Microsoft delivers competition

Federal information technology managers have been eager to see the enhancements promised in Windows 2000.

Federal information technology managers have been eager to see the enhancements promised in Windows 2000.

Microsoft Corp.'s new family of operating system products will start shipping on Feb. 17 and includes Windows 2000 Professional for desktop and notebook computers, Windows 2000 Server for general-purpose servers, and Windows 2000 Advanced Server for high-end application servers (see sidebar).

Windows 2000 may not solve all the problems facing IT staff, and it will take significant planning to install across a large organization.

However, the OS offers greater operating stability, security and manageability. Windows 2000 also delivers broad support for new hardware, plug-and-play compatibility and strong power management.

Because of subsystem and stability improvements throughout the product, Windows 2000 Server competes much better across a landscape that ranges from the Unix-based application server operating systems (such as Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s HP-UX, The Santa Cruz Operation Inc.'s UnixWare and Linux) to the file and print platforms, such as Novell Inc.'s NetWare.

Windows 2000 Server doesn't necessarily offer the best-of-breed solution on all points, nor is it shipping on systems equivalent to the "big-iron" that some of the Unix competitors offer their products on, but the OS does compete well across the board.

Windows 2000 Server

Microsoft's multipurpose server OS strategy has never looked more attractive. Windows 2000 Server tops other server operating systems in terms of breadth by delivering perhaps the broadest combination of rich application and enterprise infrastructure services, coupled with capable file and print services.

This release improves a number of core subsystems, such as the Windows NT executive services, management and networking services. In addition, Microsoft has integrated into Windows 2000 enhanced versions of products that used to ship as add-ons to Windows NT 4.0, such as Microsoft Transaction Server, Message Queue Server, and Routing and Remote Access.

Windows 2000 Server also includes an entirely new security infrastructure and a new administration and management infrastructure.

Certainly the most touted feature of Windows 2000 Server is Microsoft's Active Directory. After trailing the competition (most notably Novell and Banyan Systems Inc.) for years with respect to directory services, Active Directory is Microsoft's first attempt at combining the functional breadth of the Windows NT platform with a capable underlying enterprise directory for managing users, computers and other resources.

Active Directory offers some nice administration benefits over Windows NT 4.0. One is the ability to delegate administrative control to users and groups throughout the directory. Another is its scalability, which shatters Windows NT 4.0's limit of 40,000 accounts per domain for a master account domain and brings it into the millions-of-objects level.

Additional benefits of implementing Active Directory will come from enabling multimaster replication, which allows administrative changes to be performed on any domain controller (as opposed to brokering all administration through a primary domain controller in Windows NT 4.0). Active Directory also implements a native-IP infrastructure, which provides for greater bandwidth efficiency and removes the need for administration services such as Windows Internet Naming Service.

Realizing all the benefits of Active Directory may be far down the road for agencies that have older Windows or non-Windows clients. That's because some of the benefits can only be realized after enabling "native mode" operation within a domain — a step that requires that all domain controllers within the domain be upgraded to Windows 2000 Server first ? and upgrading client machines with an Active Directory-aware network redirector.

From a client software perspective, Microsoft only provides native support for Active Directory for Windows 2000 Professional and Windows 9x clients. Nevertheless, the addition of Active Directory paves the way for directory-enabled server applications, such as the Exchange 2000 Server messaging product, which will leverage the directory to replace or augment their application-based directory.

Beyond Active Directory, most of the core network services applications that ship with Windows 2000 Server, such as the Domain Name System server, Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server and Internet Information Server, have been improved.

For example, the DNS server now supports DDNS (Dynamic DNS) and can be integrated into Active Directory. This allows for multiple points of update, instead of running all changes through a domain's single Start of Authority (SOA), a field that indicates whether a server's response to a name query is authoritative. This approach provides update fault-tolerance if the SOA goes down, as well as provides for distributed DNS zones with local update, depending on your Active Directory environment.

Apart from the major additions and networking services enhancements in Windows 2000, a few less-obvious features are important:

    * The Windows 2000 Recovery Console enables an administrator to boot a server to a command prompt, access NT file system (NTFS) partitions, repair the master boot record or the boot sector, and toggle start-up values on system services and drivers. This beefs up an admin's trouble-shooting arsenal, allowing for more efficient recovery when a server won't boot.

    * Microsoft has reduced the number of maintenance operations that require admins to reboot the machine after a change because changes to the TCP/IP configuration that require reboots have been a sore spot.

    * The NTFS offers support for encrypted files and folders, a built-in defragmentation tool and user-based quotas, which allow administrators to set volume usage limits per user. Although these additions are nice, they aren't robust enough to relieve the need for third-party tools.

Overall, Windows 2000 Server and Advanced Server (see sidebar) provide great improvements over their respective predecessors. Just be aware that deploying Windows 2000 in your agency will require additional training and more hardware, and the migration will need to be well-planned and staged over a long-term time line.

— Symoens is a free-lance analyst and a senior IT systems engineer at Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

AT A GLANCE

Windows 2000 Server

Score: B+

Microsoft Corp.

(800) 426-9400

www.microsoft.com

Available Feb. 17 on the open market at an estimated retail price of $1,799 for the standard product and 25 client access licenses. Upgrade pricing for the same configuration is $899.

Windows 2000 Server is a strong follow-up to Windows NT Server 4.0. It seems stable and offers improvements over its predecessor, but migration concerns will slow deployment for mid- to large-size sites.

Advanced Server takes on tough tasks

Active Directory may spark turf battles

Win 2000: No grand opening

BY Jeff Symoens
Feb. 07, 2000

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