Microsoft is making a concerted effort to ensure that enterprises can extend its server platforms out to the branch office, a strategy that pulls together the latest server and virtualization offerings with third-party WAN optimization technology.
The goal is to allow enterprises to deliver key offerings like Server and Exchange Server over the WAN, allowing remote offices to function without the need of a local server.
First up was an agreement with Citrix that would embed a still-to-be-named acceleration product into Windows Server 2003. Citrix has codenamed its device "Evergreen" and is expected to introduce it as an appliance by the summer, with a possible software-only version at the end of the year.
Shortly after that announcement came word that Riverbed Technology is extending support for Exchange 2000, 2003 and 2007 in the latest version (5.0) of the Riverbed Optimization Systems (RiOS) that drives the Steelhead appliance. The move makes RiOS the only system to offer application-level optimization for all three generations of Exchange. The addition of a new RiOS Services Platform (RSP) allows enterprises to provide virtualized edge services without local branch servers.
And on Tuesday came news of a deal between Microsoft and Cisco that could end up putting Windows Server 2008 directly onto the Cisco Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) appliance. The companies are in the process of testing and validating the combined architecture with a launch date expected by the end of the year, although the initial system might offer only a limited set of services like Domain Name Systems (DNS), Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) and Active Directory.
The one potential drawback to all these plans is the need to map out all of the network devices that will be affected, everything from printers and workstations to routers and switches. But a company called SolarWinds has developed a plug-in to Office Visio 2007 that provides automatic mapping and discovery across both LANs and WANs. The LANsurveyor Express system integrates OSI Layer 2 and Layer 3 topology data to display network nodes and switch port information as Visio diagrams. It also provides network device information and customized node properties, such as IP address, network name and domain name.
Issues like reliability and security are sure to dog any plan to extend server capability across the WAN, although all the companies working with Microsoft say their optimization solutions will put those fears to rest. Of course, they have to say that to sell product, so it will be interesting to see if the end results will live up to real-world standards.