Woes with new Windows service pack uncovered

As happened with Windows XP SP2, users are running into application compatibility issues with the recently released Windows Server 2003 SP1.

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Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 is just two weeks into general availability, but there are already reports of trouble with at least one of Microsoft's own Windows System Servers.

Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) experts have reported that there is a bug in a COM+ (Component Object Model +) component that is rendering the administrator console useless.

It's disheartening that these major issues were not unearthed during the beta testing.

Duncan McAlynn, practice manager, Collective Technologies

"The issue seems to be in the way we are freeing allocated memory when a computer group properties field is set to NULL. And that computer group, because of its name, is the first to show in the query we run to enumerate those names in the right pane of MMC [Microsoft Management Console]," said Roger Porter, a MOM test manager, in an e-mail to Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs).

Porter suggested a workaround where administrators go to the MOM server they are trying to remotely connect through using a MOM admin account and the local MOM administrator console on that server. "This reorders the offending configuration group name out of the first position and should allow you to conduct business as usual," Porter said in his message.

One Windows management professional and MVP said he was surprised to see such a glaringly obvious problem with the MOM servers relating to SP1. "It's disheartening that these major issues were not unearthed during the beta testing," said Duncan McAlynn, who is also a practice manager at Austin, Texas-based Collective Technologies, a consulting firm. "It speaks volumes that Microsoft has to do a better job working with the community and ensuring that these things have a rigorous testing process."

SP1 likened to a major security patch

Aside from the MOM troubles, there have been only a few problems reported about applications that may break because of SP1, which is essentially a large security patch. So far, none of the incompatibilities reported have been known to cause major trouble.

One Microsoft partner has reported hiccups with SQL Server Reporting Services and some products relating to e-mail and Microsoft Exchange Server. Glen Conway, technical director at Flarepath.com Ltd., a South Yorkshire, England, software developer, said IT managers need to use the same diligence in testing Server 2003 SP1 as they did in deploying its desktop counterpart, XP SP2, which was released last summer.

Microsoft moved quickly to resolve the problem with SQL Server Reporting Services after Flarepath reported it. Flarepath discovered that when accessing the Report Manager in Reporting Services after deploying SP1, an HTTP 401 error message was returned.

The reason for the error is that SP1 closes a security loophole to prevent "man-in-the-middle" attacks, which cause custom configurations of Reporting Services virtual directories and application pools to fail. Microsoft has issued two workaround fixes for the problem, according to Flarepath.

Cisco warned users early about issue

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Learning guide: Migrating to Windows Server 2003

In an unrelated issue, Cisco Systems Inc., in San Jose, Calif., had warned its Unity VoIP switch users to avoid SP1 prior to its release due to compatibility issues. However, sometimes such prerelease warnings slip through the cracks and IT administrators don't always hear of them in time to act.

The main compatibility problem with Unity, which uses Exchange as its message store, is that SP1 changes the default permissions for the Services Control Manager, resulting in denied access to those applications that rely on its use to communicate with platforms such as Exchange, said Mike Armstrong, coordinator of computer applications at the University of Florida's Citrus Research & Education Center, in Lake Alfred, Fla.

"Cisco advises uninstalling SP1 as the preferred solution to the Unity problem," Armstrong said. "I guess the word is to be careful."

MailSite issue with SQL and SP1

Another application hit by compatibility woes with SP1 is Rockliffe Inc.'s MailSite e-mail server software. The Campbell, Calif., company issued a bulletin to its customers warning of "significant problems" running MailSite with a SQL back end on updated systems. The company bulletin said Rockliffe is working with Microsoft to determine the root cause of the problem.

In spite of these setbacks, at least one expert is telling customers to install SP1 as soon as they can because the benefits of the security protection outweigh the small chance that an application might break. "I'd be far more concerned with keeping systems secure than breaking one application," said Mark Loveless, a senior security analyst at Bindview Corp., a Houston-based security software company.

Some IT managers are finding that the added security benefits in Windows Server 2003 SP1 can also amount to significant savings. Russell Mobley, assistant director for Fulton County, Ga., said the addition of SP1 has saved the municipality $350,000 by allowing it to redeploy IT personnel in a more efficient manner. "These employees were constantly fixing stuff caused by the holes that were there [in the operating system]," Mobley said.

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