Windows Server 2003 looks to boost reliability

Increased reliability is the primary theme of Microsoft Corp.’s newest group of operating systems, the Windows Server 2003 family, scheduled for release in April.

The Windows Server 2003 family will comprise 64-bit operating systems and run on Intel Corp.’s Itanium processor. Microsoft says its goal is to reduce downtime by 50 per cent.

John Kvasnic, chief technology officer of Navantis Inc., a software development firm based in Toronto, said his company has been testing the new operating system for the past year. And while he’s not exactly sure what the numbers are, uptime has significantly increased.

Kevin Hunter, senior product manager of Windows Server 2003 for Microsoft Canada, based in Mississauga, Ont., said the number one new feature is the integration of the Internet Information Server (IIS) 6.0.

Kvasnic agreed, saying it was one of the major improvements of this edition. In addition, Kvasnic said software development time has been reduced.

“They’ve done a better job of integration of the application program interface (API), and having one common language run-time (CLR), so it’s easier for our guys, whether they’re Visual Basic or C# or C++. They’re all working with the same underlying framework, so that’s a huge benefit,” he said.

Another benefit for developers, Kvasnic said, is the addition of the universal, description, discovery and integration (UDDI) server. A server within the Windows server, it acts as a repository for code. After a developer writes a section of code that performs a specific functionality, it can be described and saved in the UDDI server. That way, in the future, if another developer needed a similar functionality, they could first search the UDDI server to see if it had been previously written.

Kvasnic said that while this is useful to his staff of 80, it would be even more useful to enterprises with more employees and offices in different locations.

As far as security enhancements, Kvasnic was pleased that network administrators could choose to be notified of a new patch instead of automatically having the patch installed.

Windows Server 2003 also features automatic updating for desktops, which works within the firewall and will go out to the Microsoft update server and automatically download any critical updates to the central server. “And within your network, your clients will auto-update,” Kvasnic said, adding that this feature is also controllable.

It is also easier to set up and reconfigure Windows Server 2003 clusters remotely without rebooting, and the memory mirroring feature – where data is stored in two locations – could reduce network blackout sessions to less than a second.

Kvasnic said IIS can be attached without rebooting, and server clusters can be brought online.

Finally, Kvasnic said the addition of the “headless” server means that each server doesn’t need peripherals, such as a mouse, keyboard and video cards. Essentially, they are managed remotely through an IP address.

“A lot of the problems you see with stability are a result of the video capabilities of the graphic device interface (GDI) with Windows,” he explained. “As soon as you remove that you’re going to increase stability hugely…you’ve seen this in Unix servers for awhile, so they’re taking more of a Unix approach that way.”

Alan Freedman, research manager of infrastructure hardware at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, agreed.

“It’s really the Unix space they’re going after – the iSeries, the AS/400 from IBM Corp.,” by making the Windows Server 2003 server 64-bit addressable, he said. “That’s what they’re trying to capture by making the Windows/Intel platform more stable, available and reliable.”

In addition, he said with 2003, Microsoft would be able to satisfy the requirements of large enterprises.

“When you think of the types of servers Microsoft is usually loaded onto, you think of the smaller types of servers. Definitely in the past it was running non-mission critical applications,” he said. “Over the past few years, Microsoft has really been pushing to be deployed in more business and mission-critical workloads, such as database, data mining and transaction processing.”