Microsoft’s IIS Just Got Better

Over the years, Internet Information Services (IIS), Microsoft’s flagship web server product, has taken a lot of flack for being hacked and compromised. But with Windows Vista on the cusp of release at the end of the year, Microsoft has not squandered a great opportunity to move past these stereotypes and do something really great.

In fact, Microsoft and the IIS team did something above and beyond what I was expecting by completely redesigning and overhauling IIS’s core functionality and design.

What’s New

The IIS team has taken the core functionality of IIS and broken it down into modules. You can take any one of these modules and break them down further by plugging or unplugging them as well as extending them or simply ripping the code out and not using them at all.

In other words, you can turn on or turn off any module in IIS whenever you want. For example, if you do not use basic authentication in your web sites, you can simply remove the code quickly and simply. Furthermore, if your application does not take advantage of common gateway interfaces (CGI), simply remove that specific component.

Now when you deploy a brand new web server, you can choose what components you want and only run those components. This allows you to secure IIS further and gives you a huge performance boost enabling IIS to run much faster than it ever has before.

Another area that I am impressed with is ASP.NET integration. Currently, ASP.NET sits on top of IIS and compliments it very well. In IIS 7, IIS and ASP.NET are completely integrated with one another. Included in this integration is the entire .NET framework, ADO.NET and the next version of the web services platform called Indigo.

Ease of Use

“How does this help me,” you ask? Well, you will now have one configuration point for all of your components as opposed to managing two or more. This will greatly ease your IT administrator’s life.

Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) is also being widely used in IIS 7, making it easy to manage IIS 7 via WMI. Simply put, it allows you to manage IIS from a set of scripts that you create. There is a lot of automation that can be done with IIS 7.0 via WMI. Your IT administrators will welcome the enhancements.

Prior to IIS 7.0, there was no way to delegate rights to developers. You had to be an administrator on the machine or you had to make the developer a local administrator to perform routine IIS tasks.

This is not the best way to maximize security. Ideally, you want to be able to have developers do their job without having to elevate their privileges.

This is taken care of in IIS 7. You do not need to be a machine administrator to perform basics tasks. You have the ability to make specific people website operators on a machine and give them the appropriate tasks to do their job without elevating their privileges.

All of these tasks are now handled by the new IIS 7 web admin tool that replaces the existing MMC snap-in. This tool takes care of all of your administrators needs and is where they will manage their IIS 7 web servers.

The last feature I am going to talk about is the web.config file. This is where all information that is input in the web admin tool is stored. You could edit this file manually, if your IT administrator did not want to use the web admin tool. They could put this web.config file on a file server to by accessed by multiple servers in a cluster.

One change to the web.config file will change every web server in your infrastructure that is pointed to it. This is very powerful.

As an IT decision maker, you should now be able to see the benefits of moving to IIS 7. Unfortunately, you cannot take advantage of this functionality without moving to Longhorn/Windows Vista which is where IIS 7 will make its debut.

I believe the inroads IIS 7 has made make it the biggest release IIS has ever seen. This release of IIS 7 will be a hit with datacenters where this new version meets a lot of their needs: modular components, easy administration, security, delegation, and speed.

If Windows LonghornVista has not caught your eye yet, IIS should. Microsoft has produced something intrinsically beautiful. Watch out Apache, IIS is coming for your scalp!

Steven Warren is an IT consultant for the Ultimate Software Group and a freelance technical writer who has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic, TechProGuild, CNET, ZDNET, and, now, CIO Update. He is the author of “The VMware Workstation 5.0 Handbook” and holds the following certifications: MCDBA, MCSE, MCSA, CCA, CIW-SA, CIW-MA, Network+, and i-Net+.