Tech Tip: Determine which edition of Windows 2003 Server suits your needs

By Mike Talon

During the month of September in 2003, we've looked at Microsoft's growing interest in disaster recovery issues in the enterprise, and I've discussed how Windows Server 2003's features specifically address DR planning. To conclude our look at WS2K3's DR features, let's examine what each level of this new OS offers.

Windows 2003 Server is available in four editions: Web Edition, Standard Edition, Enterprise Edition, and Datacenter Edition. All editions feature some common technologies, such as the capability to use IPv6, Distributed File System, and Encrypting File System. In addition, all editions support the Volume Shadow Copy Service.

Web Edition

Geared toward Web sites, this version supports Web farms of many servers working together. It offers support for Internet Information Services 6 and network load balancing.

Unfortunately, it offers little else, so don't expect this edition to take care of your small office needs. Web Edition servers can't become domain controllers (though they can be member servers), and they can't share Internet connections, offer fax services, or perform many other operations a small office would need or want to use.

Oddly enough, Web Edition doesn't offer Windows Media Server, a common component of Windows-based multimedia Web sites. Web Edition can run with up to 2 GB of RAM and support up to two processors.

Standard Edition

The workhorse and standby of the Windows offerings, Standard Edition has always been the best bet for most server needs. This incarnation is no different, offering most of the management and client-facing features that your organization might need, such as the ability to be an Active Directory domain controller, share Internet connections, and offer full Terminal Services support.

This edition is also the first level to support the new Virtual Server product, soon to be released by Microsoft. Standard Edition also supports a firewall option for Internet connectivity to help protect the enterprise, and it offers some support for Private Key Infrastructure (PKI) and Kerberos technologies with smart cards and other methods.

Standard Edition currently supports up to 4 GB of RAM and supports up to four processors.

Enterprise Edition

This edition supports clustering up to eight nodes, and it includes the ability to use non-shared-disk and geographically distributed clustering. In Windows 2000, such features were either unavailable or only available in the Datacenter Edition.

This is also the first level that supports 64-bit processors (coming soon) and new features such as Hot Add Memory and Non-Uniform Memory Access technologies. We're currently waiting on hardware that can support these features, but it's nice to know that Windows is ready to run them when available.

This edition supports up to 32 GB of RAM (32-bit processors) or 64 GB of RAM (64-bit processors), and it supports up to eight processors per server.

Datacenter Edition

The crown jewel of the Windows 2003 family, Datacenter Edition offers all of the previous technologies. It supports up to 64 GB of RAM for 32-bit processors and 512 GB of RAM for 64-bit processors, and it supports up to 32 processors. As with the Enterprise Edition, you can cluster up to eight nodes, which don't need to share the same physical disk resources.

Keep in mind that Microsoft controls the hardware that Datacenter Edition runs on via the Microsoft Datacenter Program, so you can't just buy a copy of this OS off the shelf; you'll probably need to work with a vendor.

Choosing the right version of Windows Server has always been a trade-off between cost and functionality. The varied levels of the 2003 server family will give your organization the flexibility it needs to properly size and price your upgrade and/or new implementation pathways.

Mike Talon is an IT consultant and freelance journalist who has worked for both traditional businesses and dot-com startups.

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