Looking at Windows .NET Server

With Windows XP out the door, the Microsoft beta machinery has churned back up to full speed. This week, Microsoft finally released the Beta 3 version of its upcoming Windows .NET Server (formerly code-named Whistler) product family, which will replace Windows 2000 Server. Microsoft plans to release the final version of .NET Server in mid-2002. Months late, .NET Server Beta 3 is the final beta of this product, according to Microsoft, and is a fair representation of the final product. I spoke to .NET Server Product Manager Andy Ma about Beta 3 and recently spent some time working with the product. Here are some first impressions.

First, Microsoft has expanded the product line to include a new, low-end edition geared toward single-purpose Web servers. Logically dubbed .NET Web Server, this product supports only two processors and 2GB of RAM. Next up the chart is .NET Standard Server, which replaces Win2K Server. Like its predecessor, .NET Standard Server is geared toward small businesses and supports up to two processors and up to 4GB of RAM.

.NET Enterprise Server replaces Win2K Advanced Server. This version now supports up to eight processors, 32GB of RAM, and 4-node clusters and is also available in a 64-bit edition. At the top of the line is .NET Datacenter Server, which supports up to 32 processors, 64GB of RAM, and 8-node clusters; a 64-bit edition supports up to 128GB of RAM. In both the Enterprise Server and Datacenter editions, Windows clusters can work over a Storage Area Network (SAN), so that the clusters are no longer bound by the strict physical requirements of earlier Windows versions.

As expected, .NET Server is not a substantial upgrade over its Win2K predecessors. Microsoft built the products on the same code base and added subtle but important refinements and a few new features. For Active Directory (AD), Microsoft has added an improved Domain Controller (DC) Upgrade Wizard that lets administrators back up the AD database to removable media, such as CD-RW or DVD-RAM, letting you easily add new DCs; previously, many customers were preloading new machines with the AD database and then shipping the box to the new location. This new deployment method will be considerably easier.

Microsoft added cross-forest AD trust so that companies that acquire or merge with other companies can more easily integrate their existing infrastructures. Cross-forest trust can be 1-way or 2-way, although the relationship is not transitive. So if Domain A trusts Domain B and Domain B trusts Domain C, Domain A doesn't automatically trust Domain C. Cross-forest synchronization is made easy thanks to improvements to the Trust Wizard. Also, a new domain rename feature retains Globally Unique Identifiers (GUIDs) and SIDs, and you can now rename even the root domain.

On the management end, the improved Configure Your Server Wizard that runs on first boot includes several new server modes, such as Terminal Services Application mode and Real Time Collaboration Server mode. Microsoft has added 28 new command-line tools, 18 existing command-line tools that you previously could find only in the Windows 2000/NT Resource Kits, 160 new Group Policy settings (mostly for XP-specific features), and better scripting capabilities. A new Application Verifier Tool monitors installed and running applications and can automatically restart or stop them if any problems arise. Microsoft says this feature is for reliability only and not a security feature designed to stop rogue applications.

A welcome new feature called Software Restriction Policies lets administrators fine-tune which applications users can run. You can configure Restriction Policies to "Allow all applications, except for..." or "Allow no application except for..." and similar configurations.

One of the key features Microsoft is pushing with this release is .NET Server's programmability. All .NET servers will include the .NET Framework, a run-time environment for XML-based Web services. The .NET Framework includes a new application model and new technologies for simplifying the creation and deployment of "secure, reliable, scalable, highly deployable XML Web services," to use the company's words. A new version of Microsoft Message Queue Services (MSMQ) supports XML-based transport in addition to the older DCOM/RPC-style transport technologies in previous versions. For data access, the new ActiveX Data Objects (ADO) .NET technology supersedes ADO, providing an XML-based way to transmit data. And a new transparent integration between existing COM+ code and the .NET Framework exposes legacy code as XML Web services. This technology is too new to evaluate effectively at this point, and you'll need Microsoft's .NET-based development suite, Visual Studio.NET, to best take advantage of the new programmability.

Other interesting new technologies include the new Real Time Communications architecture, which is built on the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) used in Windows Messenger 4.x; shadow copies of shared network folders for Recycle Bin-like functionality over a network; new Windows Media Services (WMS) features for optimizing bandwidth locally and across the Internet; Windows 2000 Server Terminal Services enhancements for high color, sound redirection, and local resource access; and Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0, which won't install by default and will operate initially in locked-down mode. I'll cover more new features in .NET Server when I examine the products more closely. In the meantime, you can get a complete rundown of the Beta 3 release on the SuperSite for Windows.

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