Review: Much to like in Windows Server 2008

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IIS improvements

The venerable Microsoft Web server has undergone quite a bit of revision in Windows Server 2008. IIS 7 is, for the first time, fully extensible and fully componentized -- you install only what you want, so the service is lighter, more responsive and less vulnerable to attack. The administrative interface for IIS has also been completely redesigned. Key improvements include:

  • A newly rearchitected componentized structure.
    For the first time in IIS history, administrators exercise complete control over exactly which pieces of IIS are installed and running at any given time. You can run the exact services you require; no more, no less. This is of course more secure, not to mention easier to manage and better performing. FastCGI support means PHP and other runtime languages are executed with speed not before seen on Windows machines.
  • A flexible extensibility model.
    IIS 7 allows developers to access a brand new set of APIs that can interact with the IIS core directly, making module development and customization much easier than ever. Developers can even hook into the configuration, scripting, event logging and administration areas of IIS, which opens a lot of doors for enterprising administrators and third-party software vendors to extend IIS' capabilities sooner rather than later.
  • Simplified configuration and application deployment capabilities.
    Configuration can be accomplished entirely through XML files. Central IIS configuration can be spread across multiple files, allowing many sites and applications hosted by the same server to have independent but still easily managed configurations. One of Microsoft's favorite demos of IIS 7 is setting up a Web farm with identically configured machines -- as new members of the farm are brought online, the administrator simply uses XCOPY and moves existing configuration files over to the new server. In a matter of seconds, the IIS setup on the new machine is identical to that on the existing machines. This is perhaps the most meaningful, and most welcome, change in IIS 7.
  • Delegated management functionality.
    Much like Active Directory allows administrators to assign permissions to perform certain administrative functions to other users, IIS administrators can delegate control of some functions to other people, like site owners.
  • More efficient administration features.
    You no longer get lost in a sea of tabs and dialog boxes to find an obscure setting you'd like to change. Creating a new site is one dialog box; adding an application pool is similar. All tools and features are in sensible locations within the console. IIS Manager has been completely redesigned (see Figure 2) and is joined by a new command-line administration utility, appcmd.exe.

Figure 2 - IIS Manager

Click to view larger image

The changes made to IIS bring it to virtual parity with Apache in terms of features, manageability, and modularity. Thumbs up.

Networking improvements

The Windows Server 2008 team has made a special effort to improve network performance and efficiency. For the first time, there is a dual-IP layer architecture for native IPv4 and IPv6 support together, simultaneously. (If you've ever configured IPv4 and IPv6 on a Windows Server 2003 machine, you'll know what a pain it is to get them to interoperate without falling all over each other.)

Communications security is enhanced through better IPsec integration throughout the various pieces of the TCP/IP stack. Hardware is used more efficiently and robustly to speed up performance of network transmissions. Intelligent tuning and optimization algorithms run regularly to ensure efficient communication, and APIs to the network stack are more directly exposed, making it easier for developers to interact with the stack. Let's take a look at some of the improvements.

TCP/IP stack improvements

As I alluded to earlier, many changes in Windows Server 2008 were made to the TCP/IP stack itself. One such improvement is the auto-tuning TCP window size: Windows Server 2008 can automatically tune the size of the receive window by each individual connection, increasing the efficiency of large data transfers between machines on the same network. Microsoft quotes the following example: ". . .on a 10 Gigabit Ethernet network, packet size can be negotiated up to 6 Megabytes in size."

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