Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Microsoft Releases System Center Operations Manager 2012 RC


Microsoft Releases System Center Operations Manager 2012 RC

Operations Manager 2012 helps monitor applications too, providing diagnostics on .NET and Java Enterprise Edition Web apps, including those supported by Microsoft's Windows Azure public cloud.

Microsoft made a release candidate (RC) of System Center Operations Manager 2012 available to testers on Thursday.

New to Operations Manager 2012 RC is the ability to carry out network monitoring, according to a blog post by David Mills of the Microsoft Server and cloud platform team. He explained that it is "now possible to look at the underlying network topology that connects the servers."

This latest test version of Operations Manager 2012 can be downloaded here. It's part of Microsoft's overall System Center management solution portfolio for IT pros, with the 2012 solutions having been first unveiled in March. Operations Manager is designed to help users monitor the performance of services, operations and devices through a single monitoring pane.

Late last month, Microsoft rolled out other new System Center 2012 test versions, including App Controller, Server Manager, Orchestrator and System Center Configuration Manager. These beta and release candidate versions are being rolled out to get feedback before Microsoft's product release. The entire System Center 2012 product line is expected to start hitting the market in the first half of next year, according to Microsoft's STB news blog.

Operations Manager 2012 is considered by Microsoft to be an important tool for managing private clouds. It installs an agent on discovered devices to help monitor computing environments, including physical servers and virtual resources, plus private cloud resources in datacenters. The product incorporates various management packs that IT pros can import to add monitoring support for various features and third-party solutions.

Various management packs are available for Operations Manager, such as ones adding support for Apache Tomcat, IBM WebSphere, Java Enterprise Edition, Oracle WebLogic and Red Hat JBoss.

Operations Manager 2012 helps monitor applications, too, providing diagnostics on .NET and JEE Web apps, as well as apps supported by Microsoft's Windows Azure public cloud. Microsoft claims that Operations Manager 2012 works across various operating systems, such as Windows, Linux and Unix.

A blog post by Kevin Holman of Microsoft lists some of the new features in Operations Manager 2012 and explains that it can now "discover and monitor network routers and switches, including the network interfaces and ports on those devices and the virtual LAN (VLAN) that they participate in."

Other highlights in the Operations Manager 2012 RC include the ability to use Windows PowerShell 2.0 to manage Linux and Unix machines. A UNIX/Linux Shell Command Template Management Pack lets users create "rules, tasks and monitors based on the execution of shell commands," according to Holman's post. System Center Operations Manager has its own specific set of PowerShell cmdlets, which can be identified by the use of letters, "SC," before the noun.

As described previously, Microsoft dispensed with the root management server approach in Operations Manager 2012, enabling all management servers to act as peers. Users can now organize management servers into a management group. Microsoft claims that this arrangement "provides high availability without requiring a cluster." Users can also create a resource pool representing multiple management servers as a way to help distribute workloads.

There are other improvements in Operations Manager 2012, such as changes to the operations console and a new Web console. A list of the new features can be found at this TechNet library page, with more resources listed here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Microsoft Announces Windows 8 Roadmap for Windows Embedded OS


Microsoft Announces Windows 8 Roadmap for Windows Embedded OS

The company announced plans to release Windows Embedded Standard v.Next "three quarters after Windows 8 is generally available for PCs," which pushes its release date into 2013.

Microsoft on Monday outlined upcoming changes to its next-generation Windows Embedded operating system, which are largely based on Windows 8.

These changes, labeled "v.Next," are designed to bring Windows 8 capabilities into 2012 Windows Embedded products, according to the company. The next-generation Windows Embedded Compact, however, will be based on the current version, which supports Windows 7.

Roadmap Changes
Here are the changes, according to a Microsoft blog. Windows Embedded Standard v.Next "will be a customizable and componentized version of Windows 8." Meanwhile, Windows Embedded Enterprise v.Next "will bring Windows 8 technologies to embedded devices." Finally, Windows Embedded Compact v.Next "will be based on the CE core but it will also bring support for native application development in the latest Visual Studio version."

A Microsoft spokesperson clarified that Windows Embedded Compact v.Next, when released, will be based on "the current version of Windows Embedded Compact." That current version is based on Windows 7. It was released in March, but Microsoft said in a press release that it was updated in October. Windows Embedded Compact v.Next is scheduled for release in "the second half of 2012."

Window Embedded Standard v.Next will be available for testing via a community technology preview version, which is expected to be released in "the first quarter of 2012," according to Microsoft. General availability of the product wasn't announced because it's tied to the release of Windows 8, which Microsoft has not disclosed. Some expect Windows 8 to appear in April 2012 (at earliest) or later in 2013. Microsoft said it plans to release Windows Embedded Standard v.Next "three quarters after Windows 8 is generally available for PCs," which should push out its release date into 2013 at least.

Windows Embedded Enterprise v.Next will be available "a quarter after Windows 8 general availability," according to the blog. The timing is confusing and suggests that Windows Embedded Enterprise v.Next won't be based on Windows 8. Current Windows Embedded Enterprise 7 releases are based on upper-end editions of Windows 7, Windows Vista and Windows XP. So, it's not really clear what Windows Embedded Enterprise v.Next will be based on.

Windows Embedded Standard v.Next will have a new support capability for ARM-based chip architectures. Windows Embedded Compact v.Next presumably also will have ARM support because the current Windows Embedded Compact 7 version has that capability. Microsoft omitted any mention of Windows Embedded Enterprise v.Next having ARM support, so it probably won't.

Other Windows Embedded Operations
Microsoft also has other Windows Embedded segments, but few details about their position in the roadmap were provided, except for a statement by Kevin Dallas, general manager of Windows Embedded.

"Also, if you’re thinking about the future of Windows Embedded Handheld, Windows Embedded POSReady and Windows Embedded Automotive, and our entire portfolio of products, know that we are investing in these to include the latest Microsoft technologies as well," Dallas said in a released statement.

A new Windows Embedded Handheld blog appeared at the end of October, revealing few details. It stated that Microsoft is working on the next generation of Windows Embedded Handheld but plans to continue its support for OEM partners by releasing updates to Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5. On the mobile side, Microsoft has two mobile segments: "Windows Embedded Business" and "Mobile Communications Business." The Business unit oversees Windows Embedded Compact and Windows Embedded Handheld OSes, which are aimed at the enterprise, industrial and ruggedized device markets. Mobile Communications oversees Windows Phone OS and the consumer market.

Windows Embedded and Intelligent Systems
On top of those changes, Microsoft is promoting an "intelligent systems" marketing position for Windows Embedded. Intelligent systems, according to this scheme, enhance organizational operations by tapping data streams. Examples include data sent via point-of-sale devices, digital signage and kiosks. These intelligent systems can also tap Microsoft's cloud-based services, such as Office 365, Windows Azure and SQL Azure, Microsoft claims.

As part of these intelligent systems efforts, Microsoft organized its Windows Embedded segment under the Management and Security Division of the Microsoft Server and Tools Business back in September 2010. One of the products overseen by Server and Tools Business is System Center, Microsoft's suite of management solutions. The reorganization appears to be designed to bring those management capabilities to Windows Embedded OSes.

For instance, earlier this year, Microsoft released Windows Embedded Device Manager 2011, which is an extension of Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007.

"The release of Windows Embedded Device Manager 2011 in March helps OEMs take advantage of the extensive set of Microsoft technologies, while enabling enterprises to more effectively manage devices as part of enterprise IT infrastructures," the Microsoft spokesperson explained by e-mail.

The spokesperson had no information to share about whether such capabilities would be extended through System Center 2012 products, which are expected to start appearing on the market in the first half of next year.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL Confirm Online Advertising Partnership


Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL Confirm Online Advertising Partnership

The deal between Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo came about, in part, because interoperability issues got solved.

Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo have agreed to a deal that offers customers access to online display ad inventories from AOL's, the Microsoft Media Network (which includes MSN and Fox Sports sites) and Yahoo Network Plus.

The deal will allow Microsoft to offer broader choice to its advertiser customers, according to Rik van der Kooi, corporate vice president at the Microsoft Advertising Business Group.

"Similarly, Yahoo and AOL will now be able to offer Microsoft's O&O and third party inventory to their own advertising customers, and deliver commensurate value to their publisher partners, as well," he stated in a blog post.

Display ads occupy screen real estate and typically use static or animated graphics on Web sites. The other kind of Web advertising is search text ads, typically plain text returned with search results.

Google, the No. 1 search provider, makes most of its revenues through text ads and also has a display ad business. Still, Google wasn't part of this deal, and Google isn't the top display ad seller. In the U.S. market, of the 1.11 trillion display ads shown in the first quarter of this year, a third were delivered by Facebook, according to stats compiled by comScore. Yahoo is second in the U.S. market with about 10 percent, followed by Microsoft (4.8 percent) and AOL (3.0 percent). Google trails them all with 2.5 percent display ad impressions in the U.S. market.

The deal between Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo came about, in part, because interoperability issues got solved.

"Previously, our networks and exchanges didn't 'talk' to each other very well and were unable to effect inventory transactions between parties," van der Kooi explained. "Now they'll be able to do just that."

The display ads are priced via the Microsoft Advertising Exchange and the Yahoo Right Media Exchange, which use real-time bidding technologies. These inventories can then be resold to ad agencies and advertisers via partners. Under the deal, AOL will have an option to use its own exchange technology instead of those of Microsoft or Yahoo.

The partnership extends across sites in the United States. However, according to an announcement issued by Microsoft, "Yahoo and AOL will have an agreement that extends to Canada."

The Microsoft Advertising Exchange started to use a "real-time-bidded platform" from AppNexus in March 2011, according to van der Kooi. That technology has allowed the exchange to expand beyond U.S. and Canadian markets. The Microsoft Advertising Exchange now also supports the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, he explained.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Microsoft: Tens of Thousands of Customers Use Windows Azure Cloud


Microsoft: Tens of Thousands of Customers Use Windows Azure Cloud

General Manager of Microsoft Server and Tools says 75 percent of new server shipments use the Windows Server operating system for private cloud deployments.

Microsoft expects the future of its Windows Azure public cloud to be more in the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) realm, offering support for multiple programming platforms besides .NET.

Charles Di Bona, general manager of Microsoft Server and Tools, said Microsoft is the only company that offers public cloud, private cloud and hybrid solutions to its potential customers. He spoke in San Francisco at the CLSA Asia USA Forum for investors on Monday.

Microsoft's cloud position is not too new, but it's become a little more nuanced after about a year's time. The company's marketing term for this scenario used to be called "Software Plus Services." However, lately Microsoft just talks "cloud," and describes companies that deploy their own servers in datacenters as deploying "private clouds." Windows Azure, by contrast, is Microsoft's "public cloud." Microsoft went "all-in" for the cloud in March 2010, announcing a major business shift at that time. However, Di Bona admitted in his talk that new technologies, such as Windows Azure, never wholly supplant the old ones, such as Microsoft server technologies.

"The reality is that the cloud part of our business is much smaller than the server part of our business," Di Bona said, according to a Microsoft transcript (Word doc). "And that's going to continue to be the way it is for the foreseeable future here."

Microsoft has "tens of thousands of customers on Azure, and increasingly on Office 365," Di Bona said.

Microsoft's $17-billion Server and Tools business produces Windows Server, SQL Server and Windows Azure, all of which Di Bona described as "the infrastructure for data centers." That division doesn't include Office 365, which is organized under Microsoft Online Services.

Di Bona claimed that 75 percent of new server shipments use the Windows Server operating system for private cloud deployments. Microsoft sees its System Center management software products as a key component for private datacenters, whether they use Microsoft Hyper-V or VMware products for virtualization. He said that Microsoft's System Center financials were "up over 20 percent year over year."

Amazon Web Services is a more static infrastructure-as-a-service play, Di Bona contended, but he said that's changing.

"And we see Amazon trying to add now PAAS [platform as a service] componentry on top of what they do. So we think that where we ended up is the right place."

Microsoft is building infrastructure-as-a-service capabilities into Windows Azure, Di Bona said. He cited interoperability with other frameworks, such as the open source Apache Hadoop, as an example. Microsoft is partnering with Horton Works on Hadoop interoperability with Windows Azure and Windows Server. Hadoop, which supports big data-type projects, was originally fostered by Yahoo.

"So, it [Hadoop] is a new framework that is not ours," Di Bona said. "We're embracing it, because we understand that for a lot of big data solutions that is clearly the way a lot of developers and end-users and customers want to go, at least for that part of what they do."

Di Bona's talk at the CLSA Asia USA Forum can be accessed at Microsoft's investor relations page here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Microsoft Reveals SQL Server 2012 Licensing Model


Microsoft Reveals SQL Server 2012 Licensing Model

Licensing costs for SQL Server 2012 won't substantially change except for Client Access Licensing (CAL), which will be higher.

Microsoft unveiled a new licensing and pricing model for its upcoming SQL Server 2012 product family, which is expected in the first half of next year.

The new licensing model is based on an organization's computing power, number of users and use of virtualization. Licensing costs won't substantially change compared with SQL Server 2008 R2, except for Client Access Licensing (CAL) costs, which will be about 25 percent higher.

Microsoft SQL Server 2012(formerly code-named "Denali") promises self-service business intelligence features and other new capabilities when commercially launched. However, organizations still have to figure out complicated licensing considerations and costs. Microsoft attempted to kick-start that effort by publishing its "SQL Server 2012 Licensing Datasheet" document last week, which can be downloaded here.

The company expects to release SQL Server 2012 in the first half of next year. Rob Horwitz, research chair at the Directions on Microsoft independent consultancy, thinks the product may appear sometime in the second quarter.

Edition Changes
SQL Server 2012 will be available in three editions: Enterprise, Business Intelligence and Standard. The Enterprise edition is an all-inclusive product in terms of its features, and Microsoft is positioning it for "mission critical applications and large scale data warehousing" uses. The Business Intelligence edition is a new product offering. It adds BI features while also including all of the features in the Standard edition. Microsoft recommends the Standard edition for "basic database, reporting and analytics capabilities," according to its white paper.

Microsoft rolled much of the SQL Server 2008 R2 Datacenter edition licensing rights into the SQL Server 2012 Enterprise edition, so the old Datacenter edition will disappear as a top product-line offering. Microsoft will offer a Web edition of SQL Server 2012, but only to organizations signing a Service Provider License Agreement. Developer, Express and Compact editions will still be available after the SQL Server 2012 product is released, Microsoft indicated.

Licensing Changes
The biggest licensing change for SQL Server 2012 is Microsoft's shift from counting processors to counting cores (see table). The licensing describes four cores per physical processor as being the minimum licensing basis.

Microsoft Reveals SQL Server 2012 Licensing Model

[Click on image for larger view.]  

SQL Server 2012 Licensing Options. "*Requires CALs, which are sold separately." 

Those organizations using virtualization with SQL Server 2012 have two licensing options. Organizations can license virtual machines based on core licenses or they can license virtual machines based on server plus CALs. Four cores per virtual machine is the minimum requirement on licensing. Maximum virtualization (that is, no limits on the number of virtual machines) is only available only with the Enterprise edition of SQL Server 2012, with Software Assurance being required.

Licensing Costs
The licensing costs stayed the same, decreased or increased. It all depends on how you look at it. Horwitz shared his views in an e-mail, where he laid out the changes in bullet points.

"The price of the SQL Server CAL does go up, about 25%. "The per-server license for Standard Edition remains the same price as before. "The per-server license for BI server is the same price as the server license for SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise…though this isn't an apples to apples comparison given the difference in SKU features. "The per-core price for SQL 2012 Standard and Enterprise edition is one quarter the price of per-proc licenses for equivalent editions of SQL 2008 R2. So effectively, if you have more than 4 cores per physical processor in the server, your licensing fee goes up."

Paul DeGroot, another Microsoft software licensing expert who now serves as principal consultant of the independent consultancy Pica Communications after working for Directions on Microsoft, offered other insights into Microsoft SQL Server 2012 licensing costs. DeGroot noted that the CAL price increased substantially from $164 to $209 and speculated that Microsoft felt that raising the price of the CALs would have less of an impact on customers than raising server licensing costs. Still, other price changes were somewhat neutral, he contended.

"Overall, I'd say they [the prices] stayed the same or went down, with the reservation that the change from per proc to per core is significant, but may not have a huge impact on a lot of customers, since quad-core procs are probably a common choice for running high-end editions of SQL Server," DeGroot said in an e-mail. He estimated that the price would remain much the same for organizations "so as long as you're using quad-core procs."

Cost considerations largely killed the Datacenter edition of SQL Server 2008 R2, DeGroot contended. "That cost $54,990 per proc, or twice the per proc price of SQL 2008 R2 Enterprise," DeGroot said, adding that "reading between the lines, I'd say that SQL Server 2008 R2 Datacenter sold poorly, and that's not surprising." With SQL Server 2012 Enterprise edition "customers will get Datacenter power at half the price that Datacenter was," he explained.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Linux Community Counters Microsoft's Windows 8 Secure Boot Mandate


Linux Community Counters Microsoft's Windows 8 Secure Boot Mandate

While secure boot is optional to use as described in the UEFI spec, Microsoft will require system vendors to use it as the default as part of the Windows 8 logo program.

Microsoft's comments about embracing secure boot at its BUILD developer conference in September caused an open source Linux community backlash.

Now the Linux Foundation, along with Red Hat and Canonical, has staked out positions on how the secure boot procedure should be implemented in computer firmware. Their positions were described in two recently published white papers.

Secure boot is a procedure for firmware in devices that's part of the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) specification. The UEFI standard is already used in all ARM-based processors. While BIOS still predominates in the firmware of new x86 PCs, Microsoft is looking to tap the potential security benefits of UEFI in future Windows 8 PCs and devices.

While secure boot is optional to use, as described in the UEFI spec, Microsoft wants it to be required by default in new PCs and devices sold that run Windows 8. It will be required of system vendors as part of the Windows 8 logo program.

If Microsoft's requirement stands, the Linux community fears that Linux might be prevented from running on such PCs or devices because the firmware won't recognize the Certificate Authority of the Linux OS. Secure boot potentially offers benefits to users by preventing "bootkits" or rootkits from cloaking system modifications, but the Linux Community feels that Microsoft's insistence on requiring it will cut them off. Firmware vendors will just produce for the bulk device market dominated by Windows, and will ignore support for Linux, they contend.

"Unfortunately, Microsoft's recommended implementation of secure boot removes control of the system from the hardware owner, and may prevent open source operating systems from functioning," according to the "UEFI Secure Boot Impact on Linux" white paper (PDF) by Red Hat and Canonical. "The Windows 8 requirement for secure boot will pressure OEMs to implement secure boot in this fashion."

Linux hobbyists will be less free to experiment and modify their Linux OSes with secure boot turned on by default, the Linux community has argued. Microsoft has countered this line of argument by pointing to a switch in the current Windows 8 developer preview that will let users turn off secure boot via the operating system, allowing Linux or any other OS to be run in a dual-boot scenario. However, this position was somewhat rejected in the Red Hat-Canonical white paper.

"If secure boot must be disabled before an alternate operating system can be booted, then those alternatives will become restricted to technically-minded users who are able to reconfigure their firmware to disable secure boot," the white paper argues. Moreover, the Linux base of nontechnical users might be diminished, it warned.

Red Hat and Canonical are recommending that secure boot "be easily disabled and enabled through a firmware configuration interface." They also want OEMs to disclose a standardized way of configuring keys in firmware. Finally, they propose shipping devices with a setup mode enabled, where the OS can install the keys and not just the firmware vendor.

The Linux Foundation's white paper, "Making UEFI Secure Boot Work With Open Platforms" (PDF), offers a similar argument to that of Red Hat and Canonical. Systems should ship with a setup mode that will enable the addition of keys to the firmware, the white paper argues.

In the future, the Linux Foundation wants an independent Certificate Authority created to issue key-exchange keys (KEKs). It also wants a firmware mechanism that would enable the booting of OSes on removable media, such as DVDs and CD ROMs.

The two white papers don't seem to be wholly on the same page. For instance, the white paper by Red Hat and Canonical expressed additional fears about lockdowns that will compel people to buy hardware or software.

"Controlling the boot environment may make it possible for software to be reliably tied to a specific piece of hardware," the white paper states. "This creates the opportunity for a 'forced obsolescence' scenario, where hardware upgrades are necessary to install future versions of system software, or vice versa."

Red Hat and Canonical also expressed fears about firmware validation being tied to applications sold through approved app stores. It could be used to ensure "recurring revenue from all end user purchases."

Time will tell whether these concerns will play out as described in the white papers. However, most computer users likely will be glad to have secure boot enabled by default given the prevalence of malware attacks against Windows systems. They also likely would favor a vetting process for applications if the end result is that the applications they use are more secure.

The Linux Foundation appears to be taking a more subdued position compared with early Red Hat arguments.

"Some observers have expressed concerns that secure boot could be used to exclude open systems from the market, but, as we have shown above, there is no need for things to be that way," the Linux Foundation's white paper concludes. "If vendors ship their systems in the setup mode and provide a means to add new KEKs to the firmware, those systems will fully support open operating systems while maintaining compliance with the Windows 8 logo requirements."

Friday, November 4, 2011

Microsoft Submits Patch to Samba Core Under Open Source License


Microsoft Submits Patch to Samba Core Under Open Source License

The relationship between Microsoft and Samba has certainly changed. Microsoft was forced by a European antitrust action to open its network protocols to Samba in 2007.

Microsoft marked another open source milestone last month.

The company's Oct. 10 patch improved the Samba core code and was submitted under the open source GNU General Public License. Samba is a free interoperability solution for Unix/Linux servers and Windows-based clients. It supports file and print services on clients using Microsoft's Server Message Block/Common Internet File System (SMB/CIFS) protocols.

Chris Hertel of Samba said in a post that two Microsoft developers got permission from Microsoft to issue the patch code under the GPL open source license. It marked a "milestone" of sorts for open source relations and Microsoft, according to Hertel.

"A few years back, a patch submission from coders at Microsoft would have been amazing to the point of unthinkable, but the battles are mostly over and times have changed," Hertel wrote in the post. "We still disagree on some things such as the role of software patents in preventing the creation of innovative software; but Microsoft is now at the forefront of efforts to build a stronger community and improve interoperability in the SMB [Server Message Block] world."

The relationship between Microsoft and Samba has certainly changed. A ZDNet blog claims that Samba is "an old Microsoft enemy" and that Microsoft was forced by a European antitrust action to "open its network protocols to Samba in 2007."

A history published by the Free Software Foundation Europe cites a 2004 European Commission decision that involved a server interoperability complaint by Sun Microsystems. However, the FSFE's history also noted that Samba had presented before the EC in a 2003 hearing on the case.

Microsoft now has a team devoted to open source interoperability led by Jean Paoli and Gianugo Rabellino. Following antitrust regulatory actions in Europe and in the United States, Microsoft rolled out an "interoperability pledge" in February of 2008 that opened up some of its documentation and APIs for product interoperability. The documentation part of this interoperability effort was overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice, but this DoJ final judgment scrutiny ended on May 12.

Microsoft struck a controversial Windows interoperability and licensing deal with Novell over its SuSE Linux Enterprise operating system in November 2006, and that deal has was renewed in July of this year after Attachmate acquired Novell. These deals took place even after Microsoft claimed that open source software violated 235 of Microsoft patents. In recent years, Microsoft's legal team has mostly attempted to prove that claim by suing hardware vendors using the open source Linux-based Android mobile operating system.