What’s in store

I have just returned from a few days with Microsoft, going through future products and technologies. To say it was exhausting would be an understatement. Nevertheless, we covered a huge amount of ground – I will cover some of it this month, while the rest will have to wait until next month thanks to some short-term NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) or embargoes. And a few will have to wait for many months, indeed, maybe even a year or two.

What's in store

Let’s start with this far-out stuff first. Although I cannot describe the forthcoming technologies in any detail, I can tell you that Microsoft’s people were very concerned about my view that the company had no believable storage story that extended through to the end of the decade, and they admitted to me that they are doing a phenomenally bad job of communicating the company’s plans at the moment. If you remember a few columns back, I broke the surprising news that E12, the next version of Exchange server, would still be using the JET database engine instead of the promised ‘Yukon’ SQL Server 2005. At that time, I was furious at this news because it effectively placed a roadblock on the plans for Microsoft to move towards an all SQL-based solution that would let us launch queries against a wide range of data types held in different stores – file system, Exchange Server, RDBMS, Active Directory and so forth – and to do so in an efficient way. I even laid down a challenge that Microsoft had until March to clarify its plans and to show it really meant business in solving the storage problems that we are all facing. Although I do not underestimate the importance of technologies such as Web Services, 3D user interfaces or any of the other ‘sexier’ things that Microsoft is currently working on, I was critically concerned that something as boring but important as storage was being overlooked. Couple this with the mess that was the WinFS and Longhorn announcement, and the path ahead looked extremely confusing and broken to an outsider.

You will imagine then my surprise and delight at being able to sit down with one of the top people responsible for moving forward the roadmap. And you will be able to imagine my extreme surprise at having the appropriate solutions laid out in a clear and structured fashion, starting from the near-term and moving toward the end of the decade. I went into that meeting feeling angry, disillusioned and let down, but came out feeling elated that I would finally found someone who understood the problem as I saw it, and who has real (and shippable) solutions to solve it.

Now for the reality check: what I was shown, and discussed in great detail, might turn out to be hot air. It might have been a whitewash job to keep me happy. However, I do not think it was – the story was too complete, the understanding too deep, and these people had put a huge amount of thinking into the problem space. Microsoft assured me that it is now moving into code writing and then beta phase, and that the timescales I was shown are both credible and deliverable.

I’m watching the company like a hawk and it knows it. At the moment, I will give it the benefit of the doubt and say that I think it will deliver what I want to see, and that it has a plan that’s achievable. I would love to tell you this plan; when I can, you will read it here first, but it will have to wait for now.

Windows SERVER Update Services

One product that I have been awaiting for a long time is the new Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) engine. The original version, named Software Update Services (SUS), was clunky, awkward to use, tended to break and also had a nasty tendency to consume vast quantities of Internet bandwidth as it sucked everything it could find down from the Microsoft site. WSUS is not the final name for the version 2 product, but it is close.

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