.Net Server RC1 Stays on Course

Early code fixes some Windows 2000 server problems but doesn't offer major innovations.

The first release candidate of Windows .Net Enterprise Server fixes some major security problems in Windows 2000 and provides an integrated development platform for Web services. In eWeek Labs tests, .Net Server also showed major improvements in setup and management tools and better scalability with support for 64-bit computing.

However, .Net Server is fundamentally a fine-tuning and technology refresh of Windows 2000 Server, not a step in a new direction. Windows NT shops will see a big improvement; Windows 2000 shops wont see much of a change and dont have big reasons to upgrade. IIS (Internet Information Services) 6.0 brings some important performance enhancements, but its security benefits are already freely available to Windows 2000s IIS with extra work on the part of administrators.

As is true with Microsoft Corp.s server line, the .Net tag is still just market branding. Although .Net Server is the first Microsoft operating system to include the .Net Framework run-time by default, no parts of the operating system itself are written in managed code, nor run in the .Net virtual machine. This would be a significant step forward for security.

.Net Enterprise Server Release Candidate 1 was released late last month. Microsoft has not disclosed pricing, although officials have said there will be another release candidate before the final code, which is planned for release at the end of this year.

Windows NT shops that have been holding out on migrating to Windows 2000 should consider upgrading straight to Windows .Net. The migration path from NT to .Net is smoother than that to Windows 2000, thanks to .Net Servers better upgrade wizards and tools.

On the Active Directory front, merging companies might want to upgrade to .Net to enjoy the better Active Directory integration and Domain rename capabilities.

Windows .Net Enterprise Server is a follow-on to Windows 2000 Advanced Server, and like the rest of the .Net Server family, it includes the .Net Framework by default. The .Net Framework provides built-in support for most major Web services standards, making .Net Server an ideal developer platform for next-generation Web technologies.

Microsoft has made significant enhancements in IIS 6.0, including a new Request Processing Architecture, which provides a much more secure, scalable Web server compared with its predecessors Internet Information Server 4.0 and IIS 5.0.

The new IIS 6.0 architecture provides an application isolation environment where each Web application runs within a self-contained Web service process. This design prevents one application from crashing another and helps to enhance the reliability of the Web server by making IIS harder to bring down.

Unlike IIS 5.0, which sends requests to one or more out-of-process applications via a single main Web server process, IIS 6.0 separates core Web server code from application code into three major components. Web Administration Service is responsible for managing Web processes, the kernel-level listener HTTP.sys listens for and queues HTTP requests, and the application handler loads application codes into isolated worker processes.

Active Directory in .Net Enterprise Server has gotten some major improvements as well. New in .Net Server is the capability to install a complete replica of the Active Directory database directly from media such as tape, CD/DVD or a file copied over the network. This feature will be very useful for sites with stringent bandwidth limitations. Administrators can use files created when a Domain Controller or Global Catalog server was initially backed up to create a new replica at a remote location instead of doing the replication over the wire, saving time and bandwidth cost.

.Net Enterprise Server also offers enhanced clustering capabilities with support of a server cluster with up to eight nodes, compared with two nodes in Windows 2000 Advanced Server. Increased cluster support provides more options for application deployment and failover capabilities. Although not yet functioning in Release Candidate 1, future releases of .Net Server will provide local network load balancing services to IP traffic across the server clusters, further boosting the availability and scalability of Internet applications, including streaming media.

Microsoft made significant improvements in .Net Server storage management. The new Shadow Copy feature allows sites to create a complete image of a data volume at a specific point in time. Shadow Copies can be used for archiving changing data with backup utilities. We used the Disk Management Snap-in utility to enable Shadow Copy for our data volume and could specify size limitations and create a schedule to automatically back up data.

Compared with Windows 2000 Advanced Server, the installation process is easier, as is tool management. We used the Manage Your Server Wizard to set up various roles for .Net Enterprise Server. This new wizard replaces Windows 2000s Configure Your Server Wizard and provides a window from which administrators can centrally assign server roles, access management utilities and view help documentation.

We configured our .Net Server as a Web application server by assigning it the Web server role. The wizard installed IIS 6.0, Component Object Model+, ASP.Net and the .Net Framework by default. We could also choose to install additional tools during installation, such as FrontPage Server Extensions or Microsoft Data Engine, a small SQL-based local database that allowed us to store Web site data.

Technical Analyst Francis Chu can be reached at francis_chu@ziffdavis.com.