The Five Flavors of W2K3

With five main editions of Windows Server 2003 -- three of which come in two versions -- it's hard for enterprise buyers to know which option best suits their needs. Here's a look at the differences and similarities between the various flavors of W2K3.


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Posted February 23, 2004

Drew Robb

Drew Robb

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Whether you are speaking of shoes or server operating systems, one size doesn't fit all. So, while Microsoft still has a way to go before it catches up with Baskin-Robbins' 31 flavors of ice cream, Windows Server 2003 (W2K3) offers more options tailored to different enterprise applications than ever before. There are now five main editions, three of which come in two versions.

Note, though, that many of the features are the same from one edition to another. They all, for example, include the upgraded Active Directory, remote desktop administration, an encrypting file system, support for removable storage and remote installation.

But other features vary. And, while generally speaking the higher-end versions of the operating systems include all the features of the lower ones, this is not the case in every instance. The best example is the top-of-the-line Datacenter Edition which drops certain features present in some of the lower-rung systems.

So what are these five versions and how do they compare?

  • Web Edition - The lightest version of W2K3, the Web Edition is a 32-bit server designed for Internet applications including Web hosting and Web availability management. Microsoft forbids its use for non-Web applications.

    It comes with Internet Information Server v.6, ASP.NET and the .NET Framework, features which are also included in the other versions of W2K3. It supports two-way Symmetric MultiProcessing (SMP), 10 inbound server message block (SMB) connections and up to 2GB RAM.

    Although it is designed for Web use, it lacks many of the Internet-related features of other versions of the operating system including Internet Authentication Service (IAS), Internet Connection Sharing (ICS), Internet Connection Firewall. It provides Network Load Balancing, but not clustering. Web Edition only has partial support for Virtual Private Network (VPN) connections. Although it can be part of an Active Directory domain, it cannot act as the domain controller.

  • Standard Edition - This version is a 32-bit operating system for use by small businesses and at the departmental level in larger enterprises. Applications include file and print sharing, desktop management and Web services.

    It provides 2-way and 4-way Symmetric MultiProcessing (SMP) and supports a maximum of 4GB RAM. If used to connect to the Internet, Standard Edition includes a firewall, Virtual Private Network (VPN) support, Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) and Internet authorization services as well as partial support for Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).

    Standard Edition comes with a simple built in network load balancer but does not support clustering. Unlike the Web Edition, servers running it can act as Active Directory domain controllers.

  • Enterprise Edition - The next step up is the Enterprise Edition, which Microsoft recommends for databases, e-commerce, networking, messaging, inventory, customer service and similar applications. It comes in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, both of which support two-, four- and eight-way SMP.

    The 32-bit version, however, is limited to 32GB RAM, while the 64-bit edition scales up to 64GB. In addition to the features that come with the Standard Edition, the Enterprise Edition also supports Non-Uniform Memory Access (NUMA) Metadirectory Services (MMS), clustering (up to eight nodes) and remote storage. Security features include support for PKI, Kerberos authentication, smart cards and biometrics.

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