Windows Server 2003: A scaled family of server editions that delivers Microsoft’s long-promised and long-awaited mature operating system
Microsoft’s third release of its Windows server operating system is more than just an incremental change. Nelson King takes a careful look at this heavy-lifter ready to take on Unix in the data center while remaining nimble enough to retain its place in varied but less-demanding operations. He also examines how Windows Server 2003 meets the four key issues every operating system must address: security, reliability, scalability, and performance.
The hoopla surrounding the release of Windows Server 2003 can be viewed from two perspectives. On the one hand, since the release of Windows NT, a new release of a Microsoft Windows server operating system represents just an incremental change. On the other hand, the past three releases — Windows NT 4 Server, Windows 2000 Server, and now Windows Server 2003 — have been unusually significant.
In the latter view, as with so many other products from Microsoft, the third release is the charm. With the release of Windows Server 2003, Microsoft has finally gotten it “right,” however difficult that is to define for an operating system.
This may mean that Microsoft (finally) has a server that can handle the enormous loads of a major enterprise, or that it has a reasonably priced server that can be easily managed by the limited resources of a smaller company. With this release Microsoft has certainly met a very high standard in the big four criteria: security, reliability, scalability, and performance. In addition, for some organizations Microsoft getting it right means having the correct special features. It also means competing with an industry-leading ease of use and the right pricing.
To meet these requirements, Windows Server 2003 is delivered in several editions, Web, Standard, Enterprise, and Datacenter, that have different capacities and price tags. No operating system has everything for everybody, but Windows Server 2003 comes the closest of any vendor we’ve seen in a while.
The Rise and Recession of .NET Server
During the three years spent developing Windows Server 2003 Microsoft also created the .NET framework for application development, and it correspondingly dubbed the new server operating system “Windows .NET Server.” Appallingly near the final delivery date, the marketing team realized that Web services and the .NET platform were limited in appeal to IT organizations. So the name was hastily changed to the more generic Windows Server 2003; however, support for all the .NET stuff is still there. Programmers will discover that this server, along with its built-in application server elements and the revamped Web server, are a particularly effective environment. Provided, of course, that Microsoft Visual Studio .NET is the development tool of choice.
Key New or Enhanced Features
The “What’s New and Improved” list for Windows Server 2003 runs to hundreds (if not thousands) of items. While some of these can be passed off as trivial (keeping in mind that one person’s trivial is another person’s delight), many are significant.
To name a few: Active Directory improvements, new installation and migration wizards, an application server, a new Group Policy Management Console (GPMC), improved file and print services, task- and role-based management tools, major security improvements including feature lock-down, Volume Shadow Copies, a revamped Web server (IIS 6.0), the .NET platform, Windows Media Services, enhanced Terminal Services, and improved support for Storage Management (SAN). Windows Server 2003 is also faster, with better performance noticeable from the user interface to the highest levels of symmetrical multiprocessing.
For many organizations, the most fundamentally changed component in Windows Server 2003 is Active Directory, which should be treated as version 2.0. It’s not only more flexible, allowing, for example, easier transitions during mergers and acquisitions, but also significantly different from the previous version. This new version of Active Directory may require remapping of existing directory schemas, and the refined version of Active Directory in Windows Server 2003 is backward-compatible with Windows 2000 Active Directory and Windows NT 4.0 domain environments..
Many other features form the rather extensive grab bag that will appeal to specific users. These include major improvements in Terminal Services, Volume Shadow Copy (which is similar to Novell’s Salvage function for deleted or trashed files, but unlike Salvage it can be performed by users without administrator intervention), and the new Windows Media Services. We suspect everybody will have their own list of favorite new features.