In this first of a series of articles on getting the best out of Windows Server 2003 (WS2003), we kick off by discussing some of its core file and print sharing facilities. In particular, at how best to configure a WS2003 server to share files and how to take advantage of the new Volume Shadow Copy service.

Locked down
One of the first things you notice with WS2003 is that, to begin with at least, you don't seem to get very much. The IIS Web server, for example, isn't installed, and several other applications, installed by default in Windows 2000, also appear to be missing.

This, so-called, "locked down" approach is deliberate, making for a more secure platform with far fewer services running in the background, potentially, waiting to be exploited behind your back. On the downside, you have to enable the locked down services before you can use them, by assigning specific "roles" to the server concerned. It's something that's done using the Manage Your Server application which starts automatically when an administrator logs on to a newly configured WS2003 server.

Unlocking the roles
File and print are two of the roles that can be configured here, with application and mail server roles also on the list. Strictly speaking, however, you don't actually have to turn on file and print sharing or install any extra services, as with most of the other server roles. Indeed it's possible to set up file and printer shares exactly as you would on a Windows 2000 server, although there are advantages to going through the role setup process.

One plus is that the wizard used to add the file sharing role will remind you to configure options which might, otherwise, be overlooked. These include disk quotas, for example, which limit the amount of shared server disk space each user can have, and turning on server-side indexing service to speed up content searches. Another wizard will also be called up to configure new network shares and specify exactly who can connect to them.

Another advantage is a new File Server Management console, added to the Administrative Tools folder when the file server role is defined. This provides a convenient starting point from which to perform a range of management tasks - among them the ability to enable and manage Volume Shadow Copies.

Out of the shadows
A new feature in WS2003, the Volume Shadow Copy service makes it possible to take instant, point in time, snapshots of important data volumes. These can then be used to take backups without having to shut down applications or log users off, something that was previously only possible using specialist backup software. The leading backup vendors have all added support for the new service, but importantly, users themselves can take advantage of shadow copies to recover their own damaged or accidentally lost files.

Shadow copies are configured on a per-volume basis on a host server, either from the new File Server Management console or the Shadow Copies tab in the volume Properties dialog box. A minimum 100MB of disk space is required to hold the block-level copies, the actual amount required depending on how much data there is, how often it changes and the frequency at which copies are taken. On a lightly loaded server shadow copies can be stored on the same volume as the data itself but a separate, dedicated, disk is recommended where there's a lot of I/O activity. The amount of space allocated to shadow copies can also be limited and the copy process automated using a built-in scheduler.

Out at the client end users won't see anything until a special Previous Versions client has been installed. The necessary software can be found on the server (in the \\%systemroot%\system32\clients\twclient folder) and can be installed on any PC running Windows 98 or above by creating a server share to point to the setup location.

The client can also be distributed using Group Policy and once configured will add a new Previous Versions tab to the Properties dialog box of any files or folders stored on a server share. When clicked, this displays a list of read-only, point-in-time, copies of the associated file or folder which users can open and explore. Access rights pertinent to the time the snapshot was taken are enforced and users can create copies of previous versions or use them to reverse any accidental changes that might, subsequently, have been made.

Shadow copies aren't designed to replace backups, but to enable users themselves to recover important work quickly, something most network administrators will applaud very loudly indeed, Bear in mind, though, that this facility will put an extra strain on the processor and disk sub-systems and, as such, copies shouldn't be scheduled too frequently. You're also limited to NTFS volumes for this feature, but then that applies to the majority of file sharing options in Windows Server 2003; if you're using anything else you need your head examined.