As we saw in this past weekend's Kentucky Derby, sometimes the horse that's expected to win can finish out of the running. (Our condolences from up here in Massachusetts to Bellamy Road owner George Steinbrenner on his horse's loss in the race...not!) But it's also good to remember that some horses that can be overtaken in those quick types of races perform better in the long haul.
That, in essence, is the conclusion we've reached on the SP1 release of Windows Server 2003. For new users, users running smaller installations, and/or users that aren't dependent on mission-critical applications that may not agree with SP1, it's probably a slam-dunk to go ahead and update; you'll have the benefits of the security updates that were the main focus of SP1. But our reviewer Jeffrey Shapiro suggests that if you're using an application or app-server suite on which your organization depends, Microsoft will have a better answer for you later this year when it does a full update of Windows Server 2003 -- one that has all of the SP1 code, presumably fully debugged by then, as well as a bunch of features that Microsoft ended up leaving out of SP1. Because Redmond has already pushed out a lot of the security fixes in SP1 on an ongoing basis, says Jeffrey, your overall benefit may not be worth the hassle of crashing clutch software like Exchange or ISA Server should you go ahead and update.
That's not an academic opinion: Jeffrey is the co-author of the Windows Server 2003 Bible and a server admin out in the field who's designed and run systems for government and private enterprise. In short, he knows how the software should work and when it's going to be a help to your enterprise -- or a hindrance. With this article, I'm pleased to welcome him to the fold at Server Pipeline, where you'll be seeing a twice-monthly column drawing on his expertise in Windows server environments.
So, the upshot? If you wait on the R2 release of Windows Server 2003, you'll probably be fine, just so long as you stary on top of your security situation and Microsoft's hotfixes in the meantime. There promises to be plenty of adds to the software then that will ease admin life in several areas -- Unix interoperability, access control, and Active Directory control. In the meantime, your enterprise can stay up and running 24/7 with what you've got. Every situation is different, of course, and SP1 may be a good answer for your particular needs, but it looks as though this fall's R2 release is a safe bet.