president of Knowledge Management at Lotus Development Corp.

PressPass spoke with Reeves recently to get an update on Microsoft Windows Servers and to preview his keynote speech today at the Microsoft Exchange Conference (MEC) 2001 in Orlando, Fla. Reeves believes that Microsoft can make servers relevant to a wider range of users than ever before.

PressPass: What’s the future of Microsoft Windows servers?

Reeves: Servers are tools that serve three different communities: knowledge workers, IT professionals and developers. Servers can seem anonymous — a variant on the old cartoon in The New Yorker magazine could be, “On the Internet, no one knows what server you are using.” Because of that, they run of risk of becoming commoditized — that is, becoming so standardized and invisible that they lose value, both in the market and to the consumer. At Microsoft, however, we focus on the user. We have the unique ability to provide the Windows server with a “personality” that makes it absolutely the right product for each person who touches it.

Let’s look at some of the communities that depend on a Windows server. The first and largest consists of knowledge worker — a community that Microsoft has been incredibly successful with. Knowledge workers don’t comprise an autonomous unit. They often form temporary groups or teams to complete a project or to share information. For these teams, the server is where they meet and where they work together. It’s almost a new desktop. Knowledge workers were the first to use Windows NT for file sharing and print sharing — the simple things that linked groups of users together and began to let them work collaboratively.

Now, SharePoint Portal Server offers a share, or collaborative space, that provides a team of workers a lot more semantics than when they simply share files in a common drive. The share can be compared to a private room, in which a number of people with invitations can share a calendar, a to-do list or a complete set of documents. To use the share, geographic location of the group members is unimportant, and the group itself can disband and reform with new members every few months. Similarly, technologies like video conferencing and instant messaging make live collaboration possible between people anywhere in the world — and these services are increasingly residing on servers.

The second audience is the IT professional. IT pros are charged with managing systems and delivering service. They want reliable and easily managed systems. Now that Windows is a major factor from laptops to datacenters, and has been established as scalable and reliable, Microsoft can provide systems management tools that see all of the enterprise — including desktops, laptops, devices, servers, applications. We can turn systems management from an error-prone burden to an efficient and powerful command center. We can turn the IT professional from gatekeeper to enabler.

The third audience is developers. For them, Microsoft’s .NET strategy offers a new freedom — the freedom for software to be written anywhere by anyone and then be linked together easily to software that someone else wrote. The universal standards of XML (eXtensible Markup Language), SOAP (Simple Open Access Protocol) and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration), all of which underlie .NET, will change the shape of applications that developers write. These standards will also change the face of the software development community. There is no doubt that the promise of .NET and the power of Microsoft’s tools really do give Windows a personality that developers will love.

PressPass: Microsoft touts scalability and manageability as the key features of the Windows 2000 Server family. How well do these different versions allow customers to meet their scalability needs?

Reeves: Since we have a range of products within the Windows 2000 Server family, we have four distinct ways to meet the scalability needs of businesses. We have the standard, advanced and Datacenter versions of Windows 2000 Server. In addition, Microsoft offers a server appliance kit that allows a server to be configured by an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to act as either the load-balancing front end for my Web server or as a storage area network controller.

The standard and advanced versions are the entry-level servers, which are often used in departments and small businesses. Essentially, both servers offer identical base functions, but the advanced offers the extra horsepower, in the form of scalability, that larger businesses will need to accommodate messaging systems and directories, as well as the increased quantity of user traffic and other server operations.

Datacenter Server is our ultimate solution. It does everything that the other servers do, but it is also geared to the ultimate in scalability and high-end server functionality. It supports large clusters of servers, 32-way symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) and up to 64 gigabytes of physical memory. It provides four-node clustering and load balancing services as standard features. It truly demonstrates the scalability of the Windows 2000 Server family.

Probably the strongest proof of its scalability came recently when a Unisys machine running Datacenter Server Limited Edition placed ninth in performance in Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPC) benchmark testing. There’s never been an industry-standard Intel-based machine in the TPC top 10. It has been dominated by fiendishly expensive proprietary Reduced Instruction Set Computer (RISC)-based hardware and operating systems. We went in there with a 32-way Windows machine running on Intel standard hardware — an option that dramatically reduces the cost of transactions. So people are beginning to see that Windows and Intel standard systems can take a place at the high end of the line. This signals the end of expensive proprietary hardware and software combinations.

PressPass: How about in the “real world”? What kind of scalability are customers and partners getting from Datacenter Server?

Reeves: FreeMarkets, which conducts live, online auctions for goods and services, deployed Datacenter to handle online bidding. The server delivered 99.999 percent availability to its system over a six-month period. MSNBC deployed Datacenter on 20 Compaq 8-way servers. Four are dedicated to SQL Server and 16 for Web support. The network’s Web site has had up to 20 million users pulling 200 million pages in one day, with no service disruption. MSNBC’s previous high water mark was 6 million pages, on the U.S. Election Day last year.

So Datacenter is proving its worth in the real world. It doesn’t get deployed in huge volumes and we didn’t expect it to. But it proves our case about the scalability and reliability of Windows and the Intel standard platform. And the icing on the cake: It costs dramatically less than equivalent proprietary hardware systems.

PressPass: You like to talk about the ability of Microsoft Windows servers to scale out as well as scale up. Can you elaborate?

Reeves: The traditional measure of a system has been how fast it can handle load thorough a centralized database or transaction system. You can’t throw more systems at that problem; you have to build ever bigger, complex and expensive systems — systems that scale up. Since many business applications have that characteristic, scale-up benchmarks are still highly relevant. But we’re starting to see newer applications — or portions of an application (like the load-balanced web farm, for example) — that can scale and be managed simply by adding additional servers. These servers each meet the new load independently, since they don’t depend on each other too much. A good example is e-mail, where we can achieve quite a degree of scale by adding more routers and more mailbox servers. We term that “scaling out” — simply throwing replica servers at the load to handle more load.

It’s incredibly cost-effective if you use relatively low-cost hardware to increase scalability. A high-end 64-way SMP machine costs at least an order of magnitude more than 32 two-way machines, for example. Scaling out isn’t going to suddenly replace scaling up. They both have a place, but the economics of scaling out are going to guide application development and style in much the same way that decreased cost of computer memory spurred demand for electronic storage of video, photographs and other media — things that were hideously expensive to store on your computer.

Most importantly for customers, Windows servers are miles ahead of the competition in their ability to scale out. So Windows systems will be the ones that will drive the scale-out world as it inevitably grows.

PressPass: You seem passionate about the importance of management. Why is that?

Reeves: If you look at either a scale-up or scale-out world, the challenge is actually management. The more work that a business’ servers are doing, the more management becomes important. Businesses are concerned about how fast and how efficiently they can deploy hardware and software to handle varying, fluctuating loads. They also need to be able to respond to changing patterns of user access, hardware failures, changes in system structure and in new system and application deployments.

Managing the vastness of those environments has become a fundamental challenge. For years, a handful of systems management companies have thrived by offering system management solutions that offer to manage hardware and software from a vast number of vendors. But today’s businesses are less satisfied with these solutions because they are, by nature, shallow. Why? Because the systems management experts who create them don’t really own any of the technology they are managing. They rely on standards and Application Program Interfaces (APIs) to make these complex organisms work together, but they have no depth of knowledge of, or control over, the complex nature of the software they manage, or the complex interactions between them.

PressPass: What makes Microsoft’s Windows servers — and the company’s overall strategy for management — different from the competition?

Reeves: As Windows and other Microsoft software like SQL Server and Exchange become increasingly pervasive in workplace data centers, businesses will begin to expect Microsoft to apply its understanding of these products to provide a deeper and more comprehensive systems management strategy. That’s what we’re beginning to do. Microsoft Operations Manager was the first step. Over time, you’ll see us unify other systems management offerings under one flag. Products like Application Center, which manages the deployment of Web applications; Systems Management Server, which manages the change and configuration management of desktop and server systems; and Microsoft Operations Manager, which manages the operational side of management. These will all converge into a management discipline that enables businesses to provide breadth and depth of knowledge. We will absolutely do the best job of managing deployment of Exchange and SQL Server on a Windows data-center system. We will then partner with other companies to provide equivalent depth on other systems and software.

PressPass: You joined Microsoft shortly after Windows 2000 Server entered its second year and met the milestone of 1 million licenses sold. Any other milestones?

Reeves: Windows 2000 Server continues to demonstrate two things. One, Microsoft is focused on the enterprise. It is committed to providing the features necessary to build credibility in the enterprise market: stability, performance and manageability. Secondly, the Windows 2000 Server family also demonstrates Microsoft’s commitment to producing a set of comprehensive server offerings that are highly flexible and truly multi-purpose without sacrificing individual capabilities, such as scalability and manageability.

I think Windows 2000 Server has also sent out a clear message to our leading customers, analysts and competitors that we are on track in the enterprise platform market. They can see how we’ve moved from desktop operating systems through to our first attempts at meeting the enterprise market needs with Windows NT Server, which proved Microsoft could write a competitive 32-bit system.

PressPass: Among what types of businesses have sales of Windows 2000 Server been strongest?

Reeves: Sales have been strong across the board. But I would have to say our strongest have occurred in Web-based businesses. And industries that feature a lot of knowledge workers are drawn to Windows 2000 Server because Microsoft has always built well-integrated systems.

PressPass: Do you expect sales of Windows 2000 Server to remain strong in the coming months?

Reeves: Yes. Sales are actually accelerating as more businesses begin to run more operations – everything from applications to file and print sharing — on their servers. This trend is occurring throughout the industry, but our customers are adopting these operations in even greater numbers.

PressPass: Where do believe servers are going? How is Windows 2000 Server prepared to meet these demands?

Reeves: There is some centralization and consolidation of services onto central servers. Companies are beginning to recognize the costs of running large numbers of distributed stand-alone servers and are beginning to look at managing them together and possibly even consolidate them. So all that Microsoft has done to ensure high levels of manageability and scalability within the Windows 2000 Server family is beginning to pay off for our customers. The easy integration of Microsoft products also enables Windows 2000 Server to act as the hub of a consolidated system. For example, the Windows 2000 desktop works well with Microsoft Office, Office works well with Windows 2000 Server and the operations within the server work well with each other.

There is also an increasing demand for specialization. In some cases, businesses want their servers to perform specific tasks exclusively, or a combination of tasks at specific times, such as file sharing or print sharing, or running security or business applications. However, they know that these workloads are transient, that they may need to meet a new or additional need tomorrow. So our customers value a general-purpose server that can be specialized, and then re-targeted.

PressPass: How does the Windows 2000 Server family meet the desire for specialization?

Reeves: Specialization is one of Microsoft’s strengths. Each individual element of Microsoft software is strong, yet it works together well. As a result, businesses can combine them as needed or have faith in their ability to meet individual needs. Our customers really value this kind of flexibility.

PressPass: You will be talking about the Active Directory (AD) directory service during your MEC keynote. How is adoption of Active Directory going?

Reeves: The first phase of Active Directory adoption is ongoing and we are starting to see the second phase of deployment, which involves broader expectations and deeper and deeper integration.

Initially, we inadvertently confused customers with Active Directory — some customers didn’t understand that deployment was really different than updating a service. When they began integrating Active Directory into Windows 2000, they faced an oil and water diffusion problem. The water flowed really quickly; the oil flowed kind of sluggishly. Both products are incredibly good at solving a particular problem. So what we’ve seen is a relatively slow but accelerating adoption of Active Directory. In addition, we see customers using Active Directory in new ways, as an Internet directory. In fact, there are new performance benchmarks indicating that Active Directory is currently the highest performing extranet directory available.

Customers are reporting tremendous results. Within companies with incredible complexity, Active Directory is linking system resources and applications unlike ever before. Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield maintains a directory with 8 million users and employs Active Directory to manage its Internet access.

PressPass: At the Microsoft Exchange Conference, you will talk about Microsoft’s new approach to enterprise-scale computer infrastructures. Can you tell us more?

Reeves: We call them Reference and Prescriptive Architectures. As a relative newcomer to the company, these new architectures are to me the single biggest demonstration of Microsoft as a learning machine — and one committed to understanding and serving the whole enterprise. We are developing architectures — think of them as templates for a company’s data center — that will make deployments more efficient and effective, and allow customers to get their products to market as quickly as possible with no compromises. They offer businesses pre-configured and tested infrastructures that support ubiquitous access, as well as very large amounts of storage and delivery of XML-based Web services.

PressPass: How did the idea for these architectures come about?

Reeves: With the deployments of Windows NT and Windows 2000, the Microsoft development teams spent a lot of time in joint development programs, understanding and simulating the work environments of big customers and the unique combinations of software and other technology they require. The goal was to learn the stresses and strains of these environments to maximize the potential of Windows 2000.

They found that Windows is seldom the sole limiting factor that determines the robustness of a data center. It is all in the shape of your applications, such as how many Web servers the business had, where the firewall is, how the database is used, the type of network used, how was storage used, and a number of other factors.

The team discovered that we could only effectively tell someone how to use Windows or deliver Windows into a data center or an enterprise by getting very specific about the ecosystem in which the operating system existed. As a result, we began working with various hardware, network and other providers to start developing patterns in application structure, hardware choice and other factors, and to start pre-testing combinations of these different building blocks. We call these patterns “reference architectures” because they are representative of common application deployments. As we get more specific about the hardware and software used, they become prescriptive architectures.

PressPass: How do you think customers will react to this vision?

Reeves: Our customers value a prescriptive approach. They also value our ability to talk to them and our partners intelligently about different combinations of products and technology and how these combinations will perform in specific work environments. That’s the conversation that enterprise customers want to have with Microsoft. They recognize that we are part of an ecosystem and that when we go to market we must go to market with those partners with a complete proposition. Also, if one of those partners calls us we’ll know exactly what they’re talking about. We can recognize the environment they are deploying in and provide a correct technology combination and an architecture guide for that environment.

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