Cold standby a hot problem

It seems that as soon as we solve one problem, changes in information technologies cause new ones. The latest change is due to the new Microsoft Window Vista and Longhorn Server operating systems and their anti-piracy protection. The problem will be maintaining cold standby systems. The usual method for maintaining cold standby systems is to keep one or more “empty” servers that can...

02/01/2007


It seems that as soon as we solve one problem, changes in information technologies cause new ones. The latest change is due to the new Microsoft Window Vista and Longhorn Server operating systems and their anti-piracy protection. The problem will be maintaining cold standby systems.

The usual method for maintaining cold standby systems is to keep one or more “empty” servers that can quickly be loaded with an O/S and applications from a backup CD. The servers all have the same hardware configuration, and the CD contains a disk image of the operating system, applications, and configured databases. If a system fails, then an empty server can quickly be loaded to replace it. This approach works well for most systems and applications because the O/S and application licenses are not tied to a specific server.

Piracy alert

However, one application that is tied to a specific CPU is the Microsoft Windows operating system. Microsoft released WGA (Windows Genuine Advantage) after the Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 release and made its use mandatory in July 2005. WGA checks for non-pirated versions of XP and limits downloads of critical patches on non-legal systems. Fortunately, WGA does not place other limits on applications. This had little effect on manufacturing applications, because patches and downloads are usually tightly controlled. Microsoft has had challenges with WGA, adding it as a critical security download in 2006. WGA would silently call home to Microsoft with information about the server. The initial release marked some legal systems as illegal copies, with no easy way for users to remedy the problem. Although WGA may help alleviate software piracy, it will be a significant problem for legal manufacturing IT solutions, because of changes coming in Windows Vista. A new version of WGA, called Microsoft SPP (Software Platform Protection), will be included with Windows Vista and Longhorn, and it will require activation of the O/S prior to its use. If the O/S is found to be non-genuine, then it will not be able to run applications, or open or edit documents, and you will only be allowed to use Microsoft Internet Explorer browser for a limited time. Activation requires Internet access using Internet Explorer or access to a local Longhorn Key Management Server (if your organization has 25 or more PCs). Servers that use the Key Management Server must access the activation server every 180 days to stay activated. Activation may be possible by phone, but details are not yet available.

Understand the impact

With such a structure, using a disk image CD for cold standby much more difficult. When the O/S is tied to a specific server, the standby copy will need to be activated once installed, yet the O/S license was already used on the failed system. Company policies that do not allow direct connection of automation servers to the Internet and those that prevent the use of Internet Explorer on servers will complicate activation. Moreover, policies that do not allow use of not-yet-released software (such as the Longhorn Key Management Server) will complicate activation. If you are using virtualization for some applications, the problem will still exist, because the virtualized O/S also will have to be activated.

It is important to understand how the new piracy protection features will impact your operations so as to not limit your ability to maintain operations. Manufacturing IT organizations should start working with their corporate IT departments to develop new procedures and policies for cold standby systems for eventual deployment of Microsoft Vista and Longhorn servers. Based on previous history, most automation vendors will start providing Vista based systems in late 2007 and Longhorn servers in 2008, so there is time to develop effective strategies for backup systems.


Author Information

Dennis Brandl, dbrandl@brlconsulting.com , is the president of BR&L Consulting, Cary, NC, which is focused on manufacturing and IT solutions.




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