Adjusting Windows 2000 Server Priorities, Part 1

By Brien M. Posey | Apr 6, 2001 | Print this Page

Most people take for granted that Windows 2000 allows them to run multiple programs at the same time. However, the way that Windows 2000's multitasking works is actually very intriguing if you stop and think about it. For example, suppose that you were to sit down at a server and run a couple of applications. While you're running your applications, the server is still servicing user requests. Most of the time, your users will never even know that you're eating up valuable system resources by running applications directly on the server. The reason this is possible is because Windows uses an intricate method of dividing up processor time among the user interface, applications, network requests, and services. The amount of time that each one of these items gets is determined by its priority.

Windows 2000 is designed in such a way that it could run perfectly without your ever even being aware that the concept of priorities exists. However, Windows is also designed to allow you to tweak the priorities to better suit your needs. For example, let's assume that a server is constantly receiving numerous requests from users. In such a case, you might consider boosting the priorities of the background services and lowering the priorities of something less essential. Likewise, I've seen smaller offices in which the server also doubles as someone's workstation. In such an environment, you may want to boost the priority of the applications so that the local user gets better response time.

There are actually a few different ways that you can adjust priorities. The safest way is to open the Control Panel and double click on the System icon. When you see the System Properties sheet, select the Advanced tab and click the Performance Options button. When you do, you'll see the Performance Options dialog box. This dialog box contains an Application Response section that allows you to optimize performance for either applications or for background services with the click of a button. This interface provides a generic method for adjusting priorities without having to manually enter new values. In case you're wondering, Windows 2000 Server is already set to optimize performance for background services, which means that it focuses more attention on network requests than it does on the local user.

In spite of the fact that Windows 2000 Server is set to prioritize background requests, it's still possible to run an application locally on the server and get decent response time. If your server is straining to keep up with the network's workload, it is possible to manually adjust the priorities to give the background services more processing power. I'll show you how to do this in Part 2. However, before I do, I should give you a word of caution: Adjusting priorities incorrectly can render your system essentially unusable. I've seen desktop priorities set so low that it becomes nearly impossible to use the mouse. Therefore, you've got to be reasonable when setting priorities. In our next installment, I'll also show you some tools that you can use to measure the impact of the changes that you make.

Brien M. Posey is an MCSE who works as a freelance writer. His past experience includes working as the director of information systems for a national chain of health care facilities and as a network engineer for the Department of Defense. Because of the extremely high volume of e-mail that Brien receives, it's impossible for him to respond to every message, although he does read them all.