Now that Windows Vista is finished and is available, you have probably had a chance to experience some of the many improvements that it offers over Windows XP. What you might not realize is that the only way to take full advantage of all of Vista’s new features is to use Vista in conjunction with Longhorn Server. In this article, I will explain why this is the case, and will talk about the advantages of using Longhorn Server in environments where Vista has been deployed.
Before I Begin
Before I get started, I just want to tell you that I was initially hesitant to write this article, because I was afraid that it would come across more like a Microsoft commercial than something of legitimate technical value. I ultimately decided to go ahead and write it because there are just too many benefits to ignore when you deploy Vista and Longhorn Server together.
With all of the marketing hype aside, probably the best reason for running Windows Vista and Longhorn Server together is that they are essentially the same operating system. To understand what I am talking about, you need to look at Microsoft’s history of operating systems. When Microsoft released Windows NT Server 4.0, they also released Windows NT Workstation at the same time. The only difference between the two operating systems was a registry setting. By altering one registry setting, you could turn Windows NT Workstation into Windows NT Server, and vice versa.
Fast forward a few years, and Microsoft did something similar with Windows 2000. Windows 2000 Server and Windows 2000 Professional were developed simultaneously and contained nearly identical kernels.
Microsoft’s next server release was Windows Server 2003. Windows Server 2003 was developed separately from Windows XP (to the best of my knowledge), and there are some significant differences between the two operating systems.
When Microsoft decided to develop Windows Vista, they went back to their roots. Windows Vista and Longhorn Server were developed simultaneously, using the same operating system kernel. In fact someone from Microsoft explained to me that differences in the two operating systems (aside from applets, consoles, etc.) were only introduced into the code after Windows Vista released the Beta 2 stage of development. This ensured that the underlying code base was stable before server specific code was introduced.
Being that Longhorn Server and Windows Vista share a common kernel and user interface (although Aero is disabled by default in Longhorn Server), it only makes sense that the two operating systems would work well together. However, a more compelling reason for deploying Longhorn Server and Windows Vista together is that doing so can reduce your support costs.
Think about it for a minute. If both operating systems share a common core, then you don’t really have to worry about training your support staff on two separate operating systems. Yes, there are definitely server specific components that your support staff will need to learn about, but eighty to ninety percent of code is going to be the same for both operating systems. That means that if your support staff knows how to fix a problem in Vista then there is a good chance that they will also know how to fix the problem if it should occur on a Longhorn server.
The code for the two operating systems is so similar that they share a single model for updates and service packs. I have heard rumors that when the first service pack for Windows Vista is released, the service pack will also be intended for use on machines running Longhorn Server. If that rumor is true, then it means that maintenance could be greatly simplified.
Microsoft has stated from the very beginning that security was a top priority in the development of Longhorn Server and Windows Vista. The vast majority of the security features found in Windows Vista will work whether Vista is connected to a server that’s running Windows Server 2003 or Longhorn. There are however some security features that will only work when Vista and Longhorn are used together.
Probably the best example of this is Longhorn Server’s Network Access Protection feature. Network Access Protection is designed to protect your network against employees who connect remotely. As I’m sure that you know, the problem with allowing employees to connect remotely is that if they establish a connection from a home computer or from a public kiosk, then you have no control over that machine. It could have no security enabled, or could even be infested with viruses. Network Access Protection (NAP) allows you to create a policy that defines what it means for a computer to be in compliance with your corporate security policy. By doing so, you can allow compliant computers to connect to your network, while either denying access to, or forcing an update of non compliant computers.
Another way that security can benefit from deploying Longhorn Server and Windows Vista together is because both operating systems are designed to use the IPv6 protocol. In case you aren’t familiar with IPv6, it is the next generation version of the IP protocol that is so widely used today. Both Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP can be configured to use the IPv6 protocol, but IPv6 is enabled by default in Longhorn Server and Vista.
From a security standpoint, IPv6 is the protocol of choice because it is much more resistant to the address and port scanning attacks that have plagued IPv4 for so long. Furthermore, all IPv6 implementations support IPSec encryption.
You might be wondering what the big deal is about IPv6 being enabled by default in Longhorn and Vista when Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 fully support IPv6. IPv6 is implemented differently in Longhorn and Vista than it is in Windows XP or in Windows Server 2003. The Windows Server 2003 / Windows XP implementation required parallel TCP/IP stacks for IPv4 and IPv6. Longhorn Server and Windows Vista use a similar model, but the difference is that the two stacks are designed to share a common transport layer and framing layer. This means that IPv6 performance is dramatically better in Longhorn and Vista than it was in previous versions of Windows.
Longhorn Server and Windows Vista not only have IPv6 enabled by default, they actually use IPv6 as the protocol of choice. In fact, there are some operating system features that simply won’t work without IPv6. One example of this include Vista’s new peer networking feature.
IPv6 aside, there are a couple of other ways that network performance is enhanced when Longhorn Server and Windows Vista are used together. One way has to do with network printing. Typically, when a Windows Server hosts a network printer, clients send print jobs to the server, which in turn renders the job and sends it to the printer. In a Longhorn / Vista environment, it is possible for a client to render a print job locally before sending it to the server. This reduces the server’s workload, thus making it more efficient.
Another performance gain involves accessing network resources. Both Longhorn Server and Windows Vista are designed to index the contents of the machine’s hard drive. This means that document searches are now a lot faster, whether the search is being performed locally or across the network. Additionally, Vista is designed to cache server resources so that even if a server drops offline, users can continue to work and are often oblivious to the server problems. When the server comes back online, changes made to cached content are automatically applied to the data that is saved on the server.
As you can see, there are numerous advantages to deploying Longhorn Server and Windows Vista together. If you would like to read more about the interaction between these two operating systems, you can do so at: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver/longhorn/evaluation/overview.mspx