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Issue of November 2002 
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Focus: Windows .NET Server
Windows .NET Server: Completing the .NET jigsaw?

There are many compelling features in Microsoft's upcoming server operating system. A look at three that may top MIS' list of reasons to migrate. by Ong Boon Kiat

If you are an IT manager, you are either dreading the month of March next year, or are licking your chops in anticipation. This is because next March will see the launch of Microsoft's highly anticipated Windows .NET Server, and with it the whole gamut of upgrading issues for MIS—many of whom have only finished hardening their Windows 2000 or NT servers.

Do the new features of Windows .NET Server justify the headache of upgrading come March? This perennial question has a safe answer: probably not immediately but in the long run, definitely. Expect scores of analysts and even Unix proponents to say that. But for some enterprises, applications and hardware may force their hand sooner, such as going into 64-bit computing.

As one would expect in any server OS upgrade, there will be lots of changes and enhancements.

The upcoming OS, from the numerous reviews of the beta releases, not only adds more to the Windows 2000 plate, but also fixes some creaky features of its predecessor.

Five's a company
In the same tone set by Windows 2000, five variants of the Windows .NET Server are expected to be released at one go next March. They are:
1. Windows .NET Server 2003 Standard Edition
2. Windows .NET Server 2003 Enterprise Edition
3. Windows .NET Server 2003 Enterprise Edition 64 Bit
4. Windows .NET Server 2003 Datacentre Edition
5. Windows .NET Server 2003 Web Edition
As usual, readers should take launch dates as being approximate working deadlines. The March deadline depends on the availability of releases that precedes it. According to Microsoft's Danny Ong, the RTM (Release to Manufacturing) is still scheduled to be mid-December and that will govern the final launch dates.
"If that schedule is kept to, we'll see a launch event towards
mid-March," he said.

Pick three, any three …
Of course, those already planning their next migration exercise would have done their homework, and ticked off the umpteenth new .NET Server feature for cost justification by now.

For the rest of us just dipping into the pool, I've asked Danny Ong, Product Manager, Central Marketing Organization, Microsoft Singapore, to make our jobs easier-and pick three features that are likely to make the most impact to the enterprise. This is what was left on his list: Shadow Copy, CLR and IIS 6.0.

Shadow Copy. Not turned on by default, Shadow Copy is a new feature that provides a view of network folder contents as they were at earlier junctures in the past. Hence, users can recover accidentally deleted files or folders without asking their network administrator to invoke the much dreaded "restore from backup". This technology is also known as Snapshot.

When turned on and in default mode, Shadow Copy takes snapshots at 7 am and 12 noon. The good thing about snapshot technology is that there is little impact on the network, since only the locations of files are "snapped"; and depending on settings, only changes of file locations are taken. This is also known as "delta" backup.

Shadow Copy is complimented by several other new storage-centered features. The most prominent being the virtual disk feature which allows Windows .NET Server to be used to access Storage Area Network (SAN) arrays.

According to Ong, this feature has the potential to nullify the complexities of accessing SAN, which today poses a myriad of hardware incompatibility challenges. "If I am an application developer, I need not know what SAN hardware you are using," he said.

CLR. The new Common Language Runtime (CLR) tool is a major step towards creating an application server to serve .NET-based Web services. CLR is Microsoft's new creation for the .NET framework, which is a way for languages to generate codes that interoperate easily. For example, you can have C# codes running in same environment as Pascal, Fortran, Visual Basic or whatever (but not Java). The main benefit of this is code reuse. Conceivably, one could write an API once and bring it to any programming language under the Windows .NET Server.

The other CLR benefit is application control. Since the runtime is defined and contained, codes can be managed and "nasties" like buffer overrun and illegal memory paging can be prevented.

"Think of it as a code autochecker," said Ong. "In previous versions of Windows, customers have asked for a more isolated server environment. This is because people running servers and server-based applications don't always have control over codes that run in their servers."

"This is especially true for hosted environments, like ASPs," he said.

IIS. One of the most talked-about enhancements in the Windows .NET server is the rebuilt IIS. Basically, there is now much less chance for the new IIS to be exploited as a conduit for bringing down the server. With IIS 6.0, every single Web application is isolated from each other, unlike earlier versions which traverses through a single conduit, or pass-through.

"With IIS 6.0, there will be no chance for cross-talk and eaves-dropping of Web applications," said Ong. This also means that one bad process doesn't crash the whole system.

But more importantly, IIS features now require activation since they are turned off by default. This is as much a physical precaution as it is a mental one, said Ong, because network managers tend to perk up more when they have to turn on something, rather than "not turn off" that same feature.

More features
Along the vein of fostering a .NET Web service-friendly server, Windows .NET Server will come with an integrated UDDI server. There will also be integrated support for all the protocols used by .NET, including SOAP.

So how does Windows .NET server fit into the whole .NET framework? "If you think of Visual Studio .NET as the tool to create .NET, and the .NET framework itself as the plumbing, then the Windows .NET Server is the delivery mechanism. You need servers to host applications and e-services," said Ong.

As for upgrading snags, he pointed out that some applications that run in previous Windows versions may "break" in Windows .NET Server. "Which is why we advice enterprises to do their homework and check rigorously for application compatibility before upgrading," he said, adding that sometimes, simply turning a service off can make an application incompatible.

In particular, potentially breakable applications include those that are coded to make explicit requests for OS versions, have hard-coded data paths and intimate disk access needs. Top on the list are anti-virus checkers and disk utilities.

For these environments—and that means most enterprises—be sure to look for upgrades from application vendors when the time comes.

Compatibility checking aside, most migration considerations will eventually boil down to the performance factor. Are you able to live with less computing performance than your competitors? Does your application upgrade schedule permit it? If you have to run 8-way server clusters with 32-way Itanium-2 processors running in SMP mode, upgrading to the Windows .NET Server (or Unix) pronto will be inevitable. And with the Datacentre Server supporting a memory address of 256 GB, including Non-Uniform Memory Access (NUMA) mode, it will whet the appetite of database and server farm managers.

Lest we forget, ease-of-use is also touted, with the upcoming OS boasting tools that will make server management much easier compared to Windows 2000. For instance, better migration tools and a new Group Policy Management console now make Active Directory (AD) deployment faster. And the new AD now has better replication and trust management to boot.

So, with six months to go, it may be a good time now to draft that fat, upgrade budget again—unless Unix is calling out for you.

Windows. NET Server grows up...
... to be a more responsible server. There are far less “turned-on by default” features with the upcoming version, and not just with IIS. Others include:
Service Display Name Description 2000 Server .NET Server
Alerter Notifies selected users and computers of administrative alerts. Automatic Disabled
ClipBook Enables ClipBook Viewer to store information and share it with remote computers. Manual Disabled
Distributed Link Tracking Server Maintains links between NTFS files on a particular computer or across computers in a network domain. Manual Disabled
IIS Admin Allows administration of Web and FTP services through the Internet Information Services snap-in. Automatic Not Installed
IMAPI CD-Burning Manages CD recording using Image Mastering Manual Disabled
COM Service Applications Programming Interface (IMAPI).    
Internet Connection Firewall/Internet Connection Sharing Provides network address translation, addressing, name resolution, and instrusion prevention services for a home or small office network. Manual Disabled
Messenger Transmits “net send” and Alerter service messages between clients and servers. Automatic Disabled
NetMeeting Remote Desktop Sharing Allows authorised people to remotely access this Windows desktop using NetMeeting. Manual Disabled
Network DDE DSDM Manages Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) network shares. Manual Disabled
Remote Registry Enables remote users to modify Registry setting on this computer. Manual Disabled
SMTP Simple Mail Transfer Protocol Automatic Not Installed
Telnet Enables a remote user to log on to this computer and run programs and supports various TCP/IP Telnet clients, including Unix-based and Windows-based computers. Manual Disabled
Terminal Services Session Directory Terminal Services Session Directory. Manual Disabled

Got some more stuff on Windows .NET Server? E-mail at

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