Windows Server 2003 – SP2 (Service Pack Two)

Windows Server 2003 – SP2 (Service Pack Two)

This latest server service pack has sneaked up on us.  Microsoft quietly released Windows Server 2003 SP2 in the middle of March 2007.

Topics for Windows Server 2003 – SP2


Read the Release Notes

Remember your best practice and check the Release Notes.  One snippet that I learned by reading the these handy notes was this, the killer reason for disabling virus checkers is speed, and not as I had previously I thought, the virus checker blocked the service pack files – silly me.

As far as I could see the only slight problem with SP2 is if you had installed, ADAM (Active Directory Application Mode).  The procedure is to install SP1 for ADAM first, and SP2 for W3K3 second.  Also, be aware that Microsoft’s Release Notes are in addition to the Readme file.

What happened when I installed SP2

Nothing bad happened when I installed SP2, the procedure ran smoothly.  After I downloaded all 380 MB of WindowsServer2003-KB914961-SP2-x86-ENU, I double clicked the file and the install started.  I noticed that during the first half of install, there was a lot of backing up, later I saw why, so that it can uninstall if you wish.  For example, if you have ADAM and forgot to install SP1 for ADAM.  Note: there is no need to install SP1 of Windows Server 2003 before you install SP2.

The release notes mentioned possible MMC snap-ins not working.  All my snap-ins seem fine, however, SP2 asked me if I would like to update to MMC v 3.0, naturally I said yes.

Windows Media Player v 10 appeared, automatically after SP2 installed, I followed the prompts and this later version installed itself in about 10 seconds.   More good news, there were no worries and no issues with IE7.

I was wondering if the service pack would needed a reboot, or whether it could magically just restart services.  Disappointingly, but understandably, it did require a reboot of the server.

Tip: The one thing I will do differently next time I install Windows Server 2003 SP2 is to check the command line switches, for example, /f forces apps to close also /u meaning unattended mode.

Benefits of Windows Server 2003 SP2

As you would expect, by installing SP2 you get all the Security Updates and Hotfixes.  In the unlikely event that you have not installed SP1, then you get all those benefits as well.  However there is no need to install SP1 before you install SP2.

Lookout for improved utilities, for example, this as an opportunity to run the new improved DCDIAG.  Microsoft claim performance improvements for SQL throughput.  SP2 also introduces SNP (Scalable Networking pack), which increases network and application performance by freeing up CPU cycles and more efficiently using processor resources.

If you use IPSEC, then Service Pack 2 improves Server and Domain Isolation by reducing the number of IPsec filter set that needs to be managed from potentially hundreds of filters, to as few as 2 filters.  If you are not using IPsec, then this may encourage you to deploy it!

The MMC will upgrade from MMC v 2.0 to MMC 3.0.

One improvement that you could have guessed is better support for Wireless network.  The WPA2 protocol for wireless networks supports and simplifies the process of discovering and connecting to wireless networks in your home or on the road.

While researching Windows Server 2003 SP2, I (re-)discovered Microsoft’s Feature Packs.  They are free, you may already have their most famous offering – GPMC (Group Policy Management Console).  The only other member that I have tested is ADS (Automated Deployment Services)

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Variations of SP2

I installed the English version of SP2 on a Windows Server 2003.  However, there are 8 more localized version, e.g. German, Italian, Chinese, French, Portuguese and of course, Spanish.

The other flavours of Windows Server 2003 that SP2 is designed for include:

Windows Server 2003 Server R2 Edition
Windows Server 2003 Storage Server 64-bit Editions
Windows Server 2003 Storage Server R2 Edition
Windows Server 2003 Compute Cluster Edition
Windows Server 2003 for Small Business Servers R2 Edition
Windows XP Professional x64 Edition

Two surprises, firstly, I did not see plain Small Business Server on the list, then I remember that SP1 had a separate version for SP1.  The second surprise was due to me not reading the XP version correctly, this is the x64 bit edition, the 32-bit edition of XP already has its own separate SP2.  See review of Windows 7 SP1

Dangers of SP2

My guess is that for 98% of servers there will be no problem with SP2, however that is no conciliation for the 2% who experience new unwanted behaviour after installing SP2.  Incidentally, my guess is that half of those who experience problems after installing SP2 later find that the cause was not SP2 but an unrelated matter that they had not noticed.  Most of the others who experience problems have the Datacenter Edition and don’t read the notes. 

Microsoft acknowledged problems with Windows Server 2003 SP1 and now say that there will be fewer problems caused by running applications with SP2.  However, no company, not even Microsoft, can test their service pack with all possible combinations of software.  Fortunately, it is a straightforward job for you to test SP2 on a spare machine, which is loaded with all the software that you use on your servers.  Another line of research is to scour the internet for strings such as ‘Problem SP2′ or Problem Windows Server 2003 SP2’.  The best place to start is at Microsoft’s site with: ‘Known Issues with Windows Server 2003 SP2’

A point to note: Windows Server 2003 R2 is separate from SP2

I would like to spend a minute to clarify that SP2 is different from Windows Server 2003 R2.  In particular, I would like to point out the SP2 does not install R2.  However, if you already have Windows Server 2003 R2, then you can apply SP2 just as you would other versions.

The first difference between Windows Server 2003 R2 and other versions is that you get a pack of not one but two CDs. On the first CD is a slipstream installation of Windows Server 2003 with SP1.  Which you can now apply SP2.  Meanwhile, all the Windows Server 2003 R2 features are found on the second CD. When you install the second R2 CD, Windows Server 2003 R2 resource files are merely copied to the hard drive, the point is the Add or Remove Programs wizard is aware of their presence. The new R2 components themselves are not installed. The benefit of this arrangement is that you can launch Add or Remove Programs, and selecting Manage Your Server (MYS)/Configure Your Server (CYS).

If you try and upgrade a Windows Server 2003 domain controller, to R2, you need to run Adprep.exe /forestprep and thus extend the schema. Naturally, you run the adprep from the R2 cd.

Another opportunity to ask for a test or service network.

I realize that my readers are polarized into those who say, ‘What problem? Of course we have a service network with spare machines, which we slot in as necessary’; and those who say, ‘Fat chance!, we have no money for a new network cable, let alone money to buy a test server’.  Just as I drip, drip to you about test machines, so I exhort you to keep asking your financial director for money for a service network.  Study how children nag their parents to get that expensive birthday present.

In my mind’s eye I see you applying SP2 to that test machine, if nothing bad happens, then swap that first machine with one of your production servers, if all is well after a week, then apply SP2 to all your Windows Server 2003 machines, remember if anything does go wrong, you can always uninstall SP2.

Service Pack Mythology

It was back in NT 4.0 days that I first came across the service mythology that odd numbered service packs are good (1,3,5) and that you should not trust the even numbers (2,4,6).  What fuelled the myth was that SP4 was troublesome and that SP6 was soon replaced by SP 6a.  There may be a rational explanation for this service pack myth, the release of any product will unearth lots of problem, therefore SP1 has lots of fixes and will be most welcome.  Thus we have the perception that the first number (1) is a good version.  Then there is that other old chestnut, never deploy software until SP 1 is released.

There is little doubt that in the service pack fraternity, SP1 will be a hard act to follow, thus SP2 will inevitably be disappointing.  By the time we get to SP3 the product will be mature, the company may even have developed features not ready for the initial release, thus SP3 is likely to be better than SP2.  If SP3 is perceived to be good, then SP4 is likely to be anonymous.

Update From DAZ

If you have RIS installed on Server 2003 and install SP2, then it automatically upgrades RIS to WDS. You need to do some fine tweaking before you can run RIS again. Other wise you need a copy of the Vista disc to get at a .wmi file.

With SP1, loads of readers kindly sent in comments.  If I get any more problems / tips, then I will be only too pleased to publish them here.

See a Review of SolarWinds Patch Manager »

Where do you get SP2.

I got my free download of SP2 from Microsoft’s site

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Related Windows Server 2003 Topics:

Windows Command Line Tools   • Windows Server 2003 Tips   • Windows Server 2003 Services

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