With the launch of Vista coming over the next few months, Microsoft has had little opportunity to talk about anything else. But the software giant is developing new products in a range of other areas, from Exchange 2007 to virtualisation to managed services.
One man with a grasp of Microsoft's overall product direction is the vice president for servers and tools, Bob Muglia.
We grabbed some time with Muglia at this week's TechEd IT Forum in Barcelona, to hear why Microsoft has begun announcing 64-bit only versions of its software, and its plans for managed services, virtualisation and other matters.
Q: Microsoft has made some key announcements this year and hinted at future directions for 64-bit, including comments that some products in the future will be 64-bit only. Where do you see 64-bit heading in the next few years?
A: About 18 months ago, we brought out a 64-bit version of Windows Server and we have been on a continuous progression to ensure that our applications first and foremost run properly on 64-bit. And there are a few places, especially where device drivers are involved, where there are still issues.
We've also been launching 64-bit applications. The first major application that we brought out that was 64-bit enabled was SQL Server 2005 and we are seeing pretty substantive adoption of the 64-bit version. That was basically because there was first and foremost no downside for a company to use it. It has the scalability, it is transparent. The only difference is that now you have many gigabytes of memory.
When Exchange Server 2007 ships shortly it will be the first major server application that Microsoft produces which is only 64-bit. That was a rather difficult decision for us to take but we decided as a company that by offering 64-bit only, we could offer customers really substantive benefits in availability and performance.
The differences in the operational characteristics of Exchange 2007 versus previous versions are considerable, particularly in the amount of memory it can take advantage of. For example, in storage. With this sort of intensive disk-focused application you needed very substantial, SAN-based storage systems which could run very highly available Exchange implementations. Because of its 64-bit capabilities, its demands on storage are much less. The opportunity is there for people to have less cluster-focused disk applications. We are seeing that.
What we chose to do within Microsoft, for example, is move from a mailbox of 200 megabytes per user to a mailbox of 2 gigabytes. We are able to do that at the same cost per user.
Looking into the future, we will ship Longhorn [the next version of Windows Server] in the second half of next year and we will ship a 32-bit and a 64-bit version. That will be the last time we ship a 32-bit version. From that point, the next release, which will be roughly two years later, that product will only be available as 64-bit.
Where are you going with Microsoft Managed Services?
In time, some of our customers will want to acquire IT as a service. It is different from a consulting service and I need to distinguish between delivering software as a service versus a standard consulting service — a customised service.
We think this trend is going to happen in a major way. It has been discussed quite a lot since 2000. At the time it was not successful because the infrastructure wasn't ready and clearly the software wasn't ready. It is clear that this will happen and we need to ensure that our software is used in that process.
We have done this ourselves and taken on a couple of customers and we have learned some of the shortcomings of our software. Some of the things we have learned include that our software needs to work transparently across the internet to make it work. Some things work very well already, like Outlook 2003 versus Exchange.
Another area that has become a focus is what we call multi-tenancy. Systems used to assume there was just one corporate server, now we have to assume that many corporate servers will be served by one or more servers in a server farm. It is a major focus and there have been some learnings.
One of the things was the complexity of desktop deployment, which we learned pretty much the hard way. That was one of the things that led us to acquire Softricity. That will do a lot to lower the cost of desktop deployment and will be a major enabler of software as a service for desktop management.
When will this be rolled out to customers?
It is actually in use with a few customers now, and will be rolled out to more customers in the next year or so. First and foremost on messaging and collaboration, which is ready to run, whereas the desktop management still needs some work.
Do you plan to outsource email and services like that?
We are certainly working on the compliance aspects of this and some of the work here helps that.
When do you plan to go to market with that?
We are very much in the incubation phase, so exactly when we will go to market, it is just too early to tell. But one thing I do know is that over the next couple of years there is no lack of customers who are interested in working with us, who would like Microsoft to take these things on. So we will take on more of these customers and we'll learn from them.
In terms of things like privacy of data, we need to provide customers with some assurances. But that has not been a huge issue. In terms of market size, we think, over time, it is a very substantial market, but we think of it as an incremental opportunity on top of our software business.
It primarily helps customers save on their internal labour costs. Goodness knows, there is an immense amount of money spent in IT on internal labour costs.
Will Microsoft virtualising software, like the Hypervisor, be 64-bit only?
There are two distinct parts of the Hypervisor, the management partition and the guests, The guests can be 32-bit or 64-bit but the software it runs on will be 64-bit, so technically it will be 64-bit.
What future Microsoft technologies are getting you excited?
Well, one thing is the capability within Office 2007 to take and connect end-users with business processes. This has been a goal of our company for many years and what we have now is a version of Office that is very different from any previous version. You take this and show it to CIOs and they really get what you mean. You talk about the interoperability and open XML and they really get what you mean. You can really transform their businesses because end-users can get much more involved.
Another exciting thing is the overall trend in management and virtualisation. But the world will go virtual. It is probably true that the next time we do a major release of Windows which will be, let's say, post 2010, we are going to be assuming virtualisation.