Windows Server 2003 R2 is nearly ready

At today’s “What’s New in Windows Server 2003 R2” partner event, Annemarie Duffy, Microsoft UK’s Infrastructure Server Marketing Manager, first commented that Windows Server 2003 release 2 (R2) is “imminent” and then said that it is planned for release to manufacturing (RTM) within the next few days.

R2 is what Microsoft are calling a release update – released at approximately the mid point between major releases, as part what Microsoft calls its “predictable development lifecycle” (Windows Server 2003 was released in 2003 and the current estimated release date for the Windows Server product codenamed Longhorn is 2007). Microsoft claims that the R2 improvements build on Windows Server 2003 with service pack 1, supporting the organisation, customers, suppliers and partners through five pillars which provide new functionality to extend connectivity and control:

  • Identity management – Allowing the management of a single identity across partner, web and Unix applications.
  • Branch/remote office – Better connectivity, reliability and up to a 50% WAN traffic reduction.
  • Storage management – Better control over storage setup and a 10% lower management cost.
  • Web application platform – Latest 64-bit and Microsoft.Net technologies for doubling web application performance.
  • Virtualisation – Windows Server 2003 R2 Enterprise Edition and Virtual Server 2005 R2 represent the best value in server virtualisation with licensing now based on the maximum number of active virtual machines and not the number of images held, in addition to the inclusion of licenses for up to four guest instances of Windows Server 2003 R2 with each host.

(Note that these claims are from Microsoft’s marketing slides, and are not my comments).

Whilst Windows Server 2003 R2 will replace the existing Windows Server 2003 product with immediate effect, all of the new components are optional (and are actually installed from a second CD on top of an existing Windows Server 2003 installation with service pack 1 slipstreamed). This reduces the impact on organisations from a testing perspective, and is one of the reasons that this release update is not expected to include any kernel changes.

In terms of pricing and availability, if RTM is achieved next week then general customer availability should be around February 2006. Windows Server 2003 R2 is expected to be priced identically to Windows Server 2003 but there will be no upgrade SKU for existing licensed users. There will be no upgrade charge for Microsoft customers with software assurance (SA), e.g. as part of an enterprise agreement (EA), although a new server licence will be required for non-SA customers who plan to upgrade; however existing Windows Server client access licences (CALs) will remain valid (i.e. there will be no new R2 client licence). R2 will also share the same support lifecycle as Windows Server 2003 (i.e. extended support will end in 2013).

Watch this space for more information about some of the new features in R2 (basically as soon as I find time to write about them!). I’m particularly excited by the new licensing arrangements for virtualisation, the new print management capabilities, the new quota and file screening capabilities and the upgraded distributed file system (DFS) functionality, including remote differential compression (RDC). Active Directory federation services (ADFS), improved Unix interoperability and the updates to Active Directory application mode (ADAM) are also significant identity management enhancements and some of the figures quoted in relation to 64-bit computing support will definitely be worth investigating (especially with the rumours of Intel and AMD’s plans to move to an exclusively 64-bit platforms by the end of 2006 and Microsoft’s plans to make the Longhorn Server wave of products 64-bit only).

Finally, for those who want to know more and can’t wait for me to put aside some time with my keyboard, Microsoft is running a TechNet UK event next Wednesday evening (7 December 2005) at which Samm DiStasio (Director of the Windows Server Product Management Group, Microsoft Corporation) and Microsoft UK’s John Howard will present an introduction to Windows Server 2003 R2.

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