Microsoft ready to ship Application Center 2000

Microsoft has announced the release to manufacturing of its Application Center 2000 software, the last of the 2000 generation of its .Net family of enterprise servers.

Application Center 2000, which is expected to be generally available by the end of next month, is aimed at helping users configure, manage, monitor and load-balance Web applications built on the Windows 2000 operating system, according to Microsoft technical product manager Bob Pulliam.

"We're focused on enhancing the scalability and increasing the manageability of their [middle] tier," Pulliam said, referring to the Web and application servers of a multitier application When companies build Web sites, they face several choices in terms of approach. They can opt for large, scalable Unix boxes, or they can "scale out", using more of the less-expensive servers running Microsoft operating systems. If they choose the latter approach, however, they're left with a greater management challenge, since system administrators typically must tend to each server in the cluster on a separate basis, unless they've created or bought special tools.

Microsoft Application Center is designed to address that management problem, letting a company manage a cluster of up to 12 servers as a single server, Pulliam said. He added that companies with more servers can configure a staging server to deploy applications to each of the clusters.

"What we've found is that 90 per cent of all Web sites can be run on 10 servers or less," Pulliam said.

John Mann, a senior analyst at Patricia Seybold Group, pointed out that "there will be a limit to how useful this is. Complexity increases, and the software, as it's written Monday, will be able to tolerate a certain number of these staging servers. After that, it will be a pain in the neck."

But Mann added that Application Center marks a step in the right direction for Microsoft. "Now, it is actually tackling these tough technical problems," in terms of what enterprise systems require, Mann said. "Are they rolling up their sleeves to address these problems? My sense is yes."

Mann said Microsoft will be in a learning mode with its new Application Center product. "The implicit question is, could you run an infinite number of servers under a system like Application Center? I don't know," he said.

With Application Center, Microsoft has tried to address a number of user issues, including the process of adding servers to a company's application environment. The software is designed to automate configuring a new server, load balancing and synchronising the servers with the applications, Pulliam said, noting that a wizard helps kick off the task.

"When you make a change to the system, you make a change in one location and we will replicate the change across the cluster," Pulliam said.

Monitoring will also be more centralised, since users can check the performance and event information across an entire cluster rather than check each individual server, Pulliam added.

Pulliam said that Application Center has been in development for close to two and a half years, missing its originally planned ship date last summer to address customer feedback.

Application Center is designed to work with Microsoft products in a Windows environment. The software runs on Windows 2000 Server and Windows 2000 Advanced Server. Although the software doesn't run on Microsoft's more scalable Datacenter operating system, Pulliam notes that the company is looking into that possibility for the future.

Microsoft Application Center will sell for $US2999 per processor.

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