Windows Server 2003 Versions and our experience over the last years

Windows Server 2003 Web Edition

As you saw earlier, the only way to use Windows 2000 Server as a web server in a cluster was by using the Application Center and the Network Load Balancing features it offers. In the Windows Server 2003 family, one version, the Web Edition, is designed for providing web serving and hosting. Using this edition, it’s easy to deploy and manage a new web server, and at the same time get a server that is optimized to be a robust platform for web serving and hosting, as well as functioning as a host for XML web services.

The Web Edition is not intended for any other use but as a web server. This means you cannot install other servers in the Windows Server System on this platform. SQL Server, Exchange Server, and most other enterprise servers will just not be allowed to install, as Figure 2-4 shows.

Figure 2-4. SQL Server is not allowed to install on the Web Edition.

The .NET Framework, however, is included so you can take full advantage of this. Since ASP.NET is a powerful way of building your distributed applications, you now have a good platform to deploy your web applications on.

Another aspect of the slimmed down Web Edition is that fewer services are running on it. This allows the web server to concentrate on its tasks without the operating system having to spend CPU time on Windows services that really are not necessary for a web server. This paves the way for increased performance, which is always something you want on a web server. The Web Edition is also an excellent platform for you to develop and deploy your XML web services on. In Chapter 10 you will see how this can be done.

Since the use of the Web Edition is as a web server only, the scale-up capabilities aren’t so good (and they don’t need to be either). This version supports two-way SMP and only 2GB of RAM. As you can see, it is intended to run on fairly standard hardware, so as to be easy to deploy and manage. This is also what you usually seek for the servers in a web cluster. You want to be able to go out and buy standard hardware when you need more power in your cluster, and easily deploy it in your solution.

Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition

Like its predecessor, Windows 2000 Server, the Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition is an excellent choice for small businesses, as well as for individual departments. You can use this version as a robust platform for file and print services. It is also a good choice for secure Internet connectivity. Since the Standard Edition can run Active Directory, it offers the possibility of being used for centralized desktop application deployment.

When it comes to scalability, this server version offers up to four-way SMP support and handles up to 4GB of RAM. This means it scales up better than the Web Edition, but if you are looking for a web server solution only, you would still be better off using the Web Edition. As a database server, however, you can definitely use Standard Edition for small to medium-sized databases. If you do this, you must keep in mind that it offers no support for Microsoft Cluster Service, which means you cannot guarantee constant availability for your databases. If you need MSCS, you must move up to at least the Enterprise Edition. The Standard Edition is, on the other hand, a preferred platform for your business logic, with which it will perform well indeed.

Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition

This edition of the Windows Server 2003 family, named the Enterprise Edition, is the next version of Windows 2000 Advanced Server, and you probably recognize the name from the Windows NT 4.0 Enterprise Server.

The Enterprise Edition offers many scalability and availability features. First of all, it’s provided for both the 32-bit and the 64-bit processor architectures, giving it optimal flexibility and scalability. Besides this, it includes Network Load Balancing as well as Microsoft Cluster Service. Scaling up is possible for as many as eight CPUs. The 32-bit version can handle 32GB of RAM, whereas the 64-bit manages 64GB.

You can use this edition as a web server in one of your clusters if you want, but we recommend it as a database, application, or messaging server. We feel it would be overkill to use it as a web server, given all its features.

You can also cluster this edition in an eight-node cluster, which further stresses the use of it as something other than a web server.

Windows Server 2003 Datacenter Edition

When you need the highest level of scalability, availability, and reliability, Microsoft offers the Datacenter Edition. On this platform you can, without worry, deploy your mission-critical applications and databases. This version offers everything the Enterprise Edition does, only much more of it. It includes Network Load Balancing and Microsoft Cluster Service, and, like the Enterprise Edition, it is also available in a 64-bit version. So far nothing new, but when it comes to scaling up, the Datacenter Edition provides you with 32-way SMP. The 32-bit version manages at most 64GB of RAM, and if that is not enough for you, the 64-bit version handles 512GB.

As you can see here, this is a powerful platform best suited for when you need scalability and availability. Like the Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, it can only be purchased through the Windows Datacenter Program and the OEMs participating in it.

When you build an application that has high demands on availability and needs a stable and well-performing database, the Datacenter is the platform of choice. But it comes with a high price tag, so you need to consider your application demands carefully before running out and getting this system. It could be that the Enterprise Edition offers everything you need instead.

Table 2-2 presents an overview of the different Windows Server 2003 editions.

Table 2-2. Overview of the Feature Set of the Windows Server 2003 Family

To summarize all this information, Table 2-3 shows our recommended platform for different parts of a scalable application design.

We prefer the Windows Server 2003 family and our experience over the last years has been that this is the right way to go. But many companies still use Windows 2000 Server, so we need to take these editions into account as well. As we have been participating in the official Microsoft beta program for Windows Server 2003 since beta 1, our own servers have been running Windows Server 2003 exclusively in various forms since then. We find them stable and reliable so far, and our testing has shown a great performance increase in our applications.

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