Three considerations when supporting specialized Windows Servers

Every environment has the one-off system that is just different. Rick Vanover shares tips on how to support and administer specialized Windows Servers.

Many software and hardware providers are moving their proprietary technologies to Windows development platforms. The end result is that IT departments may see Windows Server systems that used to hold the platform of a "black box" system.

I don't know if we should label it a "black box" Windows Server, but there is an entire series of specialized editions of Windows available to OEMs called Specialized Server Solutions. The most popular version of this technology is the storage server line of products. Other popular implementations of this specialized version of Windows include appliance-like functions such as document imaging systems, teleconferencing systems, medical imaging, and many others. I've even seen this at my dentist's office and a parking ticket payment system. In the course of being a Windows Server administrator, I've come across a few new systems that have a Windows Server Appliance Edition installation. Just like it catches your eye when you see Web Edition or Storage Server on the Windows splash screen, this version makes you take a second look.

When dealing with these specialized versions of Windows, there are three primary issues to consider:

You may need to rethink your Windows Update and patch management policies. In most situations, these specialized versions of Windows are an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) build. In my Windows administration practice, patch management for these custom builds of Windows would need to be coordinated with the OEM. This can be a simple as an approved patch list or as complicated as a series of regression testing or as scary as you being on your own. You will need to rethink your network security. There may be a special service running on a network port that is a required function of the application. This can affect how you go about centralized management policies such as Group Policy, Windows Firewall, antivirus, and malware protection. You will need to be very careful when adding Windows Server roles or features during the installation process. If anything needs to be retrieved from the original installation CD, it is critical not to mix different versions of Windows from the OEM distribution. This can be a big problem if a standard issue version of Windows Server is provided to add a component (such as IIS or SNMP) to a customized build of Windows.

Are you lucky enough to have an Appliance Edition installation of Windows Server? If so, tell us about the changes you have made in supporting these servers?

Stay on top of the latest Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 tips and tricks with our free Windows Server newsletter, delivered each Wednesday.

Automatically sign up today!