It's been almost six months now since Windows Server 2003 (WS03) was released, so it's time to reflect on whether the product has lived up to its promises. On its web site Microsoft touts WS03 as being able to do things "faster, more securely, and at lower cost," presumably compared to earlier versions of Windows and other platforms like Linux. Is this true? I've been working with it, and here's what I've found.


So far I've worked with WS03 in domain controller, file/ print, and web application server roles, and performance seems equal to or better than that of a similarly configured Windows 2000 server. But performance isn't the only issue that affects how "fast" a platform is; manageability is also important. In other words, is WS03 easier to administer than W2K? Generally speaking (yes, once you get past the stumbling block of unneeded changes to the GUI), the frustrations of SMB signing with down-level clients, the bugs in command- line tools for managing Active Directory, and the confusion over how DNS stub zones and delegations interrelate. And there's also the undocumented changes to how default gateway addresses work, the annoyance of how strict replication kills ghost installation images, the learning curve for the new Group Policy Management Console, and the unsettling feeling that Microsoft is still in the process of releasing bits and pieces of the product long after it left the gate.

But once these hurdles are cleared, the product is easier to administer, with its role-based Manage Your Server wizard, convenience consoles, vastly improved help system, support for multiple object selection and drag-and- drop in the Active Directory consoles, and simplified backup and restore using Automated System Recovery. You'll also find improved demotion of domain controllers using dcpromo, pre-installed Remote Desktop service that can be enabled using a single checkbox, and dozens of new command-line tools and scripts for managing disks, tasks, processes, Group Policy, device drivers, the boot process, and Active Directory.

Related Reading

Windows Server 2003 in a Nutshell
By Mitch Tulloch

Table of Contents
Sample Chapter
Getting back to performance though, http.sys--the new kernel mode HTTP
driver--really makes the platform rock as a web application server using IIS 6.0. Unfortunately, the tuning options for http.sys are mostly unclear at this point. Sure, Microsoft has released some details concerning the registry parameters associated with http.sys, but not many recommendations on how to modify them to achieve optimum performance in different situations. And most of the changes I've made while experimenting with http.sys have either degraded performance instead of improving it, or had no observable effect at all. So while http.sys improves IIS performance, due to poor documentation it's difficult to fine-tune it to squeeze out even greater performance gains.

By the way, http.sys can also perform remote logging (even to a different domain if you use a null session) but I don't recommend this since then you need IPSec to secure the log traffic and this adds overhead. Kudos to Microsoft, though, for including httpcfg.exe in the \Support\Tools folder, as this utility lets you run other HTTP applications on IIS machines (by default IIS 6.0 binds all IP addresses on the machine even if DisableSocketPooling is set to True in the Metabase).

Another undocumented WS03 performance feature is the Logical Prefetcher, a memory management enhancement that first appeared in Windows XP and controls the heuristic by which the kernel decides which pages to prefetch. Reputedly, by playing with the registry setting for this you improve application responsiveness though negatively affecting boot time, but I have yet to be able to confirm this.

The wise make mistakes, the fools repeat them
When you have eliminated the impossible, that which remains, however improbable, must be the truth