Feeds

Cut to the Web Server Core: Windows Server 2008

Apache not served

High performance access to file storage

Review Windows Server 2008, due for its official launch today, is a major upgrade for Microsoft's server platform, the first for around five years. Requiring a graphical user interface (GUI) on a server operating system always seemed odd, even back in 1993 when Microsoft released Windows NT 3.1.

It has taken Microsoft until now to begin fixing the problem. Server 2008 comes with an installation option called Server Core, and although it is not quite GUI-free (Notepad and Regedit still run), it is command-line driven and lacks most of the baggage that previously came as standard. The snag with Server Core is that it is incomplete.

For example, you can install Microsoft's web server, Internet Information Services (IIS) 7.0, but you cannot install ASP.NET, PowerShell scripting, or SQL Server. PHP, on the other hand runs fine on Server Core. More about that in a moment.

To be precise, Microsoft has organized the capabilities of Windows Server into optional roles and features. There are 18 roles and 35 features available in our installation of Server 2008 Datacenter Edition. However, Server Core only supports eight roles, being essentially file and print, Active Directory and domain services, web server, and virtualization. There is also no way to upgrade a Server Core install to have full features, so it is only useful if you are sure from the outset what the box will need to do.

Beauty beats brains

Another sign of progress in separating Server 2008 from its desktop cousin Windows Vista is that "Desktop Experience" components like Windows Media Player and Desktop Themes are bundled into an optional feature that presumably few will install. This may be why Server 2008 feels snappier than Vista on the same hardware, even though both share the same core code.

Why can you not start with Server Core and build it up to the complete edition? "That's a beautiful design goal and our long-term ambition," according to Microsoft product manager Gareth Hall.

The problem is that Server 2008 is only partially componentized. It is not yet quite what it should be but Server Core is progress, being more lightweight and manageable. According to Microsoft, Server Core is preferable to a full install in scenarios where it will work, such as for Active Directory or virtualization. IIS has a powerful command-line tool called AppCmd that is ideal for Server Core. There are also numerous options for remote management, including Remote Desktop to the command line, Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-ins, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) scripts, and Windows Remote Shell.

Unfortunately for developers looking for an application server, Server Core is too limited.

That leads us on to IIS 7.0, a major upgrade. Like the open-source Apache web server, it is modular, so that you can install only those parts that are needed, and individual modules can in principle be replaced with custom versions. In addition, IIS 7.0 is more deeply integrated with .NET. In both IIS 6.0 and IIS 7.0, applications are isolated from one another though application pools, each of which can contain one or more applications.

IIS 7.0 has a new integrated application pool, which means the web server calls both native and managed modules in a single integrated pipeline. This is more efficient, and means that ASP.NET authentication applies to all content types, not just ASP.NET pages.

In previous versions, this was a huge annoyance and potential security hole. Developers had to jump through hoops to accomplish what should be simple tasks like protecting a ZIP file from unauthorized download, or use Windows authentication which is not always practical. The new pipeline means that you can use ASP.NET Forms Authentication for any content, even perhaps a PHP application. The old ISAPI application pool mode remains available for compatibility.

Another major change in IIS is the way it is configured. Most settings have been moved to the per-directory XML file called web.config. This uses inheritance, so for a particular site you can have default settings in a root web.config, and override this as needed in sub-directories. ASP.NET has always worked like this, but previously most other IIS settings could only be changed through IIS administration. This makes it easier to move applications, since they are configured in files that can simply be copied across, and makes life better for developers who only have file access to the web server, such as those using shared hosting. It is fascinating to see how Microsoft has retreated from the registry towards text configuration files, which is the Unix and Apache model.

High performance access to file storage

Next page: IIS 7 v Apache

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
Windows 8.1, which you probably haven't upgraded to yet, ALREADY OBSOLETE
Pre-Update versions of new Windows version will no longer support patches
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Batten down the hatches, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS due in TWO DAYS
Admins dab straining server brows in advance of Trusty Tahr's long-term support landing
Windows XP still has 27 per cent market share on its deathbed
Windows 7 making some gains on XP Death Day
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
US taxman blows Win XP deadline, must now spend millions on custom support
Gov't IT likened to 'a Model T with a lot of things on top of it'
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.