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-- by Martin Heller
At last, a peek at Cairo. Only months after delivering Windows NT 4.0, Microsoft is offering a glimpse at selected NT 5.0 technologies that may address concerns about the OS's scalability, manageability and reliability. However, some of these offerings may not ship until 1998.
As a first step, Microsoft has given selected programmers a software development kit containing some NT 5.0 technology. The kit includes early builds of a new distributed file system (DFS), public and private key security software, directory service tools and transaction monitor software.
The DFS offers a unified directory structure across multiple disks, file systems and machines. It lets you access files without knowing their physical location on a network, while protecting such files with redundancy and fail-over.
Microsoft is also enhancing NT's current NTFS file system with object-oriented features, such as advanced file properties, disk space quotas, volume management, file content and properties indexing, link tracking and hooks for hierarchical storage management. Another initiative, Universal Access, extends the file system view into databases and message stores through three mechanisms: ADO, a language-independent API for accessing data; OLE DB, a COM interface for general database access; and ODBC, an API designed for accessing relational SQL databases.
NT 5.0 security includes both public key and private key components. The public key certificate services support NT and Internet user authentication. Public key encryption over a secure socket layer is also supported. This minimizes the threat of sensitive data loss (credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and the like) during electronic commerce. Finally, private key security within and across domains is offered via Kerberos encryption and the point-to-point tunneling protocol.
The kit also offers a look at Active Directory, Microsoft's counter to Novell Directory Services (NDS), and Banyan StreetTalk (see related feature "Directory Assistance" in this issue). Active Directory uses lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP) as its core protocol, and works across system boundaries and multiple name spaces. It also features subsets of the X.500 protocols: directory access protocol, directory system protocol and directory information shadowing protocol. Active Directory promises simple API access from Java, Visual Basic, C/C++ and transparent interoperability with other directories.
While these technologies aren't expected to arrive until late this year or early 1998, one major enhancement-Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS)-will have shipped by the time you read this. MTS (code-named Viper) was in beta as of this writing. It offers cross-component transactions, transaction monitoring, scaling, message queuing and support for ActiveX components. With MTS, Microsoft is enhancing NT to someday compete with IBM Customer Information Control System (CICS), a transaction processor for UNIX and mainframe operating systems.
Recent Microsoft demonstrations of MTS were impressive: No transaction monitor to date has offered its ease of use. However, no enterprise locking features were demonstrated or even discussed at a recent Microsoft briefing for developers.
Between MTS and the sneak peek at NT 5.0 technologies, Microsoft is inching closer to Cairo-and to glass-house computing. When the company will actually deliver on these promises is another story entirely.