Microsoft Windows Networking

With the same graphical interface as other versions of Windows and simple administration possible from the server console, Windows 2003 Server is possibly the most popular NOS in use today. Microsoft introduced Windows NT in 1993 with version 3.1 (about the same time Windows 3.1 was taking off as a desktop graphical interface for DOS). This NOS went pretty much unnoticed until version 3.51 was introduced about a year later. Windows NT 3.51 was quite stable, and by this time, hardware vendors had met the challenge with the 486 and Pentium processors. Because of its similarity to Windows 3.1 and its powerful networking features, Windows NT gained popularity. Microsoft began to put its significant marketing muscle behind it, and Windows NT started to become a viable alternative in the network operating system market previously dominated by Novell NetWare and the various flavors of UNIX. Windows NT was followed closely by Windows 2000, then 2003 Server, and the Windows platform has become a dominant force in the NOS market.

Features

The Windows server platform is the first choice of developers because of the similarity in programming for all Windows platforms. Additionally, the installation CD includes a complete Internet server suite (including WWW, FTP, and DNS [Domain Name Service] server programs). Finally, because the look and feel of all Windows platforms is almost identical to that of Microsoft’s desktop operating systems, training administrators requires much less time. These features along with many others have skyrocketed Windows Server use in the corporate network infrastructure.

The Windows User Interface

The Windows Server interface is basically the same as the Windows interface we’ve come to love (or hate, depending on your view). Windows NT 3.1 and 3x use the same basic look and feel as the Windows 3.1 desktop operating system. Windows NT 4 and Windows 2000 use the interface from Windows 95 and Windows 98. Although there might be subtle differences between the desktop operating systems and their Server counterparts, the basic look and feel is the same. Because of this, a novice administrator can easily learn to use Windows Server. Analysts refer to this as a shallow learning curve.

Third-Party Support
Because of its ease of use and relatively inexpensive cost, Windows Server sells well. Third-party vendors write thousands of software titles for Windows. Currently the number of third-party network programs for Windows far surpasses the number for NetWare.

One reason for the range of software available for Windows Server is that developers can create these programs using many of the development tools they use to write Windows programs. Additionally, Microsoft makes much of the code available to developers for little or no charge.

Other vendors often charge to download their development tools, although that trend is rapidly changing. Finally, a program that is certified as Windows Compatible must work on all Windows platforms, Server and desktop, including Windows 95/98/Me/NT/2000/XP/2003 Server. Because it’s so easy to develop programs for all versions and because Microsoft requires it for Windows certification, the number of programs available for Windows Server is constantly growing. That isn’t to say that all programs are network enabled, but when given the choice, developers usually choose to create programs for Windows rather than for other network operating system platforms.

Client Support

One of Windows’ shortcomings is its relative single-mindedness when it comes to clients. Windows as a server platform mainly supports Windows clients with the majority of its features. It is possible to support Mac and UNIX clients, but only with special add-on software, and even then, some client features and security are limited. But, it is possible to support all versions of Windows Operating Systems as clients for all of the Windows Server platforms.

Interoperability

With the vast diversity of client operating systems out there, any network operating system must be able to provide services to multiple clients. Windows never used to “play well with the other children” in terms of interoperating with other platforms. Historically speaking, a NOS other than Windows Server would have limited interoperability with Windows Server. These days, Windows Server has many tools for platform interoperability.

One of the coolest interoperability tools for Windows is Windows Services for Unix (SFU), which provides a framework for UNIX scripts as well as UNIX services like NFS to run on Windows. You can download it from www.microsoft.com. With SFU, an administrator can port network services and scripts to a Windows Server machine and run them on the Interix subsystem (a sort of “mini-Unix” part of Windows that comes with SFU).

In addition, Windows can interoperate with NetWare. When Windows NT Server was first introduced in 1993, NetWare was the primary network operating system available. As a matter of fact, it had more than 75 percent of the installed network operating system base. For this reason, Microsoft created software for Windows that allows it to coexist in a NetWare environment.

Three main programs facilitate the integration of Windows and NetWare:

  • Gateway Services for NetWare (GSNW)
  • Client Services for NetWare(CSNW)
  • File and Print Services for NetWare (FPNW)

1. Gateway Services for NetWare (GSNW)

GSNW installs as a service on a Windows Server machine and translates requests for Windows resources into NetWare requests. At a lower level, GSNW is translating Server Message Block (SMB) protocol requests into NetWare Core Protocol (NCP) requests. GSNW allows multiple Windows NT clients to connect through a Windows NT server to NetWare servers using only Windows NT client software and protocols.

Gateway Services for NetWare (GSNW)

2.Client Services for NetWare (CSNW)

CSNW is probably the simplest of all the software, but it requires the most overhead to implement. You must install CSNW on every Windows workstation computer that needs access to NetWare resources. Client services for NetWare allow a user sitting at a Windows workstation to access the services of NetWare servers. Additionally, all users who want to access NetWare resources need user accounts and rights on the NetWare servers they access.

3.File and Print Services for NetWare (FPNW)

FPNW is really a method for providing files and printers hosted by Windows Server to Novell clients. When installed and configured on a Windows server, this service makes a Windows server look like a NetWare server to Novell clients. This service is good when you have a small number of NT servers and a large number of NetWare servers.

Authentication

Since Windows 2000 Server, all Windows products have been able to use Kerberos for authentication. Authentication also works in conjunction with Microsoft’s own directory service, which is similar to NDS and known as Active Directory (AD). Kerberos is a technology that is used for authentication. Essentially, a unique identifier known as a ticket is given to every user that successfully authenticates to AD. From then on, that ticket is sent along with all transmissions to indicate exactly who sent the information. One important note: for Kerberos to be used as an authentication mechanism, all applications that are to use it must be modified to include authentication information. This process is known as kerberization.

File And Print Services

Windows Server’s file and print services, while not as robust as some, are completely adequate for the small-to-medium size network and, if scaled properly, can service large numbers of clients equally well. The major advantage to Windows Server over other server platforms is that it uses the familiar Windows interface and terminology.

Windows Server uses the concept of folders and shares for its file sharing. Individual documents are stored in folders on the server’s hard disk. To make them accessible to network users, these folders are “shared.” A share is any folder on a computer that has been shared (by changing its properties from “not shared” to “shared”) with the rest of the network. Once a folder is shared, a client can access all the files within it (depending on the security settings, of course) and any folders within it as well.

Additionally, Windows Server supports the sharing of printers in the same manner. A printer, once configured on the server, can be shared with the rest of the network like any folder. As a matter of fact, sharing printers is not only easy, but cool as well. When configured correctly, a printer shared under Windows NT, 2000, XP, or 2003 Server can be automatically installed by connecting to it. The client can automatically download the appropriate driver from the server the first time it connects.

Application Support

Application support is one area where Windows really shines. It is arguably the platform with the most developer support. Almost any application that will run on the desktop Windows (e.g.,Windows 9x,NT, 2000, XP, etc.) will run on Windows 2003 Server. Plus, Windows 2003 Server network applications are extremely easy to configure and run because there is a very shallow learning curve. People already understand the Windows interface.

By far, Windows has the greatest number of software packages available for it. You can run these packages on Windows Servers in addition to running them on a desktop operating system.

Security

Although Windows Server has many advantages, its security is not as robust as it should be. In fact, most of the patches released by Microsoft for Windows Server are security patches. It is extremely vulnerable to Internet attacks because of its sheer design. The same features that make Windows Server easy to use also make it more vulnerable to hacker attacks.

In addition, to meet marketing deadlines, Windows is often put into distribution before it’s ready and then fixed and patched after the fact. This rush allows potential security flaws to remain unfixed until after they have been discovered. These flaws have been the source of many security problems over the years.

That isn’t to say that Windows Server as a platform can’t be made secure; it just requires more work. You must make sure that the server is patched to the most current patch levels, and you need to take common-sense precautions like having a firewall (but you’d need these protections for the other platforms as well, just as a precaution). Once patched properly, Windows can be as secure as any of the other NOS platforms.



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