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It would seem obvious that a show like the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) would be the place to lay out a roadmap for the future, but in this case, Microsoft's map doesn't stretch very far.

This year's WinHEC show comes smack between the release of the new client software, Vista, and the pending release of a new server, Windows Server 2008. As such, Microsoft (Quote) is less interested in talking about future products and more interested in the here and now.

"We're out with beta 3 [of Server 2008], this is the time for people to start building apps and solutions on top of it," Bob Visse, senior director of Windows Server marketing told "While it's nice to hear about the future, we do that at a lot of different events. So it's actually good for them to focus in on some of the core things."

Among those core things is getting onto 64-bit computing. Microsoft has already released Exchange Server 2007 as a 64-bit only product and during his keynote address, Bill Laing, general manager of the Windows Server division, announced that the next refresh to Windows Server would be 64-bit only.

That won't come until at least 2009, and by that point, 32-bit servers will have been off the market for years, Visse pointed out. "By 2009 there will be significantly less value in a 32-bit version. People will be moved over, virtualization will be in full force from us and the rest of the industry. If people have 32-bit stuff they want to do, they'll be able to get great performance in a virtualized environment."

For now, Microsoft is encouraging developers and customers to start porting their applications to 64-bits. Old 32-bit apps will run fine, with luck, but even older 16-bit applications will not run on a 64-bit box; they will require a virtualized environment.

"You'd be surprised who's still running 16-bit apps," said Ward Rolston, senior technical product manager in the Windows Server division. "Manufacturing and the like. The stuff works, why mess with it?"

Visse said he doesn't expect serious application regression testing will be needed for 32-bit applications, and that the real benefit for older apps will be in a virtualized environment.

"The really cool scenario is those sticky Unix apps or sticky NT 4 apps that can now be brought into a virtualized environment on top of Windows Server 2008 and benefit from the management capabilities in the box," he said.

Visse and Rolston expect the migration to go smoother than Vista, since there will be considerably fewer driver issues. There are far fewer server configurations than there are for clients, which means a lot less hardware to support.

It also means greater stability because unsigned drivers can't be used on 64-bit systems. "When you talk about 64-bits, that is the most highly reliable OS you can get because it's impossible for a flaky driver to take a computer down, and that accounts for the vast majority of blue screens for our customers," said Rolston.

A storage server from Microsoft?

Laing mentioned Microsoft is planning to release a new product, a storage server, sometime next year. Rolston declined to provide many more details, but hinted it would serve as dedicated storage from OEMs. "The storage server line is only delivered by OEMs, so we do alignments with their systems, so it's pre-tuned if you will, to be a file server," he said.

He added that it would support functionality like single instance storage of a file and iSCSI SAN technology that Microsoft picked up last year with the acquisition of String Bean.

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