The Road to Longhorn: A Hobbit's Tale

The path to Longhorn Beta 3 has been long and winding, but the adventure is just beginning

It must be a little like trudging your furry feet all the way from the Shire to Mordor, only to see that big damn gate manned by a thousand orcs who look like Paul Venezia after a hard night drinking. You're filled with despair, like that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach after writing about little else besides Vista this and Vista that for the last six months, only to realize that I'm sitting down in my well-worn lab chair, about to install Beta 3 of Longhorn.

I can just see it coming. Longhorn RTM. Longhorn shrink. Planning for Longhorn, installing Longhorn, finding a new name for Longhorn. Explaining to my mom why Longhorn has nothing to do with John Wayne. Enterprise Longhorn, SMB Longhorn, storage Longhorn, never an Xbox Longhorn. The prison blues after pummeling my neighbor for offering me some barbequed, medium-rare Longhorn. Maybe I'll do a Wikipedia entry arguing a case for turning Longhorn into a synonym for inevitable.

But I'm a technology journalist: determined like a squirrel, tough like a metrosexual. My face may be long enough to use as a scarf, but I'm tasked to look at Longhorn, and that's exactly what I'm going to do.

First, though, I'm not going to talk much about installation since it was largely uneventful and because Beta 3 install foibles rarely mean anything in the real world anyway.

What I will talk about is stuff you'd better start boning up on now if it looks like Long is going to Horn in on your business in the semi-near-term future. First, there's kwoss, or QoS, or quality of service. The Micros have built this into Longhorn, which means several things. First, if you aren't using it now, you probably will be. It's just too good to pass up. Everybody has an app or two whose bandwidth they'd feel better about if it were protected. And now, instead of digging around your Misc. Cables box to find a serial cable so that you can connect to some switch interface and set 802.1q values, Microsoft is providing a happy little management interface to let you do it all from your desk. Easy peasey, keep your feet up and sip your coffee.

The complexities might start if you already are using QoS on the switch side. Theoretically, running Longhorn QoS shouldn't interfere with anything you might have set on the switch side — but when you depend on theoretical, you make an ass out of Theo and Huxtable. Or something like that. Bottom line: It's going to mean testing. We're building a little switch bank here at the New Jersey Lab of Tech ADD, consisting of Cisco, Linksys, Dell, and Netgear switches. These will get QoS settings that will want to protect different traffic streams than the ones we set up on our Longhorn box. The result should show what happens when these two conflict. Something I'll get into deeply just as soon as I can't think of anything else to do on a Saturday.

You're also going to want to check your NICs, especially those connecting to storage resources, for TOE. That stands for TCP Offload Engine, and it was introduced as a hardware-level acceleration feature by companies such as Intel well over a year ago. The idea behind TOE is that big TCP operations get off-loaded from the operating system (meaning the CPU) and run directly on the TOE card. This'll help for those high-performance TCP operations, but it'll especially come in handy for big chunks of iSCSIness, too, hence the storage stigma. I'm not saying you need to run out and upgrade anything that doesn't feature TOE, but it should certainly become part of the feature requirements the next time you're shopping for hardware.

Obviously, it's going to be a Long road to Horn, and I've only just set my furry little feet upon it. But if you're thinking that Longhorn and Vista were built on the same code base and you already know most of it — well, you're wrong. Network performance, remote access performance, management, loads of security features — the learning list is going to make your eyes pop around like Sauron's. Hell, Brian Chee and I still have to figure out what to do about IPv6, promote or pooh-pooh. It's going to be a long summer.

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