Delayed by 18 months and suffering four name changes along the way, Windows Server 2003, (along with Visual Studio .Net 2003 and its 64-bit SQL Server Enterprise Edition) was finally released at the end of April. Although Windows Server 2003 has been three years and 50 million lines of code in the making, users should expect no major surprises - this release of Windows is mainly evolutionary and not revolutionary, the only significant exception being the integration of the .Net framework: Windows Server 2003 fully leverages the .Net Framework, the platform infrastructure that defines Microsoft's Web services push. Nevertheless, Windows Server 2003 also offers a veritable raft of improvements and enhancements designed to make Windows-based networks faster, more reliable and more secure. Spoiling us…
Users are spoilt for choice with the new OS. There are no less than four main versions: Web Edition, Standard, Enterprise, and Datacenter. To these can be added four forthcoming 64-bit versions: Enterprise and Datacenter for Intel's Itanium family and AMD's Opteron chip respectively. Windows Server 2003 significantly raises the ceiling on scalability with this release. Previously, scaling up in Windows has meant using multiple nodes in a Web farm. The Enterprise Edition scales up to eight CPUs and 32GB RAM on x86-based hardware. The 64-bit version of the OS (for Intel Itanium-based systems) supports up to 64GB of RAM, and the Datacenter Edition of the OS supports a no less than 32 processors and 512GB of RAM. Windows Server 2003 is a multipurpose OS capable of handling a diverse set of server roles, in either a centralized or distributed fashion. These roles include: • File and print server. • Web server and Web application server. • Mail server. • Terminal server. • Remote access and virtual private network (VPN) server. • Directory services, Domain Name System (DNS), Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server, and Windows Internet Naming Service (WINS). • Streaming media server. You can upgrade from Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000 Server but for fresh installs, the new OS offers a wizard that lets you select different server functions (such as file and print servers, or application/Web servers), as well as network infrastructure roles, such as domain controllers and DNS and DHCP servers. Modular IIS
Internet Information Server 6.0 represents a radical departure compared to its predecessor. It’s no longer a monolithic chunk of code but is now modular and separates web server operations from website application code processing. It provides a very high degree of granular control; it can allocate CPU and memory resources at different percentage levels to different application pools to increase web hosting performance. You can also apply patches without downing the server, a major boon. The downside is that there is no direct upgrade path from IIS 5.0. When it comes to networking, Server 2003 offers some leading-edge support for new security standards, such as IPv6 (coexisting with IPv4), IPv Network Address Translator (NAT) support, PKI, and Smart Cards. You also get support for Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet (PPPoE) for connecting to DSL/cable connections in small-office scenarios. Wireless support is also bundled here, including good management of 802.11x encryption. Out of the box, Windows Server 2003 is locked down: more than 20 features such as IIS, clipbook, license logging, telnet, uPnP, terminal service session discovery, and Network DDE, are aren’t enabled by default. Try and enter a feeble Administrator password and you’ll be told off! Internet Explorer’s default security configuration is set to the highest level and as a result is almost unusable – unless you manually add sites you visit to IE’s ‘Trusted Zones’. The Windows PKI has been enhanced, there is greater control of role-based authorisation and greater documentation of security features and changes for users to read. At the launch, ‘100 percent dependability’ was touted as a key feature of the new OS. Stability is undoubtedly improved - enhancements such as driver protection, process isolation and fault tolerance all contribute towards this. Individual servers can handle more users, backup and recovery won't slow performance, and file and print keeps up with the network. Windows Server 2003 is fast, too. File serving is conservatively at least 20 per cent faster with WS 2003 than with Windows 2000 Advanced Server, while IIS 6.0 web server is about 90 percent quicker than its predecessor. For the first time, Linux/Apache has a real competition from a Windows rival. Enterprise-class installations will benefit from Windows Server 2003's inclusion of Virtual Disk Service, which will permit the OS to integrate directly attached storage management with SAN and NAS capabilities. Administrators will have the capability to manage all aspects of storage under one management console, a boon to those securing and backing up critical corporate data. Support for the emerging iSCSI storage networking protocol should be available by June. The Volume Shadow Copy service can take a snapshot of a single volume or multiple volumes. The shadow copy restore feature enables Windows-based clients to view and recover previous versions of their files stored on the file server without IT intervention. Backwards compatibility
So far so good. The only real fly in the ointment is Windows Server 2003’s poor backward compatibility with existing apps. Odd as it may sound, it can’t run most versions of Microsoft's own major servers like SQL Server and Exchange. As for the rest of your NT or W2K applications, chances are only 60 percent of them will run. If you want to run both Windows Server 2003 and Exchange the only thing you can do is to wait for the release of Exchange Server 2003 in June. One small glimmer of hope for existing NT and W2K shops is Virtual Server. Back in February, Microsoft bought the virtual machine assets of Connectix. VS will let users running a Windows NT 4 line of business applications continue to run these as a virtual machine alongside Windows Server 2003. Conclusion
The release of Windows Server 2003 is a small but significant step forward for the platform. Bar the inclusion of .Net framework and to a lesser extent IIS 6.0, there aren't any truly fundamental changes in the product. Nevertheless, Microsoft has produced an impressive server operating system. If you’re about to deploy a new network, you should definitely consider kicking off with Windows Server 2003, which will greatly simplify configuration and management as well as improving security, performance and reliability. For those wishing to upgrade, the story isn’t quite so clear cut. Most of the upgrade target audience are NT 4 users - research firm Gartner estimates that between 60 to 70 percent of Windows Server users run NT 4. Microsoft's own estimates are closer to 35 percent. It would seem that many of these customers are in no rush to upgrade to newer software - at best they’re in the process of moving to Windows 2000. The big problem for these users is that an upgrade to Windows Server 2003 will, in many cases, also entail upgrading their entire IT infrastructure as well, an expensive not to say painful task.