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  • Windows 2003

What is Windows 2003 Hosting?

Windows Server 2003 is a Microsoft server operating system (OS). As an enhanced version of Windows XP bundled with a server, it is thought to offer more compatibility, security, and power than the previously released Windows 2000 operating system. Depending on your needs, you may choose one of several Windows Server 2003 editions, although newer Windows servers exist and have better support and security.

About Windows Server 2003

A server is a computer or other device that manages the resources of a computer network (simply two or more computers linked together). It responds to the requests of the computer network for services like communication, data storage, printing, and much more. 

Different servers perform different functions, and are often referred to as “dedicated” to one specific task. As a server, Windows 2003 is more efficient than a consumer operating system when it comes to corporate networking and communication, databases, and hosting of the Internet/intranet.

Window Server 2003 was initially released in 2003, had final software updates in 2007. Mainstream support discontinued in 2010, but Microsoft will offer consulting level support through 2015 and paid commercial support may be had continuously.

Microsoft has since released several newer versions of it's server technology, notably Windows Server 2008 (and R2), Windows Server 2012 (and R2). A planned newer server version, Server 2016, is expect after the release of the consumer level Windows 10 OS release.

Features of Windows Server 2003

Window Server 2003 is essentially an enhanced version of the consumer facing Windows XP OS, but with all of the scalable features of a network server. Windows Server 2003 expanded on the earlier Windows Server 2000, allowing for 64-bit processors to run. For computers running a 32-bit operating system, the maximum available memory is 4 GB, but for x64, the RAM available is much larger.

Windows Server 2003 comes bundled with Internet Information Services (IIS) preinstalled, which can be upgraded to version 7 or 7.5 if desired. Additionally, a few other crucial tools were introduced:

  • Improved capabilities for Microsoft Message Queuing - allowing for many different concurrent applications to run, using specified ports for information transfer of different packet protocols.
  • Role-based server administration - allowing tiered levels of accessibility and control based on the permissions and privileges of each user.
  • Active Direct functionality overhaul, which allowed deeper control of classes within the system schema, and even allowed for multiple instances of the directory server.
  • Better command line tools and scripting capabilities, as part of the Microsoft's initiative at the time to create command shell controls
  • Introduction of a "Watchdog" timer which can restart the server if the operating system ceases to respond (possibly due to applications overloading computer memory.)

The combination of all these features helped to establish the ASP.NET framework as a modern web application ecosystem. However, those core features of the server are found across all versions, which are different flavors of the server which were released with different software optimizations build in:

  • Windows Server 2003 Web - focused on creating and hosting web applications, as a combination of web pages, and XML web services. Heavy integration is provided with IIS 6 and ASP.NET technology. However, Terminal Services are not included in installation. This version also only runs on 32 bit and so only allows for 2 GB of ram and 2 physical processors.
  • Windows Server 2003 Standard - aimed towards small to medium sized businesses, the Standard Edition is setup to support file and printer sharing on a dedicated network. It also allows for the 64-bit  version, capable of using up to 32GB of RAM.
  • Windows Server 2003 Enterprise - aimed to larger businesses, the operating system can run on computers of up to 8 physical processors and is meant to scale onto clusters using the Microsoft Cluster Server (MSCS) sfotware - with RAM support up to 64 GB and use of Non-Uniform Memory Access (NUMA). Additionally, this OS can be used on an  "Itanium" architecture, which supports up to 2 TB of RAM
  • Windows Server 2003 Datacenter - this version of the server software was created to mainly for the Itanium architecture, for the largest possible data clusters, and has the strongest support for what is categorized as a "Storage Area Network" (SAN). A special class of Windows Sockets can be used to emulate TCP/IP channels, and can thus communicate over those channels in a SAN without any software modification

Additionally, a few derivative versions were released, the Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 (CCS) was released in 2006 to support high performance computing at supercomputing speeds. A version called the Windows Storage Server 2003 was released as well, which focused on using the Storage Area Network capabilities for setting up large file servers with highly capable search capabilities. 

This Storage Server has support for a "Distributed File System" which would become popular for research into "big data" storage technologies in the later part of the decade.

Microsoft also released smaller class derivatives, the "Windows Small Business Server," the "Windows Home Server" and the "Windows Server for Embedded System."

Hosting & Installation

Windows servers and hosting solutions are available from a number of companies online. However, because Windows 2003 is an aging OS, many no longer offer hosting on the platform. 

When you select a host, first consider your willingness to work with an older OS, and whether or not the host's tech support will suffice, as Microsoft itself will terminate official support in 2015.

Choosing an older version of the server operating system is probable something that should be reserved for highly specialized data-center technicians who need to use older software for older (but still useful) hardware. 

For small to medium sized projects and businesses, using a newer version of Windows server is recommended for support and security reasons.

Windows 2003 Frequently Asked Questions

  • When will/did support for Windows 2003 end, and what does this mean?

    Microsoft has announced that support for Windows 2003 would officially end on July 14, 2015. After this date, Microsoft will longer develop or issue security updates for the server. If you are considering a host that still uses Windows 2003, or are currently with a host running the server, you should seriously consider another provider, as this could leave your server vulnerable.

  • Which is a more stable server, Windows or Linux?

    Both have their advantages. Linux, being open source, can respond very quickly to a security threat by having teams across the globe quickly address the issue. On the other hand, because there are so many different Linux distributions, it naturally takes longer for a security patch to reach each of those than it does for the single-source Windows server. Open source software also has the advantage of an entire world of beta testers to dig deep into the source code. But that also means beta testers everywhere can view the source code and look for vulnerabilities to take advantage of. Of course, the biggest security advantage to Linux is that, being open source, upgrades are free, which means you don’t have to worry about being left behind when Microsoft stops supporting your version.

  • Which is easier to the user? Windows or Linux server?

    Windows is definitely easier to use, particular for those with little-to-no programming background. While command line prompts are still necessary for some controls in Windows (and make others a lot quicker), nearly everything can be accomplished through a generally easy-to-navigate GUI. Additionally, Windows server is designed to be a complete solution, and shouldn’t require any add-ons to accomplish most tasks. Linux, on the other hand, is more complicated to navigate, requires considerably more use of command line coding, and relies heavily on add-ons. But for an adept programmer, Linux provides much more flexibility.

  • Do I need to run a Windows server to use .NET applications?

    Not any longer. In late 2014, Microsoft open sourced the full server-side .NET stack. This includes ASP.NET, the .NET compiler, and the .NET Core Runtime, Framework, and Libraries. The move was meant to encourage adoption of Microsoft apps on other devices.

  • How can I upgrade my server to a newer version of Windows server?

    Upgrading a server is considerably more work than upgrading your PC to the latest Windows version. However, because you’re paying for the upgrade, Microsoft provides a number of tools to help you assess your current setup, determine any conflicts that may arise through the upgrade, and deal with those conflicts beforehand. Their website offers a migration planning assistant to get you started.

  • If I’m running a Windows server, do my users need to be using Windows too?

    No. Users can access your server from any machine. However, if you are using Windows 2003 for an intranet site, some users may not have access to Windows-only software from non-windows machines.

  • If I want to self-host, will Windows 2003 run on an older machine?

    In general, Windows servers place a higher demand on your hardware than a Linux server would. However, since Windows 2003 is itself older, you may be in luck. The system requirements are considerably less than a more modern version of Windows server.

  • If I upgrade to a newer version of Windows server, will my databases still work?

    That depends on the type of database. Windows Server 2012 does not support Microsoft SQL Server 2005 or earlier. If you’re running an older version, you may need to upgrade your SQL server beforehand. For additional considerations, you should consult the Microsoft website, or contact their customer support.

  • Are there software limitations with running Windows 2003?

    You may run into some software limitations though probably not for the reason you think. While it’s not always easy to run Windows programs on other servers, Linux programs are typically much easier to port to a Windows server. Most Linux developers either provide compiled versions specifically for Windows or they provided the source code, which can easily be compiled for any system. Where you may run into some issues is with newer versions of Microsoft’s own software. While most software is designed backward compatible, that is not to say it will always play nicely with the old-timers.

  • What type of hardware support is available for Windows 2003

    While Microsoft may be losing the battle on the mobile front, they continue to dominate the desktop world, so any hardware that can run on a computer probably has a driver available for Windows. Being an older platform, Windows 2003 won’t come equipped with drivers for any hardware created in the last 10 year or so, but in most cases you should be able to download the drivers from the hardware company’s website and be up and running in no time. Of course, as the system continues to age, the availability of drivers may decrease.

  • Is there any training available for Windows 2003?

    Absolutely, though these days you may be regulated more and more to online training, as most in-person trainings have moved to Windows 2008 or Windows 2012. If you are considering a classroom training or getting certified in Windows server, you should probably do so in the latest version, as most of what you learn will still apply to 2003.

  • Can I contribute to Windows 2003?

    Being a proprietary software, the only way to contribute to the source code would be to work for Microsoft. And since they are set to stop supporting 2003, even that won’t work. However, anyone can develop software for Windows, so if you have any idea to improve performance, you should consider creating a separate application to do so.

  • Will my server stop working after Microsoft ends support for Windows 2003?

    No. The end of support simply means Microsoft will no longer release updates or patches for Windows 2003. Your server will continue to function. At least until it becomes affected by an unpatched vulnerability. Then you’re own your own.

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