Hands on: Windows Server 'Longhorn' Beta 3 review

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Server Core

I've written this before, and I will say it again: Server Core is the killer feature of Windows Server Longhorn. Imagine, if you will, the most fundamental part of Windows Server, finely tuned for performance, with all of the other stuff -- including, for the most part, the GUI -- completely removed. These headless machines can be deployed as infrastructure servers with few moving parts and, consequently, less to break. Welcome to Server Core.

Server Core only supports a limited number of roles in production. In Beta 3, there are seven supported roles for machines running the Server Core version of the product. With the exception of two new roles, this list remains as it was at the Beta 2 release:

  • Active Directory
  • Active Directory Lightweight Directory Service (new to Beta 3)
  • DHCP
  • DNS
  • File server
  • Print server
  • Windows Media Services (new to Beta 3)
The final release will add support for an eighth role, specifically to run Windows Server Virtualization.

Server Core, as I see it, has three main advantages: It's extremely focused, which means it does what it does very well -- better performance, resilience and robustness. It also has limited dependencies on other pieces of the Windows puzzle, in that the core operating system can generally work by itself. And all of this translates into a far smaller attack surface than the standard Windows Server product. It's a fantastic addition to the product and has been made a bit more capable with the Beta 3 release.

Internet Information Services 7.0

IIS 7 has come a long way from IIS 6. I first saw a demo of IIS 7 in early 2005 and was immediately enthusiastic about its possibilities, and I remain convinced it will become the Web server to beat once Windows Server Longhorn officially releases. Of course, security and integrity have been continually refined, but the three main areas of enhancement in IIS are as follows:

IIS is completely modular. Users have never really been able to pick and choose from its features and abilities, but now IIS features operate modularly. You can load them in any combination and with no dependencies and really create a lean, mean server that does what you want it to do very well -- and it does nothing else. You also gain the benefit of IIS 7's extensibility: It's easier than ever to write a custom module that plugs directly into the IIS core to enable special functionality for your operation.

IIS 7 can be configured from a text file. Each setting in any site configured within IIS can be edited directly from the web.config file. Aside from the obvious convenience, this is a boon for companies that host large numbers of Web sites. It's now trivial to deploy an identical configuration across thousands of sites in seconds; you can just copy web.config to each site and you are finished.

You can also delegate administration of certain sections of web.config to other people, so that a bit of control is available for, say, individual site owners while not necessarily requiring everyone to contact the IIS administrator for any changes to be made. Version control is equally simple -- just make several different versions of a text file, store them in some organized fashion and retrieve when necessary.

There's a better management interface for IIS. The new UI is designed to expose more features in a sensible manner to the user while making rapid, large-scale administration across hundreds or thousands of sites quite simple. (See Figure 3 for a preview of the new management tools.) As with most everything else about IIS 7, the new interface is extensible as well, so you can create custom plug-ins that work directly within the IIS 7 Management Console.

Figure 3: the much improved IIS Management Console

Figure 3: The much improved IIS Management Console (Click image for larger view)

Overall, IIS 7 provides a great overall Web platform, with better performance and manageability, and increased power to configure a server only as necessary. For more information about IIS 7 in Longhorn, check out my earlier story.

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