Many companies have not yet made the leap from Windows NT to Windows 2000, while others have only recently completed the upgrade. Now Microsoft is already pushing a brand-new server operating system: .NET Server, which Microsoft expects to release later this year.
In this Daily Drill Down, Debra Littlejohn Shinder will discuss the .NET Server networking infrastructure and highlight the new features of this OS. This discussion should help prepare you for this product’s upcoming release, as well as give you an idea about the repercussions that the release could have if your enterprise chooses to upgrade yet again.
What’s new in .NET?
The .NET networking infrastructure is based on the .NET server family of operating systems. In order to take full advantage of its new features, client machines should be upgraded to Windows XP; however, older Microsoft client operating systems (Windows 9x/Me, NT Workstation, and 2000 Professional) can connect and perform most network functions.
The .NET servers
Four products are included in the .NET server family:
- .NET Web Server
- .NET Standard Server
- .NET Enterprise Server
- .NET Datacenter Server
The first product is a new idea: an operating system configured to serve as a dedicated Web server. The last three items are comparable to the three Windows 2000 server products named Server, Advanced Server, and Datacenter Server.
Although all four products include Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0 and can be used as Web servers, the .NET Web Server, which is optimized to work as an Internet server, lacks some of the functionality of the other three versions (and thus is expected to be the lowest in cost). For example, the Web server version cannot be promoted to domain controller, cannot be used as the PKI certificate server, and doesn’t run Terminal Services in application server mode. (It does, however, support Remote Desktop for remote administration.)
IIS 6.0 is installed by default when you install .NET Web Server; it’s not installed by default with Standard, Enterprise, and Datacenter Servers.
The Standard Server product can function as a domain controller, file and print server, remote access server, or terminal server. It can also run services such as DNS. Enterprise Server is designed to provide the same services as the Standard Server for large-scale networks, supporting up to eight processors and 32 GB of memory. Datacenter Server is designed for even larger networks, storing very large amounts of data and supporting up to 32 processors.
Enterprise and Datacenter Servers also support clustering (up to four nodes with Enterprise, up to eight nodes with Datacenter) and both are available in 64-bit versions. All four versions support Network Load Balancing (NLB).
.NET’s new features
The .NET operating systems are built on Windows 2000, which in turn is based on the NT kernel. When comparing the newest OS to its predecessors, the differences between the features of Windows NT and .NET are dramatic, while the differences between Windows 2000 and .NET are subtler.
This means that if you’re still running a Windows NT network, you might be interested in certain .NET features such as Active Directory, built-in terminal services, file encryption, and support for Internet-standard security options (IPSec and Kerberos, for example). All of these features are also included in Windows 2000 Server, however, so if your network is already using Windows 2000 domain controllers, these features won’t be noteworthy.
Fortunately, there are plenty of other features that may be more significant to your enterprise, depending on what your current network is lacking. Here is an overview of some of the new features offered by .NET Server.
Support for .NET framework
.NET Server takes its name from Microsoft’s .NET framework, a programming model based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML) Web services. This model allows sharing of information (over the Internet or within an intranet) across different operating systems and programming languages.
.NET server operating systems are designed to interact with the entire “extended family” of .NET enterprise servers, which includes:
- Application Center Server
- BizTalk Server
- Commerce Server
- Content Management Server
- Exchange Server
- Host Integration Server (new version of SNA Server)
- Internet Security and Acceleration Server (new version of Proxy Server)
- Mobile Information Server
- Sharepoint Portal Server
- SQL Server 2000
New security and authentication features
As in Windows 2000, .NET servers provide for building a full Public Key Infrastructure (PKI), with support for certificate services and smart card authentication, as well as Virtual Private Networking (VPN) using the Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP) with IPSec.
.NET also offers security and authentication features not supported by Windows 2000, including the following:
- Software restriction policies: This gives you a way to protect your systems from untrustworthy software, letting you specifically identify the applications that are allowed to execute on the system.
- Enhancements to the encrypting file system (EFS): In Windows 2000, EFS can be used to protect data stored on a computer’s local disk, but only the user who encrypts the file can decrypt it. With .NET (and Windows XP Professional), you can designate other users with whom encrypted files can be shared. Another improvement to EFS is the ability to use longer encryption keys and stronger encryption algorithms to provide better protection for EFS-protected data.
- Enhanced certificate services: Certificate services have been improved to allow you to restrict the issuance of certificates by subordinate certification authorities to users in specified domains, and you can restrict the uses of those certificates (for example, specifying which applications can use the certificates).
- Smart card logon through terminal services: .NET allows you to use a properly configured smart card to log on to the domain via a terminal server.
- Internet connection firewall (ICF): This is included as part of .NET Standard and Enterprise servers.
.NET includes other improvements to security and authentication features, such as stored user names and passwords and improvements to the netstat command and IPSec monitoring.
Finally, Group Policy includes 160 new settings, adding more flexibility for administrative control.
New reliability and availability features
Microsoft has added new reliability and availability features to .NET servers, giving them an advantage over Windows 2000 servers when it comes to uptime and ease of recovery from disk failure or other damage to the system files.
The Automated System Recovery (ASR) feature is new to .NET and allows you to quickly and easily back up all the components of the operating system, including the system state data, using a wizard. You can then restore this information by running Setup and pressing [F2] during the text mode part.
Another new feature is Emergency Management Services (EMS), which gives you the capability of remotely managing your .NET servers even if the operating system is malfunctioning or the network connection is down (out-of-band management).
New Active Directory features
An often-longed-for new feature in .NET is the ability to rename Active Directory domains—even the root domain—while retaining the Security Identifiers (SIDs) and Global Unique Identifiers (GUIDs).
Other new Active Directory-related features include:
- The Domain Controller Upgrade Wizard, which makes it easier for you to restore domain controller data from CD and other removable media.
- Cross-forest trusts (with cross-forest authentication and authorization) and easy cross-forest synchronization through the Trust Wizard.
The .NET Enterprise Server supports Microsoft Metadirectory Services (MMS), which allow you to integrate the information from more than one directory.
New Web server features
All members of the .NET server family include IIS 6.0, which provides a number of enhancements over the 5.0 version that comes with Windows 2000 Server. In addition to support for XML and ASP.NET, IIS 6.0 offers better performance. Some other enhancements include:
- Support for .NET passport authentication
- Security Lockdown Wizard
- Better bandwidth throttling
- New command-line tools
The .NET Web Server includes support for remotely controlling a headless server (i.e., a server that doesn’t require input or interaction with a local keyboard, mouse, or monitor).
SharePoint team services (STS) are supported by .NET Standard, Enterprise, and Datacenter Servers. STS works together with IIS, allowing administrators to build team Web sites for sharing discussion, files, and other forms of information.
New Terminal Services features
Terminal Services have been greatly enhanced. The .NET terminal servers allow terminal clients to use higher color depths (Windows 2000 terminal servers were limited to 256 colors) and sound. Other improvements include smart card redirection (users can now log on to terminal servers using smart card security) and network printer support.
The new Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) Terminal Services client also provides a much more user-friendly and functional interface.
New and improved support for networking technologies
The .NET family includes support for new networking technologies, as well as enhancements to many of Windows 2000’s networking features. For example:
- ATM networking is fully supported.
- Fibre Channel hardware is supported.
- IEEE 802.11 wireless networking is supported.
- Shadow Copy of shared network folders is a new feature with which administrators can create copies of files (including open files) at a particular point in time. Accidentally deleted files or folders can be easily recovered.
- All versions of .NET Server have built-in support for IPv6 and can send native IPv6 packets over an IPv6 network. Alternately, .NET servers can use the 6to4 interoperability technology to transmit IPv6 packets over an IPv4 network.
- Internet Connection Sharing, using Windows NAT, is supported by the Standard and Enterprise versions of .NET Server.
- All versions of .NET Server, except the Web Server, provide the Service Initiation Protocol (SIP) Service for secure real-time communications (instant messaging) within the network.
- .NET servers can function as virtual private networking (VPN) servers. The Web Server version supports only one simultaneous incoming VPN connection per media type. (For example, you could have one connection via modem and another via network interface.) The other three versions support unlimited VPN connections.
Compatibility mode is a new feature in .NET Server that creates environments emulating Windows 9x, NT, and 2000 to provide for better functionality of applications written for those previous operating systems. A Program Compatibility Wizard allows you to determine the correct environment for running a particular application, or you can set compatibility properties manually. The Program Compatibility Wizard is part of .NET’s Help and Support Center and can be accessed by typing hcp://system/compatctr/compatmode.htm in the Run box.
Other new features
.NET Server includes a number of other new features. Listing every improvement or addition is beyond the scope of this article, but some of the more important include:
- Remote document sharing over HTTP, using the new WebDAV redirector.
- Universal Plug and Play (UPnP), which is installed as a Windows component.
- Improvements to Remote Installation Services (RIS).
- The User State Migration Tool, which makes it easy to migrate user settings.
- The Performance Options tool for easier configuration of processor and physical and virtual memory.
- Remote Assistance, which allows an administrator or tech support personnel to view and control a user’s computer over the network.
This discussion of .NET Server’s new features and infrastructure will certainly help network admins get a better feel for whether .NET will have a direct impact on their enterprises later this year.
While many of these new features are most definitely improvements over previous server OSs, if your enterprise doesn’t have a compelling need for any of them, chances are good that you’ll be sitting on the sidelines for this upcoming upgrade. But don’t worry, it shouldn’t be long before there is a new new offering in the server OS field—and its release will give you yet another chance to think about a major upgrade.
Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 additional books on subjects such as the Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 MCSE exams, CompTIA Security+ exam, and TruSecure's ICSA certification.