Microsoft is positioning its upcoming Windows Server 2008 operating system as a bonanza that, for Web hosting companies, stacks up well against the rival Linux platform, Microsoft officials said.
Due in late February 2008, the platform has been tuned for Web density and features other amenities for Web hosters, said Michael van Dijken, leading marketing manager for the Hosting Business in Microsoft's Communications Sector.
"Windows Server's been designed with, really, hosting in mind," van Dijken said.
With the current release, Windows Server 2003, hosts might have 500 active Web sites on a single box. But Windows Server 2008 vastly improves this, according to Microsoft officials.
"In some of the demos we have, you can manage up to about 2,000 to 3,000 sites on the box right away, and we're still looking to optimize the scale," said Michael Joffe, solutions senior product manager in the Microsoft Communications Sector.
Among the other improvements, the Internet Information Server Web server piece of Windows Server 2008 is modular by design, as opposed to Windows Server 2003, which required a single, large install.
"Hosters only need to install the modules that they need for their services," van Dijken said. Modules can be created for customized capabilities such as provisioning a database.
Also with Windows Server 2008, diagnostics and management tools are featured to improve the experience of using the platform. Better support for ASP.Net applications is featured, as is the ability to interoperate with PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) applications.
Currently, about 6,500 companies deliver hosted services via Windows Server. The beta release of Windows Server 2008, meanwhile, has featured a Go Live license enabling deployment of the operating system in production environments.
While Linux has dominated the hosting space, the gap is closing, van Dijken said. Microsoft has seen strong migration from Linux, he said. This is happening even if Linux licenses are free while Microsoft licenses are not.
"Companies like Red Hat will give you the OS for free, but the support commitment, which you need to buy, makes it more expensive than Windows," said van Dijken.
Tier1 Research, which observes the Web-hosting market, acknowledged Microsoft's aggressive push during the last three years.
"What we've seen is that there is a very fast uptake of Windows over the past three years or so," said analyst Dan Golding, vice president at Tier1. There once was a time when Web-hosting meant Linux, but not anymore, he said.
Microsoft promotes an entire package, adding products such as a hosted version of Microsoft Exchange, Golding said. Microsoft also has been bolstering its platform with features such as management tools in Windows Server 2008, he said.
But there are instances when a host would prefer Linux, such as a company running a MySQL database server, Golding said.
Web-hosting company Rackspace started out as Linux-only but now also deploys Windows. "We actually have about a 50-50 split," said Annalie Drusch, director of corporate communications at Rackspace.
Customers began demanding Windows because they felt it had more business-class functionality, Drusch said. But over time, business-class customers have begun using Linux as well, she said.
Linux rival Red Hat counters that its Linux offers advantages over Windows Server in its ability to manage of thousands of servers and provide security.
"You have a more secure OS built from the ground up," said Andrew Cathrow, product marketing manager for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Windows Server 2008 is not even shipping, he noted.
Meanwhile, Red Hat is seeing Web-hosting shifting from the hosting of static Web pages to hosting of Web 2.0 applications, Cathrow said.