So there is a benefit to running Windows Server 2003 and XP

One of the reasons Windows Server 2003 and XP haven’t caught on in corporate network environments is that Microsoft has yet to demonstrate any real benefit to either one of them over Windows 2000.

Believe it or not, there actually is one benefit. It may or may not be worth the cost of upgrading, but if you’re buying licenses now and installing 2000, this information might convince you it’s worth it to install the current versions instead.The benefit: NTFS compression.

Hang on there Dave, I hear you saying. NTFS compression has been around since 1994, and hard drives are bigger and cheaper now than ever before. So why do I want to mess around with risky data compression?

Well, data compression isn’t fundamentally risky–this site uses data compression, and I’ve got the server logs that prove it works just fine–it just got a bad rap in the early 90s when Microsoft released the disastrous Doublespace with DOS 6.0. And when your I/O bus is slow and your CPU is really fast, data compression actually speeds things up, as people who installed DR DOS on their 386DX-40s with a pokey 8 MHz ISA bus found out in 1991.

So, here’s the rub with NTFS compression when it’s used on Windows Server 2003 with XP clients: the data is transferred from the server to the clients in compressed form.

If budget cuts still have you saddled with a 100 Mb or, worse yet, a 10 Mb network, that data compression will speed things up mightily. It won’t help you move jpegs around your network any faster, but Word and Excel documents sure will zoom around a lot quicker, because those types of documents pack down mightily.

The faster the computers are on both ends, the better this works. But if the server has one or more multi-GHz CPUs, you won’t slow down disk writes a lot. And you can use this strategically. Don’t compress the shares belonging to your graphic artists and web developers, for instance. Their stuff tends not to compress, and if any of them are using Macintoshes, the server will have to decompress it to send it to the Macs anyway.

But for shares that are primarily made up of files created by MS Office, compress away and enjoy your newfound network speed.

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3 thoughts on “So there is a benefit to running Windows Server 2003 and XP

  • November 10, 2004 at 6:12 pm

    MS-Word files are shamelessly bloated, so even the relatively simple ntfs compression works wonders.

    One gains more than expected in web/email transfers since doc binary files are typically 2-to-3 encoded to ASCII-compatible, with consequent 33% increase in byte overhead. A third more of a much smaller file is less punishing than of the larger one.

    We might note in passing that the OpenOffice/StarOffice apps produce natively compressed document files (each actually a clusterlet of XML ones). Nothing to gain there.

  • November 11, 2004 at 8:23 am

    Of course, one should point out that compression is only worthwhile if you have good backups that work. If you are relying on some kind of recovery tool to help you recover a compressed filesystem that has been b0rked you may be sorely disappointed.

    (Having just spent way more time than I should have this weekend attempting to recover some data from a compressed FAT32 partition for a relative, and I know that’s different from NTFS compression, I am perhaps a little jumpy about this sort of thing.)

    • November 11, 2004 at 7:00 pm

      That goes without saying, with or without data compression. If it’s important to you, back it up. At the very least, get a $20 USB keychain drive and copy the My Documents folder onto it periodically. There’s finally a cheap and easy backup solution for consumers that’s more reliable than the media it’s backing up, so there’s no longer any excuse not to have backups.

      For that matter, they’re not a bad idea for corporate environments either, though they are an easy way to smuggle data.

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