Windows server is faster, safer

Network World tested Windows Server 2003 and found that Microsoft Corp.’s new server operating system delivers better performance, tighter security and easier management than its predecessor.

Windows 2003 also provides increased support for managing storage area networks (SANs) and makes it easier for customers to build Web services.

We used Microsoft’s VisualStudio.Net tool and plug-ins from third parties such as Eiffel Software Inc.’s ENVision to build a simple Active Server Pages Web application that monitored growth in a series of subfolders. Via a Web page, we watched the subfolder grow, change colours and flash when growth reached a predefined “critical” stage.

The application could easily be distributed by policy to other servers, then communicate with a “console page” if desired. Such applications were easily distributed and posted so they could be shared, used and, if desired, modified by others.

Web performance boost

Microsoft says it has rewritten most of the Internet Information Server code that comes bundled with Windows 2003. Our tests showed that effort has produced dramatic results. We used Spirent Communications PLC’s WebAvalanche to test the total number of connections per second, maximum number of transactions per second, and maximum number of open connections per second on Windows Advanced Server 2000 and Windows 2003 Enterprise Edition. We ran them on three different levels of server – configured at the defaults without optimizing either platform.

The biggest performance gains came in TCP performance. In our maximum TCP connection test, which measures the capacity of the server to respond or TCP session requests, the numbers for Win 2003 came in almost 900 per cent higher than those of Win 2000. In a more stringent transactional test, in which we tested static Web page transaction cycles – downloading 40 text pages per transaction with pauses – Win 2003 showed improvements in performance ranging from 161 per cent to 287 per cent, depending on which hardware server we used to conduct the test.

Moving on to management

Microsoft has added a wizard that controls the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) called Manage Your Server. This application serves as a gateway to various server subsystems, including DNS, Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, print, mail, VPNs, and Web and terminal services.

It was possible to build this kind of tool from MMC component views in the past, but the Manage Your Server application is convenient by contrast.

While Windows NT’s multimaster domain model was full of problems, it has largely stabilized, and runs on machines often purchased years ago.

MMS supports Lotus Notes/Domino, NetWare eDirectory, iPlanet and flat-file directory databases. We had no problems when we tested MMS with Active Directory; an importation of Novell’s eDirectory with a 500-user testing directory database; and SQL Server 2000 database.

Group policies, a feature Microsoft pushed with Win 2000 and Active Directory that has been difficult for many administrators to embrace, has an important change: the ability for administrators to view and understand cumulative effects of user policy controls.

The storage story

It’s easier to manage a SAN with Win 2003 than prior editions. One console can be used to visually inspect, partition, share and place access boundaries on SAN resources. Microsoft now offers Virtual Disk Services, a set of APIs that drives a revamped replication service called Volume Shadow Service (VSS).

In our tests, we easily connected Win2003 to a JBOD SAN. We tested the VSS, which when combined with Automated System Recovery, let us restore our primary server’s media in several simulated crashes – caused by yanking live boot media.

Crash recovery for a 40GB server boot drive took 14 minutes from start to finish, which is as fast or faster than other bare-metal restoration third-party applications that we’ve used with Win 2000.

Microsoft’s Backup program also has been changed to let volumes with open files be backed up


Microsoft’s security enhancements for Win 2003 lie in removing basic privileges that existed in previous versions. For example, Microsoft has made it tougher to get root hacks by lowering the operating level of service applications.

Many services that formerly were started automatically and by default, such as Web and FTP services, now are defaulted to off.

Microsoft also bundles the Internet Authentication Server (IAS), which serves as a Remote Access Dial-In User Service server for proxy authentication into the operating system.