By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2006-01-09 Print this article Print

Boasting management and performance improvements for its core file and identity-service duties—along with broadened support for Unix—Microsoft Corp.s Windows Server 2003 Release 2 is a worthwhile upgrade, particularly for organizations running the operating system in remote-office scenarios or in heterogeneous environments.

Windows Server 2003 R2 is priced from $999 for the Standard Edition to $3,999 for the Enterprise Edition. Customers of Microsofts Software Assurance subscription program will be able to upgrade to R2 for no extra cost, but Windows servers that arent covered under Software Assurance will require a new full license for the upgrade. Windows 2003 Server client access licenses do not have to be upgraded for use with R2.

One licensing change that we were pleased to see in R2 is the provision enabling users to run as many as four virtual instances of Windows Server R2 on an R2 Enterprise Edition host without additional license fees.

For the full avalanche of Windows Server license and pricing information, go to www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/howtobuy/
A 180-day evaluation version of R2 is available for free download at technet2.microsoft.com/windowsserver/en/r2.mspx, along with a bounty of product information documents and Webcasts.

Windows Server 2003 R2 comes in versions for the x86 and x86-64 processor architectures. eWEEK Labs tested the 32-bit version of R2 on one of our white-box machines running a 2.2GHz Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Athlon 64 processor and 1GB of RAM. We used this box as a domain controller, with a couple of Windows Server 2003 member servers running as virtual machines on a separate piece of hardware.

R2 is delivered as an update that sits atop Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1. The R2 components fit on one CD, while another CD contains Windows Server 2003 SP1.

When we upgraded one of our Windows Server SP1 boxes to R2, we werent prompted to restart, nor were all of R2s components immediately installed on our system. Rather, when we visited the Manage Your Server dialog after our R2 upgrade, roles that we had already configured on our newly upgraded server included an option for upgrading to the new R2 functionality.

Share and share alike

In the "Wish List for Windows" story that ran in our recent Windows 20th anniversary issue (Nov. 14, 2005), we pined for better interoperability with Unix-flavored operating systems. We were therefore pleased to see that R2 has taken significant steps in this direction: Microsoft has folded its Services for Unix tools, which had been available for Windows Server as a separate install, into R2, along with performance and functionality improvements.

Out of the box, R2 can now perform both as a client and a server of NFS (Network File System) shares. While Samba enables Unix and Linux machines to serve and consume Windows-native SMB protocol shares, NFS is the native file-sharing protocol for Unix and Linux, and it can often be easier to share files from and with these systems using NFS.

We had trouble setting up our R2 box as a client for an NFS share wed configured on Apple Computer Inc.s Mac OS X Server 10.4, but we had no problem using R2 as an NFS server. We could share the same folder with NFS and SMB, for maximum availability for a heterogeneous client base.

Click here to read a review of Mac OS X Server 10.4. One complication we ran into with our NFS sharing experiments involved permissions—specifically, the ways that the permissions schemes in Windows and Linux differ. Helpfully, R2s interoperability improvements include tools for managing authentication between Windows and Linux or Unix.

On a simpler note, we could opt to map specific user names on our Unix systems to others on Windows. We also could sync user names and groups using password and group files from our Linux machine; for a larger deployment, we could sync an NIS (Network Information Service) server with Active Directory.

Next Page: More efficient management

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. JasonÔÇÖs coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at jbrooks@eweek.com.

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