.Net Server 2003: Steady Improvement

RC2 shows security, performance of server likely to get a boost.

Although Microsoft Corp. doesnt anoint Windows .Net Server 2003 Release Candidate 2 as "feature-complete," this edition shows that Microsofts next operating system revision will be a significant, incremental upgrade compared with the massive overhaul that took place going from Windows NT to Windows 2000.

Some of the most important benefits of Windows .Net Server 2003 RC2 come from kernel improvements, which should greatly improve the scalability and performance of Microsofts flagship server operating system. However, these improvements probably wont be observable until the final code is ready. Microsoft hasnt specified a release date.

Microsoft is working to improve the efficiency of its scheduler by reducing the time that locks are held and by changing from global wait lists and ready queues to individual ones for each processor. Security is another likely improvement in Windows .Net Server 2003, but, like the performance boost, the systems actual security tweaks cant really be put to the test until the operating system is in production and subject to public scrutiny.

By default, Internet Information Services 6.0 in RC2 is configured for maximum security out of the box. This is a good change because otherwise many servers could be compromised in a Web server attack before an IT manager could lock them down.

New software restriction policies, which prevent applications from being launched from unauthorized directories, should help protect Windows .Net Server 2003 from viruses and other malicious code.

We created a domain controller and an Active Directory with our test server and found the process slightly different from that in Windows 2000 but fairly easy to accomplish. IT sites with large numbers of legacy servers and desktops should note that Windows .Net Server 2003 does not support Windows 95 clients or Windows NT 4.0 servers running Service Pack 3 or older, which means IT managers will have to upgrade these boxes before installing .Net Server 2003.

The new interface should be very familiar for IT managers who are already using Windows XP, but it could be a bit confusing for system administrators who are used to Window 2000s GUI. The 2000 interface can be summoned on demand, however.

Server configuration was not very difficult, and we could easily prepare our server for common tasks such as Web serving, file serving and directory serving (see story, left).

Clustering has been improved in Windows .Net Server 2003 in comparison with Windows 2000s Advanced Server and Datacenter editions. The Windows .Net Server 2003 clustering server can scale to eight nodes, whereas Advanced Server supported two nodes, and Datacenter supported four.

Windows .Net Server 2003 features a new Network Load Balancer that automatically load-balances IP traffic across server clusters to improve scalability and availability. However, until the performance and reliability of this new feature can be established, it is hard to say if it will replace hardware-based load balancers.

Windows .Net Server 2003 will support Cross-Forest Trusts, which should allow companies to link their Active Directory tree to those of their partners. Permissions can be set to limit the access of the users and groups from the partner company.

Although this feature should be quite useful for companies going through mergers and acquisitions, we dont recommend running out and implementing this immediately because a security breach on a partner site could lead to problems in your own tree in the future.