Microsoft – Windows Server 2003 review

powerful network operating system
Photo of Microsoft – Windows Server 2003
From around £680 + VAT for Standard Edition with 5 client licences

Released on April 24th, Windows Server 2003 is a major update to the Microsoft network operating system with numerous new features together with enhancements in terms of both performance and reliability.

Among the improvements there’s support for Intel’s 64-bit Itanium processors, up to 16-way clustering and a long awaited overhaul of Active Directory, designed to make it faster, more scalable and easier to use. Management has also been simplified including support for drag-and-drop and multiple item selection when managing Active Directory, a new Group Policy management console and lots of new command line utilities. Plus there’s a built-in command line console interface which will be particularly useful in high-density rack and blade server environments.

Microsoft’s Web server (IIS 6.0) comes in for a total re-write in this release, with a new architecture under which every Web site and application gets its own dedicated server process. This improves both reliability and security by preventing applications and sites interfering with each other, while at the same time providing a much needed performance boost. There’s also a special Web Edition of the software, tuned to run Web applications, and priced at £275 (ex. VAT) to compete with alternative Linux/Apache products.

Given the recent spate of high-profile Windows server attacks, it comes as no surprise to find security really tightened up in this new version. For example, as well as an integrated firewall and new software restriction policies, you now have to expressly install options like the Web server, Active Directory and even file sharing services, rather than have them included in the basic setup. Moreover, even when installed, IIS 6.0 is only able to serve static pages until specific extensions to handle, for example, Active Server Pages are enabled.

Other security changes include running IIS processes with very low access privileges, to lessen the impact of any potential security vulnerabilities. Plus it’s no longer possible to run command line tools via the Web server or for anonymous users to make any content changes.

Of course file and print sharing remain important features of any network operating system and there are significant changes in this area too. These include a new Virtual Disk Service (VDS) to provide a common interface for Storage Area Network (SAN) and other storage hardware vendors, and a new SAN boot feature. The Distributed File System (DFS) has also been enhanced and support added for browser-based document sharing using Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV).

Elsewhere, system availability is addressed with a new Automated System Recovery (ASR) facility, plus there’s a new Volume Shadow Copy service to take point-in-time snapshots of important data. This allows databases and other open files to be protected without the need for special backup agents, and for users themselves to find previous versions of files by browsing the snapshot copies.

Among the may other enhancements the Windows Terminal Service is significantly improved plus there’s support for IPv6 and other networking improvements. Added to which the new operating system provides the necessary tools required to develop and deploy Web services applications as part of the Microsoft .NET initiative. And key among these is the .NET Framework which includes a new Enterprise UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) service – a kind of yellow pages for finding and using distributed services on the Web.

In terms of performance, Windows Server 2003 proves to be significantly quicker than previous version, both when performing simple file sharing tasks and running applications. So much so that beta users have, allegedly, been tweaking the registry to enable them to use it as a desktop operating system in preference to Windows XP. It is, though, still an expensive operating system to deploy compared to Linux alternatives, despite concessions to allow client licences to be applied to users as well as hardware devices.

Such consideration aside, Windows Server 2003 is a significant step forward with benefits for both small and large companies, whether installing from scratch or upgrading from previous versions of Windows.

Company: Microsoft

Contact: 0345 00 2000


Verdict
Windows Server 2003 is the best Windows server operating system yet, with better performance, better security and greater reliability plus an Active Directory service that finally delivers on the promises. A total re-write of the IIS Web server and a new Web Edition are among many other plus points and, although client licensing remains an issue, the package as a whole is a very welcome new release.