In this second article of my three-part evaluation of Microsoft Windows Server 2003, we will explore the look and feel of the new Windows Server platform. We’ll examine some of the changes involved in the console, configuration interfaces, and native backup and recovery options.

Windows Server 2003, the next version of the Windows server platform, comes in four different versions:

  1. Windows Server 2003, Web Edition
  2. Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition
  3. Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition
  4. Windows Server 2003, Datacenter Edition

Like the other articles in this series, this article is based on Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition—Release Candidate 2 (RC2).

Console interface
The default console look of WS2K3 is most like the Windows Classic look of Windows XP (Figure A). It’s possible to enable the Luna theme (introduced in XP) on your server if you prefer that interface—although it’s a serious resource hog. By default, the ability to do this is disabled because the Windows Themes service is the provider of this functionality and it is disabled. That makes sense, since there are few substantive reasons to have Themes enabled on a server.

Figure A
The Start menu in Windows Server 2003

WS2K3 offers a familiar interface for finding most administrative tools. New features include the Administrative Tools group being available one level up on the Start Menu, and thus as accessible as the Control Panel.

WS2K3 also includes the Configure Your Server Wizard, which allows you to manage roles for your server. Server roles in this interface are a collection of eleven main categories for how your server is configured. The roles that you can configure in this interface are:

  • File server—Accessing files, setting up quotas, enabling the Windows Indexing Service, and logging options.
  • Print server—Configure a printer for network printing for Windows 2000/XP or all Windows clients.
  • Application server—Configures your server to run IIS, COM+, ASP.NET, and the Microsoft .NET Framework collectively. All of these are installed by this option. You can also add FrontPage Server Extensions in this step.
  • Mail server—Configures your Windows server to offer a simple mail service (POP3), not related to Microsoft Exchange.
  • Terminal server—Configure Windows Terminal Services on the server.
  • Remote access/VPN server—Set up software routing, dial-in, or Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections.
  • Domain controller—Configures your computer to join or create an Active Directory organization.
  • DNS server—Configures the server as a DNS server for client computers on your network.
  • DHCP server—Configures the server as a DHCP server for client computers on your network.
  • Streaming media server—Configures the server to provide Windows Media Services to your network.
  • WINS server—Configures the server as a WINS server for NetBIOS name resolution on your network.

The wizard allows you to add or remove roles, as seen in Figure B. This ability is a nice enhancement to this applet from the version available in Windows 2000

Figure B
The Configure Your Server Wizard

NTBackup enhanced
The NTBackup tool has improved in Windows Server 2003. It’s listed in the Accessories | System Tools program folder as Backup, but can be run interactively or with automated parameters by executing ntbackup.exe from the command line.

The tool differs from Windows 2000 in that WS2K3’s Backup utility introduces the Volume Shadow Copy Technology to the Windows server platforms. This feature set is available in Windows XP Professional and allows an instant copy of a Windows volume. A downside is that you must allocate space equal to your source volumes for this backup instance to exist.

WS2K3 Backup also offers a new look (Figure C) to administer the expanded features of the utility. Backup offers administrators the ability to back up to various media types and locations, and it provides the option to verify that the backup operation completed successfully. It can also log all backup activity.

Figure C
Backup’s new look

Backup offers five types of backup operations. Determining which type is best for your installation depends on your timing preferences, server size, storage media capacity, and restore needs. The backup types that WS2K3 offers are:

  • Normal—A full backup to your target destination.
  • Copy—A copy of a selection of files, without marking the files as having been backed up.
  • Incremental—Only backs up new or changed files since the last normal backup. Each file that is backed up gets marked as being backed up.
  • Differential—Only backs up new or changed files since last normal backup, but does not mark files as the incremental does.
  • Daily—Backs up a selection of files that have a timestamp within the current day.

The backup options are available in wizard format or through an advanced menu that allows you to specify scheduling, verification, backup location/media, and other parameters. In experimenting with the Backup tool, I found that performance was decent. However, if you use this utility to perform a restore, be ready to reboot the server because it will prompt you to do so when it has completed.

Keep in mind that the Windows backup tool does not have a native provision for transactional systems such Exchange Server and SQL Server. As a result, many installations may still require third party backup and recovery tools that feature the special agent software, which can correctly backup the transactional systems while they are online.

Automated System Recovery
Windows Server 2003 now offers Automated System Recovery (ASR) to recover the operating system in the event of a system failure. This essentially replaces the Emergency Repair Disk (ERD) of previous Windows versions. The ASR exists on a floppy disk that can be created in the ASR backup and used in the ASR restore (part of Windows setup). The ASR does not backup data, but is a template of the server (most importantly, of its disk configuration) that is part of the recovery process. This works in conjunction with the Backup tool.

Additional resources

Good information on Windows Server 2003 is becoming available online. Below are some links for information on the product, as well as some undocumented configurations:

Microsoft’s Windows Server 2003 site
Get a jump on Windows Server 2003
Top 10 features for upgrading from Windows 2000
Kristofer Gafvert’s Windows Server 2003 site
Microsoft will add some features after release of Windows Server 2003
Configuration guides for various features in Windows Server 2003

Summing up
Windows Server 2003 offers administrators a familiar Windows-based server product with an enhanced interface, a better server configuration applet, and some improved backup and recovery tools, as explained in this article. In my next article, I will explore new command line tools and other administrative interfaces.