IT administrators who have already sweated through a Windows 2000 upgrade and have installed Active Directory can relax knowing that upgrading to .NET Server won't require much in terms of additional staff training.
But even though the learning curve from Windows 2000 to .NET Server may be small, many companies that wish to move servers still running NT 4.0 up to .NET Server -- bypassing Windows 2000 entirely -- could run into trouble if they don't learn the ins and outs of changes that take place within Active Directory, security and administration. The .NET Server release candidate 1 shipped in late July and the first release should become available in early 2003, Microsoft executives have said.
In .NET Server, there is a new partition inside of Active Directory that is specifically geared for replicating DNS records. "If you're not familiar with Active Directory or with DNS, you won't know what to check on or where to put those records, said Bill Boswell, principal at the Windows Consulting Group, a Glendale, Ariz. consulting firm.
There are other changes. The directory uses Stub Zones, which replicates only the names of a master zone rather than an entire zone. There is also conditional forwarding, which makes it easier to implement extranet connections. Conditional forwarding helps resolve the problem of having multiple server names behind a firewall for various business subsidiaries. Also helpful is the ability to have cross-forest trusts, so various business divisions on separate servers in separate forests can access each other's resources.
Beyond Active Directory, most of the big changes are in the security department, since .NET Server is using new technology offered in Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0. In this vein, what makes .NET Server more flexible is also what makes it more complex, according to Paul Hinsberg, chief executive at CRSD Inc., a Pleasanton, Calif., consulting firm.
As one example, the number of configuration items that are inside the Group Policy objects has tripled within .NET Server. These are the items that govern what people can do and their experience once on the network. "There are now many more different options you can use to manage the users' desktops, and a tool for managing those desktops," Hinsberg said.
There are also changes to the VPN and remote access application. Users are no longer tied to a particular domain when using a VPN, Hinsberg said.
IIS 6.0 adds a new thread-handling model so Web sites can be grouped into application pools, Boswell said. For someone hosting Web sites for 15 different internal customers, the advantage is they can have separate application pools for different customers so they never talk to one another. Microsoft has also added security lockdown in IIS, so administrators who are not familiar with how security works need to understand what the lockdowns are doing, Boswell said.
One trial user of .NET Server said an area that often gets overlooked in terms of changes is scripting and programming. Until Windows 2000, there wasn't much an IT administrator could do with Java scripting. Now, however, these scripts can be used to automate a number of management administration tasks within .NET Server, said Dustin Sauter, a system architect at Wells Fargo & Company, San Francisco.
Microsoft has expanded the type of data on clients and servers that customers can reach using .NET Server and in the Windows Management Instrumentation [WMI] model. Active Directory can also do more with the data it gets from WMI. Though WMI was a part of Windows 2000, there are more items in .NET Server that are exposed to that interface such as processor speeds and temperature. "You can write scripts to grab information about a particular machine," Souter said. "They've enhanced the type of data you can get to on a server and on a client."
Of course, for customers insisting on making the jump from NT 4.0 to .NET Server, Sauter warns Windows administrators not to underestimate the work involved.
"It's important that people get trained before they make this move," Sauter said. "Not only will you reduce your mistakes but you will also do a better job leveraging the technology."
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This was first published in August 2002