ServersWindows Server 2003 -- Is the Third Time the Charm? Page 2

Windows Server 2003 — Is the Third Time the Charm? Page 2

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Windows Server 2003: A scaled family of server editions that delivers Microsoft’s long-promised and long-awaited mature operating system

Security and Reliability

Microsoft claims a new philosophy for security (Trustworthy Computing Initiative) was applied to Windows Server 2003. Some elements of that are subtle (invisible), others, such as improvements to the Web server, are obvious.

Internet Information Server (IIS) has taken probably more knocks for poor security than any other component. Stung by the problems, Microsoft spent much of its code-scrubbing effort on producing IIS 6.0. Our testing and the results of a great deal of use since 2002 indicate that while IIS will remain a target for hackers because of its popularity, it has taken major steps toward security by placing HTTP into a kernel mode driver. This also has an important administrative benefit, as it means it is no longer necessary to bring down the Web server to make most security patches.

We suspect that for many users, the most effective new elements of security will be the ones that provide more control for the server administrator. In addition to the new Software Restriction Policies, which control applications, and Group Policy improvements, which provide better editing and templates for user configurations, the most notable change in Windows Server 2003 is the default “lockdown” position for most of the security-sensitive features. For example, IIS 6.0 is installed with only basic Web page display capabilities. Other features, like running scripts or executables, must be explicitly enabled.

The new level of security in Windows Server 2003 obviously improves its reliability. Given its heritage (a design and code base that goes back to Windows NT), the removal of old offenders (like “DLL Hell” and DOS legacy code), and a very long testing period before release, theoretically this should be the most reliable operating system Microsoft has produced.

So far, that seems to be the case.


In some ways scalability is the machismo of operating systems. At least at the highest level it’s the way an operating system proves its muscles in the enterprise. From Windows NT to Windows 2000 Server, Microsoft’s servers have had difficulty being accepted as ready for the really big stuff — the enterprise data center. Despite even the appearance of Windows 2000 Server Datacenter Edition. We believe this perception will end with Windows Server 2003.

As the table below shows, Windows Server 2003 now scales from a relatively simple Web Server Edition to a state-of-the-art 64-bit Datacenter Edition. Whether this broad range will be competitive at each point remains to be seen, but not surprisingly, Microsoft is ambitious enough to take on Linux at the low end and Unix at the high end.

Windows Server 2003 Versions

Product SMP Clustering Memory Client Access
Web Edition 2 NA 2 GB NA $399
Standard Edition 4 NA 4 GB 5 $995
Enterprise Edition32 bit 8 8-node 32 GB 25 $3,999
Enterprise Edition64 bit 8 8-node 64 GB Negotiated $3,999
Datacenter Edition32 or 64 bit 32/64 8-node 64/512 GB Negotiated Negotiated

Note: All prices are base server + client access licenses (CALs). Additional users require additional CALs, which are sold in packs of 5 or 20.


With much greater scalability in the number of processors, Microsoft has moved beyond the performance marks of server clusters into much better performance on single servers. This too puts Windows Server 2003 in the ranks of Unix-based systems. While the fundamental code is from Windows 2000 Server, there have been enough changes and tweaks to see an overall improvement in performance, especially in concert with tuned applications such as SQL Server. Benchmarks come and go in this industry, but so far they show the performance gains in Windows Server 2003 to be real. A Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPPC) benchmark of 433,107 transactions per minute, puts Windows Server 2003 in the big leagues — a position that has not been seriously questioned.

On a purely subjective level, Windows Server 2003 seems to operate faster from a GUI, program loading, and execution perspective. Sometimes much faster.

Installation and Migration

We tested Windows Server 2003 in two deployment environments: a clean but minimal server (600 MHz, 256 MB RAM) and a workhorse server (3 GHz, 1 GB RAM). In both cases the degree of automation performed by the setup wizard in Windows Server 2003 was impressive — better than Windows 2000 Server even. Windows Server 2003 has even more migration wizards and scripting options to help with complex situations and mass rollouts.

The argument, which by now has become chapter and version, is whether to wait before rolling out Windows Server 2003 (and to do so slowly) — or not wait. Migrating to Windows Server 2003 is not trivial, especially if plans include using new or changed features such as Active Directory. Yet, more companies have been using pre-release versions than ever (by one account there were already more copies of Windows Server 2003 in use than Solaris 9).

Microsoft is nudging — more or less gently — enterprises using Windows 2000 and Windows NT to upgrade. We can’t argue with that. Sure there are improvements and fixes to be made, but the old saw “Wait until the first Service Pack,” wasn’t relevant from the get-go; Windows Server 2003 was already at SP1 when it was released.

An important caveat: As of this review, SQL Server 2000, Exchange Server 2000, Biz Talk Server 2002, Sharepoint Portal Server 2001, Content Manager 2000, Mobile Information Server 2002, and numerous NT4 programs have varying degrees of incompatibility (and some workarounds). Microsoft is surrounding Windows Server 2003 with a battery of soon-to-be-delivered products, some of which may form key elements in a rollout plan. Thus, as ever, mileage with Windows Server 2003 should vary, even though the product itself is ready now.


The word of mouth — long ago — was that Windows Server 2003 was a feature-laden but secure and stable product. In fact, we believe it to be the heavy lifter that can compete against Unix in the data center, while remaining nimble enough to retain its place in varied but less demanding operations.

Competitors aren’t necessarily shaking in their boots, but neither are they taking the cheap shots that seemed so readily available for earlier Windows servers. Windows Server 2003 is a formidable product (or set of products), and if ever the term “plateau platform” applied, Windows Server 2003 is one. We suspect Windows Server 2003 will have the longest legs of any Microsoft operating system.

Pros: Despite being a major “new” version, this is the most stable and secure operating system Microsoft has produced
Cons: Implementing changes in Active Directory (even with wizards) is a complex process; Many peripheral and support applications are in an unfinished or incompatible state, which (for a while at least) implies caution for specific uses of the server

Reviewed by: Nelson King
Original Review Date: 7/9/2003
Original Review Version:Enterprise

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