Windows Server 2003 SP2 Will Be 'Limited Scope'
Published: August 9, 2006
by Alex Woodie
Microsoft will deliver a second service pack for Windows Server 2003 before the end of the year, but it won't be anything like last year's SP1, the company said last week. Microsoft said the compatibility issues of Windows Server 2003 SP1 were a necessary byproduct of the security improvements that operating system brought. With those changes out of the way, SP2, now in the first round of beta testing, should be less disruptive while introducing a "few limited-scope features."
Microsoft hasn't shied away from admitting the compatibility problems of Windows Server 2003 SP1, and addressed them at about the same time the product was released, in April 2005 (see "About 20 Percent of Applications Don't Work Under Windows Server 2003 SP1").
The compatibility problems of Windows Server 2003 SP1 were not unlike those Microsoft experienced six months earlier with Windows XP SP2, which paved the way for many of the security enhancements that were later introduced in Windows Server 2003, including a new Security Configuration Wizard, support for hardware-based Data Execution Protection, and a Post-setup Security Update Wizard. While these security enhancements were credited with significantly boosting the security of the operating systems, the trade-off was a certain degree of incompatibility, including problems running older programs and terminal emulation products, and also with third-party security tools that often need to make substantial modifications top the operating system in order to work. Microsoft's own CRM system also didn't run under Windows XP SP2.
But Windows Server 2003 SP2 will be different, says Ward Ralston, on the Microsoft Windows Server team blog. "Windows Server 2003 made some pretty big changes to the way we do security and it introduced a cycle of application testing and some compatibility issues," Ralston writes. "This was, however, a necessary evil needed to address server security. Now that WS03 SP1 is the foundation for security moving forward, SP2 is back to a 'standard' service pack."
While SP2 won't have near the number of goodies that Microsoft introduced with Windows Server 2003 Release 2, it will bring some new features, including Windows Deployment Service (WDS), an updated and redesigned version of Remote Installation Services (RIS). Ralston says WDS will bring improved security surrounding image store and better administrative and management features. It will also be required to support the remote deployment of Windows Vista.
SP2 will also introduce a version 3.0 of the Microsoft Management Console that brings "richer functionality" and a new interface for third-party "snap-ins." Discoverability has also been enhanced with the MSConfig tool.
Microsoft is also working to speed the operating system's handling of network connections with the Scalable Networking Pack, which is undergoing a separate beta. The addition to the operating system will enable the use of a TCP offloading engine (TOE), a network interface card (NIC) that sits on the main system bus and offloads processing of TCP requests away from the main processor. Microsoft says the Scalable Networking Pack, which includes TOE and TCP Chimney Offload additions, will be especially beneficial in certain types of workloads, including network backup and data replication, file serving and remote file access, and iSCSI environments.
SP2 will also improve performance of heavy SQL Server 2005 database workloads, and will improve performance of Windows Server 2003 while it is running as a multiprocessor guest operating system.
On the security front, SP2 will bring support for the new wireless security standard, Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2). It will also include finer control of firewall operations, including "firewall per port" authentication that will secure traffic between Extranets and internal assets protected via IPsec domain isolation. The number of filters that need to be managed while using IPsec server and domain isolation will also be significantly consolidated, from about 400 filters to just two filters, Ralston writes. Ongoing management of those filters will also be easier, he says.
Beta testers are currently putting the first iteration of Windows Server 2003 SP2 through the paces. The first round of beta testing is by invitation only. A third service pack for Windows XP and Windows XP Pro is also in the works for the second half of 2007, following the delivery of the next version of Windows, Vista, early next year.