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Windows servers: Tips to keep them humming

We combed the archives of and compiled this list of tips that can help you maintain the performance of the servers in your Windows infrastructure.

Administrators working with Windows servers should know about all the shortcuts and workarounds that can make their lives easier, as well as some of the less well-known features related to their Windows operating systems. The editors of combed the site and compiled this list of tips that can help you maintain the performance of your server.

First of all, if your server has a performance problem, you have to figure out what it is. Here are three tips related to logging and monitoring that will help you do that:

  • Resolving startup issues on Windows Server 2003
    When you have problems starting a system, think about what has changed recently. If you keep a change log, access the log to see what has changed on the system recently. A new device driver might have been installed or an application might have been installed that incorrectly modified the system configuration.
  • When Performance Monitor yields unexpected results
    The Performance Monitor tool built into Windows can give you a wealth of information regarding what's going on with your system. But sometimes it behaves strangely. This tip sheds some light on a few of this tool's eccentricities.
  • Performance Advisor adds reporting functions
    Version 2.0 of Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 Performance Advisor added customizable reporting functions. For instance, you can produce reports on specific subsystems, such as one that concentrates on the performance of SQL Server or on low-level functions like CPU and physical memory usage.

Another way to accelerate server performance is to automate some of the tasks it has to perform regularly. Here are three tasks you can do that will make the server run better and make your life easier.

  • Automating disk defragmentation
    After you install a lot of applications on a server, systems administrators should run Disk Defragmenter on a regular basis. However, that may be difficult to do on a timely basis. However, today it's possible to put an end to disk defragmentation as a manual process by scheduling disk defragmentation via the Windows Task Scheduler.
  • Managing DNS
    Administering DNS isn't always a set-it-and-forget-it operation. The less manual work you have to do with zone files or the DNS interface, the better, and there are a bunch of tools (some free, some commercial) that will automate most of the process of dealing with DNS.
  • Clean up Active Directory
    In a busy environment, Active Directory can come to resemble that garage full of junk that never gets cleaned out. Expired users, nonexistent machine references and many other kinds of clutter fill it up and can lead to performance and manageability problems. Tidying up manually isn't much fun, and eats up time that could be put to more productive work. But there are a number of tools that automate a good deal of the work involved in keeping AD tidy.

We know that many of you have either started on or are getting ready to do a major server consolidation. Here's a tip on a key piece of the server consolidation puzzle: calculating CPU utilization.

Any good technician carries a toolbox. Here are four tools and utilities you'll want to have in yours.

  • Tools give you a heads-up to server problems
    Today you have various server management tools at your disposal that will help you anticipate problems before they occur. This tip looks at some of these tools.
  • Solving the named pipes puzzle
    Many Windows server products, such as SQL Server (and Windows itself) use named pipes for communicating with other servers and processes. Pipes are usually invisible and silent; you don't interact with them. But that can be a drawback, if for instance you inherit someone else's server and don't know which services are opening named pipes, which could constitute an attack vector. It can be difficult to find out the available permissions on a named pipe. Here's a utility to get to the bottom of the puzzle.
  • Easing the pain of shared folder migration
    Many administrators upgrading to Windows 2003 Server encounter difficulties with migrating and consolidating shared folders from their older server platforms. Part of the problem is due to changes in conventions and technology. Administrators may want to migrate older Universal Naming Convention (UNC) network paths to newer DFS shares where possible, but copying everything by hand over to the new servers isn't the way to go. Try using Microsoft's File Server Migration Toolkit.
  • The Windows 2000 Configure Your Server tool
    Given the often bewildering number of administrative tools and Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-ins available, it's crucial to have an organized and central location from which to access all of your important server tools, such as Active Directory, DHCP, DNS and WINS. You don't actually use the Configure Your Server tool to perform many actions, but it serves as an interface for launching the various MMC snap-ins that you use to accomplish your tasks.

Now what about those shortcuts and workarounds mentioned at the outset? Here are five tips that fall into that category, as well as some of the less well-known features related to their Windows operating systems.

  • Disable DNS client screening on multi-homed Windows Server 2003 machines
    There are times you might want to disable the DNS feature in Windows Server 2003 called client screening, which allows the server to determine and remember if a given DNS server is accessible. Here's how to do that.
  • Hot add memory sometimes hangs Windows Server 2003
    One new feature in Windows Server 2003 is the ability lets you add memory without rebooting the computer. This hot add feature is a boon for administrators – that is, when it's available and when it works. But sometimes it hangs the system. Here's what to do if that happens.
  • Shadow copies of shared folders carry a server performance penalty
    If that penalty is sever, you may want to modify your storage architecture. Shadow copies use a copy-on-write algorithm to update the volume image. This incurs a performance cost since information has to be written twice to disk, increasing the I/O load on the system. In the case of a heavily loaded server, the cost of the additional write can noticeably affect system performance. You can reduce the performance penalty by dedicating a separate hard disk to the shadow copy.
  • Improve Network File System performance
    Microsoft Services for Network File System in Windows Server 2003 performs well out of the box, but you can make storage performance improvements with some registry tweaks. Here are three ways to do this if you use both Windows Server 2003 and Unix.
  • Analyze your directory names
    You have tens of thousands of files stored on your Windows systems. Performance isn't meeting your expectations. By changing your directory structure and analyzing your directory names, you can improve system performance. Here are some suggestions on how you can make your systems hum along at a quicker pace.

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